I receive many questions each month from subscribers to Women's Health Letter. Since I can't reply to all of them in my newsletter, I've decided to answer them periodically in these health alerts. I hope that they'll provide you with some of the answers to your own questions.
Q: I hear about good fats, like flaxseed oil, and bad fats, like margarine and animal fats. But when I eat nuts, fatty fish (such as salmon), or use flaxseed oil on my salad, I get a lot of gas. I have heard you say that good fats contain essential fatty acids that are important to your health, but I don't seem to be able to tolerate much of them. What can I do? – E.N.K., Merrick, L.I.
A: This is a common problem, especially as we get older. One reason is that our bodies produce fewer digestive enzymes as we age. Lipase is an enzyme that breaks down dietary fats. When your body is not producing enough lipase, you can have bloating, belching, or intestinal gas. Fortunately, there's a solution – digestive enzymes that you can find in all health food stores. Enzymes help you break down proteins, fats, and starches. The better you are able to digest your foods, the less your discomfort.
Take one or two digestive enzymes high in lipase before each meal – especially meals with any fats. If you forget, take an enzyme or two after you eat. That's the nice thing about enzymes. You can take them after a rich meal if you begin to feel discomfort. You should notice an improvement of your symptoms within 15-30 minutes. But don't go overboard with your food choices. Enzymes are not a license to eat a high-fat diet. It's always best to keep your fat intake low at each meal.
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Enzymes made from animal matter are called pancreatic enzymes. If you're a vegetarian, you can now find effective plant-based enzymes containing lipase. Either kind will help you digest fats and eliminate gas.
A word to anyone who has had her gall bladder removed. Always keep your fat intake low. Here's why. Your gall bladder stores bile and releases it after you eat a meal containing fats. Bile is made up of several materials including bile salts that help fat digestion. If you don't have a gall bladder, you can't release bile as it's needed to help digest fats. For some reason, the majority of my patients who have had gall bladder surgery were never told this by their doctors.
Your voice of reason in Women's Health,
Dr. Janet Zand