In This Article
A Primary Cause of Food Intolerances: Pesticides
It is hard not to blame the use of pesticides for the growing number of food intolerance cases I see in my practice. In the 1980s and 90s, my patients began complaining of milk and gluten allergies, but in the last 20 years, the number of foods my patients have become intolerant to has exploded.
For example, kitchari (a gruel made of rice and beans) has been used as a medicine for thousands of years in Ayurveda to heal digestion and the gut. Despite its history as an easily digestible meal, I now have an inordinate number of patients that cannot tolerate simple rice and beans (in addition to other grains, lectins, nightshades, oxalates, phytic acids, and more). Plenty of studies show that the pesticides used on our food kill not only the insects that feed on the crops but also the beneficial microorganisms. Many of these microorganisms are actually the producers of digestive enzymes we need to eat these harder-to-digest foods. Pesticide use has been linked to numerous health concerns, including metabolic issues (such as weight gain), blood sugar issues, immune compromise, endocrine concerns, toxicity, and microbiome alterations.
Pesticide use in our foods causes a slow decline in overall health that first alters the microbiome and digestion. Pesticides debuted in the 1930s; by the 1950s, they were in full swing. By 1997, more than 11 billion dollars per year were being spent on pesticides in the US—and in 2020, that number was up to 40 billion per year.
Probiotics Can Help
While pesticides kill many vital strains of gut bacteria, some studies have shown that certain probiotic strains of lactobacillus can sequester some of the pesticides in use today. This research suggests that a healthy microbiome may be a key preventative strategy against pesticide exposure. In Ayurveda, this is done by strengthening the digestive process and creating an intestinal environment that supports the proliferation of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
To support a healthy microbiome, I recommend colonizing probiotics that have been shown to adhere to the intestinal lining and support the proliferation of permanent bacterial residents without creating a dependency. In contrast, most over-the-counter probiotics are transient in nature and must be taken regularly to get the benefits.
As our ancestors evolved, they developed what we now call gut immunity, which makes up 70% of our immune system. Studies show that much of that gut immunity comes from eating foods that challenge our digestive strength. This is called hormesis: when small amounts of harder-to-digest foods are consumed, they will irritate the gut lining just enough for the body to respond to those irritants with a boost in gut immunity.
Today, because we are seeing folks bubble wrap their diet by removing foods that present a digestive challenge, we are seeing compromised immune systems as a result. For example, studies show that when wheat eaters are compared to gluten-free folks, they have 4X less mercury in their blood and significantly more Killer T cells than those who were gluten-free. The wheat eaters also had more beneficial gut bacteria and less incidence of heart disease and diabetes.
Plant-Based vs. Animal-Based Foods: What’s Easier to Digest?
Nuts, seeds, legumes, grains, and certain fruits and vegetables have a protective coating of antinutrients that repel hungry soil microbes from feeding on them as they grow. The antinutrients ensure that a good amount of the seeds that fall in autumn will be viable to germinate in the spring, keeping the species alive.
These antinutrients make some of these foods more difficult for humans to digest, but, as mentioned, they are responsible for the lion’s share of our gut immunity. Many health experts are preaching to avoid these foods, which makes sense in the short term, but in the long run, we must make every effort to reboot our digestive strength and reintroduce these more challenging foods. There are many health benefits you will be missing if you remove the lectins, nightshades, phytic acids, and other antinutrients from your diet.
Surprisingly, animal proteins are easier to digest because they do not have any antinutrients that challenge your digestive strength. This is why many people who become vegetarian because they have digestive concerns often don’t thrive on a vegetarian diet long term. A diet of grains loaded with antinutrients is harder to digest and can render many vegetarians to become protein insufficient, feel weak, dizzy, achy, moody, and sleepless.
Is this you? Read my article Are You Protein Deficient? The Hidden Signs
A Second Cause of Food Intolerances: Processed Foods and Oils
Eating recognizable plants or animals is a game changer for our health and longevity. Processed foods undergo processing to extend their shelf life. Imagine living 100 years ago without a refrigerator; you would have to consume foods fairly soon after harvest, and the food would be recognizable, meaning you would know exactly where or which plant or animal it came from.
In a 2022 study published in the Current Atherosclerosis Reports, researchers linked processed food intake to an increased risk of blood sugar, blood pressure, weight gain, heart concerns, depression, and an increased risk of dying from any cause. The three major categories of processed foods to avoid are:
- Sugar or artificial sweeteners. Avoid added sugars. Aim for nothing over 6 grams of naturally occurring sugar per serving.
- Refined, cooked oils. Anything fried or baked with oils (i.e., bread, baked goods, chips, etc.)
- Chemicals. Don’t eat it if you don’t recognize the name of the ingredients.
When reading an ingredient list, it is easy to spot the chemicals and the sweeteners—but the refined oils are tricky. Try not to consume packaged foods or bread that have any oil in them. Add your favorite olive oil or cultured ghee when you cook or eat your food. The oils used in packaged foods are highly processed and ultimately become indigestible to the body. Even worse, your microbiome typically consumes oils and fats but will not feed on processed oil. This is why some bread stays soft for months, and packaged foods can stay on a shelf for years—because the bacteria that make food spoil won’t go near the processed oils. So, be careful! All the indigestible, highly-processed oils we consume go to the liver and lymphatic system, creating congestion in both.
Ayurvedic Cleansing and Digestive Resetting
There are two unique components of an Ayurvedic Cleanse. Primarily, it resets the body’s digestion and detox strength, meaning that after the cleanse is over, your old symptoms and toxins won’t come right back. Secondly, Ayurvedic cleanses with cultured ghee and kitchari employ a proven strategy for detoxing environmental toxins and pesticides. Using a technique called Lipophilic-Mediated Detox, the ghee pulls fat-soluble chemicals out of the deep tissues. One study that compared lipophilic-mediated detox with a placebo found that PCBs (carcinogens) were reduced by 48% and pesticides were reduced by 58%. This is promising news for Ayurvedic cleansers!