Written by Sally Fallon Morell
I learned a very interesting fact recently, one that can give us guidance on how to overcome the modern phenomenon of chronic fatigue: about 70 percent (!) of the body’s energy goes toward digesting our food. So the obvious first step in treating a condition of constant tiredness would be to consume food that is easy to digest.
The fact is that modern food processing makes our food more difficult to digest, and many modern food habits put a real burden on our poor old guts. With so much of your body’s energy going towards digestion, there is not much left over for doing all the things we want to do with our lives.
Here’s some suggestions for easing the burden of digestion:
1. Raw dairy foods, not pasteurized: Raw milk contains enzymes that help us digest and assimilate everything in the milk—proteins, carbs, fats, vitamins and minerals. Once raw milk hits the slightly alkaline environment of the small intestine, these enzymes get activated and go to work—your body does not have to produce a single enzyme to digest raw milk, and furthermore, thanks to these enzymes, these nutrients will be almost 100 percent absorbed. This fact helps explain the success of the milk cure, administered by the Mayo Clinic in the early 1900s. This treatment was very helpful in combating fatigue. Once milk is pasteurized, all the enzymes are destroyed (that is the test for successful pasteurization) and milk becomes extremely difficult to digest, a huge burden on the digestive apparatus and bound to make you tired, even without overt signs of allergy.
2. Lacto-fermented foods: Truly raw sauerkraut, pickles and other lacto-fermented foods (including beverages like beet kvass, homemade gingerale and kombucha) provide your body with enzymes, beneficial bacteria and lactic acid—all of which are great aides to digestion. Without exception, all traditional cultures consumed lacto-fermented foods, usually on a daily basis. If you are new to the concept of lacto-fermented foods, read this article. Too tired to make your own lacto-fermented condiments? Not to worry, they are now widely available in health food stores, and even some upscale markets. Be sure to read labels—you want lacto-fermented foods that are truly raw. Eat them every day as a condiment with cooked foods.
3. Proper preparation of grains: Grains (including nuts and legumes) are very difficult to digest. Herbivores that live on grains and grasses have complex stomachs with up to four chambers, at least one of which acts as a vessel where billions of beneficial bacteria actually ferment these foods. (These animals can’t really digest grains either, only bacteria can do that.) On the other hand, human stomachs, while widely varied in shape and size, are simple stomachs, not designed to do any fermenting.
Throughout the world, cultures that eat grains take care to prepare them carefully through soaking or souring—basically a pre-digestion of the grains—before eating them. So avoid hard-to-digest grain products like extruded breakfast cereals and granola; instead soak your oats overnight for oatmeal and eat only genuine sourdough bread (with plenty of butter, of course). We have a saying: be kind to your grains and your grains will be kind to you. Grains have become the whipping boy for so many modern diseases, but when we learn to treat them right, they can be healthful and invigorating instead of a drag on our energy levels.
4. Nourishing, gelatin-rich bone broths: For many reasons—some not completely understood—true bone broth (made from bones, not from an MSG-laden powder) is a true digestive aid. Anything will be more digestible when consumed with bone broth. Again, you don’t have to make your own. Use the Weston A Price Foundation shopping guide to find ready-made brands of bone broth. Many upscale markets and health food stores now carry these. Use them to make soups, stews, sauces and gravies—or just have a nourishing mugful every day.
5. Eat plenty of salt. What? Aren’t we supposed to cut down on salt? Actually the average U.S. consumption of salt, about 1 ½ teaspoons per day, just barely satisfies our daily requirement for sodium. Many people need a lot more. Salt provides chloride for hydrochloric acid, needed to digest meat; and the sodium in salt activates enzymes we need for digesting carbs. Salt is essential for digestion! Fatigue is a well-known side effect of too little salt.
6. Cook those veggies! I’m from California and love my salads—but they are not for everyone. Raw vegetables (and fruits) are much harder to digest than cooked, and if you are suffering from fatigue, I’d stick with cooked vegetables for a while. The practice of juicing raw vegetables is particularly problematic—more about that in a future blog. Vegetables cooked as a soup, in a nourishing bone broth—are particularly good for just about everything that ails you, especially for fatigue.
Of course, there are many other factors that can contribute to fatigue—low thyroid function, adrenal exhaustion, hypoglycemia, anemia, vaccine damage and deficiencies of various nutrients like vitamins B12, A and D, to name a few, but eating foods that are easy to digest should always be a first step in combatting this modern debilitating condition.