It's the holiday season, and rich foods are in abundance. But how is this time of year taking its toll on your digestion? A diet of the wrong foods (processed, refined, low-fiber) prepared the wrong way (too much fat and salt), eaten too quickly, and in too large portions is a recipe for intestinal distress. In fact, most digestive disorders – from heartburn, bloating, constipation and indigestion to ulcers, reflux disease and irritable bowel syndrome – can be traced to poor eating habits and improper nutrition.

There are actually four primary principles involved in good digestion, most easily remembered by the acronym DEAN:

D: Digesting food

E: Eliminating waste

A:  Absorbing nutrients

N: Normalizing the bacteria

There are a number of natural substances that assist in performing these functions, helping you to overcome intestinal or digestive problems.

Digesting food

The first step in the digestive process is breaking down food nutrients into a simple sugar form that can be absorbed and used by the body. The primary enzyme groups amylase, protease, and lipase, as well as lactase and cellulase, enable the body to digest the four major food groups by breaking down fats, carbohydrates and protein.

While the previous enzymes are produced by our bodies – primarily the pancreas – other enzymes are found in plant foods. Papain, found in papaya, and bromelain, from pineapples, help digest the proteins in food.

Ginger has long been used as an aid for gastrointestinal distress and as a tonic for the digestive tract.

Eliminating waste

The key to helping your intestines and colon stay healthy is fiber, but most people are fiber deficient.

Soluble fiber lowers blood cholesterol and delays glucose absorption, while insoluble fiber speeds the transit time of food passing through the GI tract. A combination of both soluble and insoluble fiber from sources such as fruits and whole grains as well as beans and some vegetables provides both benefits.

Glucomannan is a very unique source of water soluble fiber, able to absorb 200 times its weight in water. Because it is so powerful, a much smaller amount is needed than of other soluble fibers such as psyllium or bran to achieve the same results.