The real reason I’m eating with the seasons

Years ago I wrote a post about why it’s important to eat with the seasons. Little did I know then that there was another, more crucial, reason to do so – particularly for sufferers of digestive disorders.

Thanks to my amazing doctor (Vancouver-based Saeid Mustagh), I learned about a little thing called the ileocecal valve. It’s located between the small and large intestines and acts as a sort of door between the two. That door should only open once your food has been completely digested in the small intestine, otherwise undigested food particles can pass through into the large intestine. What’s more, friendly bacteria can migrate up to the small intestine – where they don’t belong – and offer up their waste products for easy absorption. They can steal nutrients before they’re absorbed into your system, and also tax the liver. This can in turn lead to SIBO, or Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth.

So what does eating seasonally have to do with the ileocecal valve? This is what the Northshore Naturopathic Clinic has to say:

Our ileocecal valve can become weak when your calcium levels are low for more than five days, as calcium helps to strengthen this valve. Increasing your calcium intake doesn’t necessarily solve the ileocecal valve problem, because the cure depends on whether the calcium is being absorbed by your body. Vitamin D is required for calcium absorption – it stimulates your intestinal cells to make a calcium-binding protein that dramatically increases your absorption of calcium. Vitamin D is made by your skin when exposed to the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun, and then it is stored in an inactive form in your liver.

Vitamin D is relatively passive until it’s activated by your kidneys, which change the activation of vitamin D as the weather changes. Sodium in the diet tells the kidneys it’s not sunny, so they activate vitamin D, while potassium tells the kidneys it is sunny, so they don’t activate vitamin D.

The ileocecal valve problem is commonly seen in people who ‘eat too well’. That is, they consume too many foods that are high in potassium (such as salads and fruit), and don’t consume enough sodium in the form of animal protein or salt. This confuses the kidneys into assuming they are in the hot sun of midsummer, so they deactivate vitamin D, resulting in less calcium absorption and ultimately a weakened ileocecal valve.

As temperatures get cooler this month and/or if you’re not getting outside in the sun very often, I recommend that you switch over to a more warming diet as outlined in Eating Alive II (cut back on raw vegetables, including salads; seasonal fruit for the climate in which you live; etc.). You might also consider taking calcium and/or horsetail in supplement form, and if you’re unable to get regular sun exposure, take vitamin D as well. Eat leafy green vegetables regularly for their vitamin K, which gets the calcium into your bones. You can continue to eat salads when you’re out in the warm sun, but switch to steaming your greens the rest of the year. And remember to add a little bit of unprocessed sea salt to your vegetables and grains.

I’m all for the green smoothie movement, but now I’m aware I need to adapt my diet to the seasons. I think my body must have already known this subconsciously, as the week I learned about this issue was the same week I ordered a bag of seasonal produce from my local organic store. In my head I was doing it because it ‘felt right’, and I wanted to experiment with new and interesting foods. The latter is just an added bonus. I’ve already tackled some new vegetables I’d never cooked with, like parsley root, yacon and daikon. And now I have the peace of mind that it’s for a much greater good.

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