Although I am a firm believer that organic vegetables, fruits, meat, nuts and seeds are our best bet for nutrient dense foods, like anything there are going to be exceptions if someone isn’t healthy enough to breakdown and utilize those nutrients.
In Functional Diagnostic Nutrition we test the effectiveness of protein digestion by looking at urinary indican levels after challenging the system with 8oz of protein the evening before taking the test.
“A positive indican indicates poor digestion of dietary protein and/or an overgrowth of bacteria in the intestines. Problems with protein digestion can be caused by factors such as Helicobacter pylori and parasite infections, dysbiosis, lack of digestive enzymes, and liver problems. The inability to digest protein can lead to bowel putrefaction and have adverse affects on glycemic control and hormone balance.” (BioHealth #101)
A positive result on this test lets us know that even if you are consuming protein in your diet, it is not necessarily available for your body to use. While we work with you on clearing up the underlying factors, we may recommend supplementing with additional, easy-to-digest protein such as Seacure.
We also utilize an intestinal barrier challenge to not only look for signs of a leaky gut, but get information about how well nutrients are being absorbed in your small intestine. (read more about this test here)
In cases where you aren’t getting what you need from whole foods or can’t eat enough, supplementing with liquid foods may help you get the energy you need to heal and return to normal life. My top two recommendations are homemade bone broth and using a high-speed blender or juicer to help you breakdown foods to a more digestible form, but more on these options another time.
Today I want to talk about considerations when you are shopping for an off-the-shelf product, to address a question for a client. Personally I’ve found greens powders and protein shakes useful to have on hand for either traveling to exotic places where I may not find anything at all that I can eat and also as a recovery food if I have an episode of food poisoning or gluten exposure (last time I couldn’t stomach anything except chicken broth and bananas for six days, so I drank some rice protein drink for the extra energy). They aren’t something I’d use on a regular basis, but since they are dry and shelf stable, it makes them easy to tote around on my travels or leave in the cupboard.
Due to their popularity and high margins, shopping for these things is a bit of a minefield. Most products are preying on our society’s natural inclination to take the easy way out (a whole meal without cooking??) and desire to loose weight and get in shape without having to do the work. I look for organic products that don’t include added sugars (maltodextrin, glucose, fructose, etc) and sketchy ingredients (read my rant about “nutrition drinks” here). Especially watch out for the cheap synthetic form of fortified vitamins (for example, natural folate vs synthetic folic acid. Read longer explanation here.) Below are just a few ideas, if you aren’t sure where to start or are overwhelmed when you type “protein powder” into Amazon.com (I feel your pain!).
All around “meal replacement”
Although it makes me cringe to say “meal replacement”, we are talking about this for people who can’t get a meal down and are suffering for lack of calories. Although it is marketed with some of that “easy weight-loss” appeal, I like that Shakology is comprised of real foods ingredients including adaptogens, pre-biotics and probiotics. Unlike most shakes, it actually tastes good, too.
Since soy and whey are very common allergens (that you may not even be aware of!), I would avoid soy and whey protein powders. Whey and soy are the cheapest forms of isolated protein and rarely of good quality. Hemp protein is non-dairy and easily digested. I’ve also tried some brands of “medical foods” that I bought at my doctors office that were made from rice protein. It was extremely sweet. Pea protein was ok in a smoothie but not something I would drink on it’s own.
Some people dealing with IBS or SIBO are told to avoid roughage or veggies that might cause additional gas and bloating. One option is to supplement with a greens powder, where the veggies are basically already digested and you are hopefully able to absorb some of the nutrients more easily. I would also experiment with green juices, smoothies and well cooked veggies (steamed or in a soup) and eat as much of that as you can tolerate. With greens powders it is important to read about how they are processed to retain heat-sensitive nutrients.
Here is an article with an introduction to how these products are produced:
And a nice summary from the same blog about how to pick a good greens powder along with some specific recommendations:
A popular brand in “the community” is HealthForce Vitamineral:
Amazing Grass is also pretty legit:
Shopping for these things can be fairly exhausting in itself, but the point is to find something that meets your basic standards of being made from whole foods, without added sugar and ideally organic and go for it. Since you are working towards improving your health and being able to get all your nutrition from actual whole foods, it may not be necessary to search and search for the holy grail of superfoods (since you won’t be on this forever). Get something, get started and get feeling better!
Join the discussion! What products do you recommend to friends and family?