Basic Health Habit No.2: Digestive Health and Nutrition Part Three

In Part Three:
Soluble and Insoluble Fibre
Acid-Alkaline pH Balance 
Healthy Carbohydrates 
Healthy Fats 
Essential Fatty Acids
Antioxidant Phenolic Phytochemicals
Power/ Healing Foods 

Nutrition and digestive health is a Basic Health Habit, necessary, universally for human physiological health. Basic Health Habits create and maintain the resilient health needed for life in the 21st century.


Fibre is a necessary and important part of a healthy digestive system. Dietary fibre is the indigestible portion of plant foods. There are two types of fibre: soluble fibre and insoluble fibre. The recommended consumption ratio is 75% insoluble to 25% soluble in our diet. 

Fibre changes the nature of the gastrointestinal tract and how other nutrients and chemicals are absorbed. Both types of fibre reduce appetite to help control weight, lower blood pressure and cholesterol to reduce the risk of heart disease and improve the absorption of nutrients from our food. 

A whole food, natural diet that is high in fibre also reduces the risk of gastrointestinal disorders and eases constipation, inflammatory bowel disease, including irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, hemorrhoids, Crohn's disease, and diverticulitis.

Soluble fibre (prebiotic) changes in the body by dissolving in water, but it resists digestion and absorption in the small intestine with complete or partial fermentation in the large intestine. Soluble fibre regulates glucose absorption and stabilizes blood sugar levels by acting on the release of insulin by the pancreas and the breakdown of glycogen by the liver to prevent diabetes.  As well as reducing blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, soluble fibre suppresses liver cholesterol synthesis. 

The fermentation of soluble fibre by friendly bacterial flora in the large intestine creates short-chain fatty acids, which lower colon pH (raises the acidity level); protects the colon from the formation of colonic polyps, increases mineral absorption, stimulates T helper cells, antibodies, leukocytes and cytokines. Short-chain fatty acids formed from soluble fibre also aid lymphatic mechanisms for immune protection, improved colon tissue barrier and inhibits inflammation and adhesions in the large intestine. The best sources of soluble fibre can be found in vegetables and fresh fruit.

Insoluble fibre absorbs water, but does not change in the body; it is metabolically inert. Insoluble fibre softens stools, shortens the transit of food through the digestive system and facilitates ease and regularity, alleviates constipation, balances intestinal pH, stimulates friendly bacterial flora and the fermentation process in the large intestine, produces short-chain fatty acids and reduces the risk of colon cancer. The best sources of insoluble fibre can be found in beans, flax seeds, Chia seeds, whole oats and oat bran, psyllium seed husks, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains and cereals.

A daily 2000 calorie diet should have a minimum of 25-35 grams of fibre (for children add 5g to their age to determine daily requirements), with a ratio of 75% insoluble to 25% soluble. The North American average is 12-18g. Calories measure available energy from food to be used immediately or converted for short term storage as sugar or long term storage as fat. Energy is extracted from food only when the chemical structure of food is changed and fibre is required for this process. The body does not absorb energy from insoluble fibre (0 calories). There is approximately 2-4 calories in 1 gram of soluble fibre. When you are reading a food label look for a minimum of 3 grams of fibre.

Fibre supplements are almost all soluble fibre with some brands containing synthetic insoluble fibre. They are high in refined sugar or artificial sweeteners. Psyllium seed husks found in many fibre supplements can cause allergic reactions. Gastrointestinal obstructions can occur without the adequate amount of water intake. I recommend acacia fibre if you need to take a supplement. All types of beans are the best source of insoluble fibre.


pH: The Acid - Alkaline Balance of Food

When food is digested or burned, it produces an ash, which can be an acidic, neutral or an alkaline residue (when diluted in water), depending on the mineral content of calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc and copper. pH is a measure of the acidity of a solution. Pure water is said to be neutral with a pH close to 7.0 at 25 degrees Celsius (77 Fahrenheit). A pH less than 7 is acidic; greater than 7 is alkaline. A minimum of 7.35 - 7.45 pH is the recommended level of alkalinity of the blood without stressing the body's regulators of homeostasis. This creates an environment for the body to function normally and to sustain health, to resist disease and for healing and faster recovery. Acidosis occurs when there is too much acidity in the body tissues and creates an environment for inflammation, chronic pain, arthritis and disease.

Your diet should have a 4 to 1 ratio of alkaline to acidic food or be 80% alkaline, 20% acidic. 

Alkaline Foods: vegetables, fruit, beans are the best

Neutral pH Foods: milk, butter, vegetable oils

Acidic Foods: meat, seafood, poultry, fish, cheese, eggs, peanuts, grains (mild), nuts (mild), rice (mild), lentils (mild) and sugar

To test your pH, saliva and urine can be used.  pH test papers can be found at drug and health stores. To test saliva, do not eat, drink or brush your teeth 30 minutes before the test. Put the saliva sample on a spoon or dish and dip the paper into saliva. Saliva is usually less acidic than blood yet it mirrors the blood. 

After eating the pH of saliva should rise to 7.8 or higher or alkaline mineral deficiencies (mainly calcium and magnesium) are indicated and food nutrients will not be properly assimilated. Urine indicates how the body is working to regulate the proper pH balance of blood through the buffer salts and hormones via the kidneys, adrenals, lungs and gonads. The urine test gives an accurate picture of body chemistry. 6.5 - 7+ is ideal; pH tends to be lower in the morning and higher in the evening. Readings should be taken 3x/day for overall accuracy.

Readings can be affected by:
  • Preservatives that you eat
  • Pollutants that you breathe
  • Stress
  • Water intake 
  • Food that you eat
  • Minerals, vitamins 
  • Pathogens 
  • Sleep
  • Biochemical activity
  • Drugs
  • Synthetic chemicals


Probiotics are live microorganisms that are beneficial for improving intestinal microbial balance, inhibiting pathogens (infectious agent/germ: can be bacterial, viral, fungal or parasites), toxins, and harmful bacteria production to maintain a disease-free digestive system. 

Probiotics alleviate chronic intestinal inflammation, prevent and treat diarrhea, urogenital infection and atopic diseases (allergic hypersensitivity affecting parts of the body not in direct contact with the allergen ie: eczema, hay fever, asthma), and help to prevent constipation and intestinal infection. The common types of microbes used as probiotics are: Lactic Acid Bacteria which includes lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacteria.

Food sources of probiotics  include: unpasteurized fermented foods (plus added live cultures) such as yogurt, kimchee, miso,  buttermilk, kefir, unpasteurized pickled vegetables, tempeh, natto, lassi, and soy sauce.  

Probiotics help lactose intolerance, improve mineral absorption, prevent colon cancer, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and improves immune system health. Antibiotics turn the immune system off - probiotics put the immune system in idle, ready to react quickly to infections. 

Healthy Intestinal Flora

Healthy Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are an essential part of a high fiber, natural, whole food diet. Healthy carbohydrate sugars are absorbed slower and help to stabilize blood sugar levels and supply a sustained source of energy and nutrition for body and brain functions. Healthy carbohydrates help weight loss, lower cholesterol, prevent constipation, help to detoxify the body and to keep the body disease-free. The best food sources of healthy carbohydrates are raw or lightly cooked vegetables, legumes, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, raw fresh fruit and low fat dairy.

Unhealthy carbohydrates cause radical fluctuations in blood sugar levels and do not supply sustained energy. It is recommended that you eliminate or reduce your intake of unhealthy carbohydrates. This includes refined and processed food that is high in sugar and low in fiber, such as refined cereals, grains, rice and pasta, refined and processed cakes, pastries, cookies, soda drinks, candy, and fruit juice.

The Glycemic Index (GI) ranks carbohydrates according to their effect on blood sugar and insulin levels. 

High GI: 70 and above

Medium GI: 56 - 69

Low GI: 55 and under 

Healthy Fats and Oils

Healthy fats are an essential part of a natural, whole food diet. It is the type of fat you eat and the amount consumed that matters. Fats are necessary to the building and the health of all cells. Healthy fat aids the function of the brain, metabolism, hormones, lungs, eyes, digestion, immune system and the heart. Healthy fat eases inflammation. Low fat diets are often high in refined carbohydrates, salt and sugar and low in fiber.

Monounsaturated Fats are liquid at room temperature and thicken and are cloudy when cooled.  These include plant oils, nut and seed oils, avocados, olives, meat, whole grains and cereals. Monounsaturated fats lower LDL (low density lipoprotein) also referred to as bad cholesterol, and increase HDL (high density lipoprotein) also referred to as good cholesterol.

Polyunsaturated Fats are liquid at room temperature and when cooled. These include sunflower, corn, soy and flax seed oils and walnuts, peanut butter, algae, leafy greens, bananas, seafood, hemp seed and oil, flax seeds and fish. These fats have low amounts of triglycerides and help to ease inflammation and protect against cardiovascular disease. Omega 3 essential fatty acid is a polyunsaturated fat and is essential (cannot be made by the body) to our health and rich supplies are available in a natural, whole food diet.

Saturated Fats are solid at room temperature. This includes meat, dairy, lard and tropical oils such as palm and coconut oil and products made with these fats. Poultry and fish contain less saturated fat than meat. Saturated fat raises LDL cholesterol. It is not necessary to consume any of these fats because the body can make the saturated fat that it needs from healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Ghee and coconut oil are healthy saturated fats.

Trans Fats are created by heating vegetable oils with hydrogen gas in a process called hydrogenation. Trans fats include vegetable shortening, margarine, processed, refined food products and fried foods. Trans fat raises LDL and lowers HDL cholesterol and contributes to inflammation.

For a daily 2000 calorie diet the total amount of fat intake should not exceed 20 - 35% of calorie intake. Limit saturated fat to a maximum of 10% of calories, trans fats to 1% and limit cholesterol intake to a maximum of 300 mg/ day. When reading labels look for 6g of fat or less.

  • Dress your own salad; start with a simple recipe of two parts olive oil to one part fresh lemon juice, then add crushed garlic, seasoning, grainy Dijon mustard and herbs or fresh ginger and sesame oil. Avoid bottled dressings.
  • Butter (with 0 grams of trans fat/ and no hydrogenated oil) is a better choice than margarine; use moderately 
  • Reduce meat and high fat dairy.
  • Replace meat with beans and legumes. 
  • Don't go no fat; go good fat.
  • When eating out, ask what type of oil your food is being cooked in; avoid partially hydrogenated oils. Choose olive oil instead.  

 Power/ Healing Foods

Essential Fatty Acids are super healthy fats that control blood clotting, build cell membranes and aid cellular function, are building blocks of DNA, reduce bad cholesterol, blood pressure, the risk of cardiovascular disease, liver cancer, depression and dementia. There are two main types of essential fatty acids: Omega 3 is  Alphalinolenic Acid, Omega 6 is GLA: Gamma Linolenic Acid. Originally they were called vitamin F. 

Essential fatty acids reduce and prevent inflammation, arthritis, psoriasis, heart attacks and asthma. The best natural food sources include: fish (especially cold water fatty fish such as salmon, herring, anchovies, sardines, cod, mackerel, tuna and trout), shellfish, seafood, flax seed, hemp oil, soya, canola (rapeseed), Chia, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, leafy green vegetables, walnuts, algae, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds and cold water fish oil supplements.

The recommended ratio is 2 to 1 Omega 6 to Omega 3. The current North American ratio is 10 - 20 Omega 6 to 1 Omega 3. Too much Omega 6 and too little Omega 3 causes blood clots, constricts arteries, increase the risk of heart attack, cancer, weight gain, increased blood sugar and insulin levels and aggravates inflammation, arthritis and psoriasis.

If you are taking a supplement, the recommended dose is 500 mg/ day or 1- 3 g EPA/DHA. Make sure it is a dependable supply that is mercury-free, pharmaceutical grade, molecularily distilled - and check the expiry date! Store in refrigerator. 

Omega 3 essential fatty acid reduce prostate tumour growth and the risk of breast cancer. It is made of three components: Alpha-linolenic Acid (ALA), Eicosapentalnoic Acid (EPA), and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA). A 3 to 2 ratio of EPA to DHA is recommended.

Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acid

Antioxidant Phenolic Phytochemicals  

Without oxygen, most life on earth would cease to exist, but oxygen can also damage cells by the release of oxygen free radicals, called oxidation, that are a normal part of the cellular process or by abnormal internal and external environmental pollution or disease, synthetic medications and hormones or radiation (from mobile phones, TV's, computers or irradiated food). Acidosis also contribute to the release of oxygen free radicals. Antioxidants protect cells from oxidation that can damage our structural DNA and lead to premature aging and cancer. 

Phytochemicals are the bioactive non nutrient compounds found in plants. They are responsible for the bright reds and blues of fruit, berries and vegetables and for their flavour. The most important class of phytochemicals  in plant food sources is the group of phenolic compounds. There are two main groups of phenolic compounds: Polyphenols found in berries, fruit, vegetables, nuts, tea  (especially green, red and white tea, which is unoxidized like black tea), cereal, whole grains, legumes, wine, chocolate, cloves, cinnamon, oregano and other herbs, herbal teas and olive oil. Flavanoids are found in brightly coloured fruits, berries and vegetables.

In summary, if you eat a natural, whole food diet, you will avoid the pitfalls of specialized low fat, low carbohydrate diets and still lose weight; avoid many diseases and chronic degenerative conditions; have a large range of exciting and satisfying food choices which will easily maintain optimum health and help you to feel vibrant and happy.

Next in the series of Basic Health Habits: 



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