Gut Health: Digestive Enzymes 101

What the heck are digestive enzymes and why might you need them? Get the inside scoop from a registered dietitian nutritionist here.

After 5,473 days of winter it feels like we can finalllllly start believing it’s really spring, and that summer is just around the corner. We can slowly start coming out of what feels a little bit like hibernation and transition into spring mode, filling our weekends with soccer games and barbecues, pool parties and birthday celebrations, picnics and concerts.

digestive enzymes for gut health

[Hey guys – what follows is a sponsored post I’ve created with a brand that I believe in and we already use in our day to day lives – Renew Life® Digest Smart Enzymes.I feel good about supporting it and hope you do too.]

Our laid-back mostly empty schedule quickly transitions into a packed (but fun-filled) calendar of events. With the gorgeous spring weather comes school events, parties, and barbecues that all seem full of savory, sweet, and just straight up delicious foods.

health for kidsstay healthy this spring

staying healthy in the spring

For some people all those food-centric events are no big deal, but for others, eating so many different foods (especially if they’re processed or protein-rich) can cause some discomfort, like gas and bloating. Pretty much exactly what you don’t want when you’re trying to enjoy a fun-filled event or weekend. I mean, the last thing you want to do is put an early-end to your good time because your stomach is betraying you (been there, done that!)

spring in to health

Bloating and discomfort shouldn’t have to be part of your social schedule, and your shouldn’t have to cancel or avoid food-filled events because you’re not sure how you’re body will react (also been there, done that – I used to be the queen of unfortunate stomach issues before I truly learned what “gut health” meant).

I fee like we hear a lot about “gut health” these days, but we don’t always talk about what it means or why it’s important. The gut is considered the core of your body’s overall health and well-being and can affect your entire body including immune health, energy, happiness, stress and more. (So yeah, just a little important.;))

I’ve talked about the benefits of probiotics before but there’s also other factors that can support gut health and digestion, like enzymes. So let’s talk digestive enzymes for a minute.

digestive enzymes for good gut health

Every meal you eat contains multiple food sources – protein, carbohydrate, fat, and fiber. Your body makes enzymes to break down these foods, but there are times our system could use a little help with digestion (like all those summer barbecues).

What exactly are enzymes?

Enzymes are proteins that control and speed up reactions in the body – our body’s natural digestive enzymes’ role is specifically to help break down food into smaller parts so that our bodies can absorb and utilize them. For example, they help break proteins into amino acids (the “building blocks” of protein) and carbohydrates into simple sugars like glucose. There are tons of enzymes used in the digestive process, each with a specific job or action.

(Curious if something is an enzyme? It usually ends in the suffix “-ase”, like lactase, sucrase, or lipase.  Some other enzymes that get a lot of attention but break this rule are papain and bromelaine, from papaya and pineapple, respectively. )

Many enzymes are produced in the gut lining of the small intestine (as well as the pancreas, salivary glands, stomach, and liver) which is another reason why keeping your gut healthy is so important. (Supporting a health gut can mean things like eating quality prebiotics and probiotics, or using a supplement to help such as Renew Life® Digest Smart Enzymes.)

What can affect adequate enzyme function?

Certain diseases can affect the production of enzymes and sometimes chemicals can get in the way and block their action. Other causes include low stomach acid, inflammation, aging, and chronic stress. (What, stress with a busy social calendar?! Certainly not uncommon.) Failing to adequately break down and digest the food we eat can lead to those uncomfortable post-meal sensations like gas and bloating.

Even though your body makes it’s own enzymes, an enzyme supplement like Renew Life® Digest Smart Enzymes, which contains 25 plant-based, raw enzymes, can provide powerful digestive support when you need it the most, like after eating a third helping of your neighbor’s famous apple pie piled with homemade whipped cream at the end of school neighborhood block party. Taking enzymes before your meal can help break down a variety of foods and dispel gas. If you’re using a supplement, it’s important that it contains multiple enzymes since remember, each one has a different function.  This formula helps breakdown proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and fiber*, and it’s specifically designed to support the digestion of the most problematic foods*.

improving gut health with digestive enzymes

While enzymes can help with the occasional gas, bloating, or indigestion, you should always check with a doctor if you have a specific condition, as food allergies and gut conditions should be addressed separately.

You can also help minimize bloating and discomfort by taking some natural, preventative measures, like drinking plenty of fluids, eating smaller portions, chewing your food thoroughly, eating at a relaxed pace, and exercising regularly (or even taking a slow stroll after a meal).

So as you start to pack your spring with fun events like barbecues, parties, and concerts, don’t forget to keep supporting that healthy gut, since it plays a role in so much of your overall wellbeing, from your immune system to your mood.

healthy guts healthy kids* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

[[Just a reminder, this is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Renew Life Digest Smart Enzymes.]]


Tracking Pixel

Back to School: Practical Tips for Healthy Guts

Tracking PixelGet the 411 on how to keep your kids (and yourself! healthy as they head back to school by making sure their immune system – and digestive systems- are ready for the influx of germs.

I’m sitting here in front of my keyboard on the first morning of the last week of my oldest son’s summer break. His last week of summer break. He’s on the threshold of taking a monumental first step into the world of kindergarten.

As a work-at-home-mom, I’ve been able to spend most of every single day of my son’s entire life with him. That’s five and a half years with him by my side for the better part of the day. I could turn this into a long weepy, philosophical reflection, but don’t you worry, I’ll save that for my inner brain to stumble over all week long. Instead, I’m trying to push those thoughts aside and compensating by focusing on being practical.

Practical ways to keep your kids’ guts healthy during the back to school season from a mom and dietitian. AD

Hey guys – what follows is a sponsored post I’ve created with a brand that I believe in and we already use in our day to day lives, Renew Life® Ultimate Flora Probiotics. I feel good about supporting it and hope you do to. And I’ll do my best to hide my weepiness about my oldest starting REAL school in a few days. Someone hold me…now on to those tips about healthy guts:

We’ve cleaned off old backpacks and lunchboxes and bought new ones just in case. We have new stainless steel over-priced water bottles they’ll probably lose in a week that I couldn’t say no to. I’ve ordered new name labels and triple-checked the school supply list. I’ve even pre-made some mini gluten-free, dairy-free pizzas for the freezer so we can have some fun lunches to grab on the sure-to-be-hectic mornings adjusting to a new schedule.

I can’t obsess about his teacher or classmates or bus schedule because none of that has been released yet (talk about waiting until the last minute). I thought I’d checked everything off my practical to-do list (completely ignoring the emotional tornado wreaking havoc in my mind). Then I saw a post on Facebook about some must have magical hair-detangler spray that fights lice. Lice. One more thing that has to go on my list of preparedness. This is part of our world now.

And of course, lice is probably the least of our problems. Both my boys will be in new schools with new kids, and with that comes… new germs. TWO sets of new germs. (Where am I shipping my innocent boys off to?!?) I could immediately sign myself up for the crazy-worry-loony-bin, but fending off illness? That’s something this practical mom can handle.

School may not have started yet but we’re already doubling-down on our germ-fighting routine, from the inside out. Going back to school, and honestly, just being a kid these days takes guts.

Here’s our plan of attack to keep our guts healthy:

Get really dirty. Yup, that’s right. Playing outside and in the dirt is an awesome way to build up your immune system. Plus, what boy doesn’t love playing in the dirt? It’s win-win for me.
healthy guts kidshealthy guts for kids

Stick to bedtime. I know, #lamestmomever. But if my kids miss their bedtime window, it takes an act of magic to get them to sleep and then they end up getting up even earlier than early. Sleep is a HUGE factor in immune health and we’ll take all the help we can get. (Not to mention getting enough rest helps keep the crankiness at bay, which I’m sure we’ll have plenty of as we adjust to the new all-day routine of kindergarten.)

Keep the sugar at bay. I know, give me another prize for being a lame mom here. But for the record, I didn’t say NO sugar; just less. It’s easy to say yes to every single treat kids ask for, but it adds up so easily. A granola bar, a juice box, some ketchup and BAM. I think by now we all know what sugar can do to us, especially kids, but sometimes we just need a reminder to keep it in check.

kids healthy guts

Focus on healthy guts. Did you know at least 70% of your immune system is in your gut? A healthy gut can help boost your immune health. We focus on probiotic-rich foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha, plus the whole family takes a daily probiotic to make sure we’re getting adequate amounts of the good bugs. (I mean; how much sauerkraut can I really get my 5-year-old to eat?) We love Renew Life Ultimate Flora Probiotics – they’re gluten & dairy free, don’t require refrigeration, come in a delayed-release capsule, and contain 30 billion live cultures per capsule & 10 scientifically studied probiotic strains. {Translation: that’s good stuff!} Plus, they even come in chewable tablets and gummies as well!

probiotics healthy guts

In addition to playing a huge role in immunity, did you know a healthy gut can improve your memory, sleep and lower stress? Plus, 95% of your body’s happiness-inducing serotonin is produced in your gut. All things we can get on board with as we enter this back-to-school phase of life. Better memory. More energy. Less stress. Happier. Yup, sign us up.

healthy guts with probiotics

Wish us luck on our adventures in a new-to-us world. Feel free to send your immune-boosting, germ-fighting, kindergarten-survival secrets. And tissues. Send tissues.

Growing up today takes guts. Check out the latest video ad from Renew Life here.

Just a reminder, this is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Renew Life® Ultimate Flora Probiotics.


How to Use an Instant Pot for Easy Meal Prep + 7 Recipes to Try!

5 ways to use an Instant Pot {or any electric pressure cooker} for speeding up meal prep, plus 7 gluten-free, dairy-free Instant Pot recipes to try.

Have you hopped on the Instant Pot bandwagon yet? I don’t know when this became the latest cooking craze, but it seems to be popping up everywhere. Saying “pressure cooker” makes it sound old school, homey, and quaint, but “Instant Pot” makes it sound new, cool, and hip. Ok, maybe not quite cool or hip, but whatever you want to call it I’m a fan.

The beauty of an electric pressure cooker {which is really what the Instant Pot is} is that it has the convenience and ease of a slow cooker, but makes things FAST. {Which perhaps you gathered from the word instant.} But it’s a mostly hands-off, quick way to prepare a meal. What busy mom doesn’t hear music ringing in her ears for that?

I guess you’d say the Instant Pot has a little bit of a learning curve – honestly I was terrified to use it for the first time – but now that I’m over the initial hump I’m in love. I’m still in the learning phase but I couldn’t help but jump in here and share. While I’ve made a few winner-meals, my absolute favorite thing to use an electric pressure cooker for is helping with healthy meal prep. The key to surviving the busy chaos of dinner time, especially with tiny ones literally underfoot, is having things ready to go ahead of time and making it as hands-free as possible.

Instant Pot for the double win.

instant pot for meal prep

Here’s how I’ve been using it to help with food prep lately. I’d love to hear your ideas too! Plus below are some meals that are on my to-make agenda, in case you’re looking for a few ideas yourself.

By the way, these will work with any electric pressure cooker, “Instant Pot” is just a brand. I have the 6 qt 6-in- 1, but there’s also a 7-in-1 {I believe the added function is yogurt maker} and 5 and 8 qt sizes.



Instant Pot for Food Prep

Hardboiled Eggs

There are a million options for how to make hardboiled eggs in an Instant Pot, but what that really tells you is that it’s hard to mess up. Now, granted, I have cracked a few eggs – but they’ve still been edible. The main reason I keep using the pressure cooker for hardboiled eggs is because they’re super easy to peel! They don’t take long and I don’t have to leave a hot pan on the stove.

I’ve been using the 5-5-5 method: cook for 5 minutes, let the pressure release naturally {NPR} for 5 minutes, then a 5 minute ice bath.

You can also apparently cook them for 2-3 minutes, let the pressure release naturally and just leave them til you feel like it, but I like the ice bath so I can eat or use them right away.

Dry Beans

Beans are my go-to pantry meal. Whenever I don’t know what’s for dinner or didn’t make it to the store, beans it is. I love the idea of making them from dry beans instead of a can, but then you have to plan ahead {soaking, long cook time, etc.} But with the Instant Pot, plan ahead no more!

There are lots of ways to do it {many skip the “soak” part all together}, but here’s what I’ve been doing:

Cook the beans on high pressure for 2 minutes, then use them in your recipe as normal {or if you’re just prepping beans for other meals, use the “Bean” setting – great for popping in the fridge or freezer for meals throughout the week.} Use about 4 cups of water or broth for each cup of beans. {“Soaking” helps breakdown the indigestible sugars that give us the infamous bean song.}

My favorite bean-prep combo has been black beans, minced chorizo, onions, chicken broth, bay leaf, and oregano. So yummy.

Baked Potatoes

There are lots of ways to “hack” a baked potato prep {like using a slow cooker or the microwave} but here’s another for you: baked potatoes in the Instant Pot.

Poke some holes in your potatoes with a fork, put them in the pressure cooker with a cup of water for 12 minutes, then let the pressure release naturally {NPR}. We’ve been eating them straight out of the pot like this, but you can also pop them in the over for a few minutes to crisp up the skin.

Spaghetti Squash

I love spaghetti squash {although not as an actual spaghetti substitute} but finding the time to bake it ahead of time and then use it in a recipe on top of that means I’d never do it. Using the Instant Pot makes it easy – cut it in half {through the round side, not lengthwise} so it fits in the pot with a cup of water. Cook for 7 minutes then do a quick pressure release {aka just open the valve}. Let it cool down a little then scoop out the seeds and make the magic happen.

Frozen Chicken

By far my favorite use of the Instant Pot vs the slow cooker. I’m all about my slow cooker but you still have to plan and remember to defrost your meat or put your meal in early enough. With a pressure cooker, you can just pop the meat in frozen. It takes a little bit longer to come to pressure, but cooks quickly and is one of my favorite ways to get dinner on the table in a hurry.

I use it mostly for chicken. You can use any sauce or flavor combo you want {salsa is a popular go-to around here}; just make sure you have a cup of liquid. I typically do half whatever sauce I’m using and a half water or broth. Set the Instant Pot to “Poultry” or 10  minutes, then do a natural pressure release {NPR}. Ta-da. I like shredded this up and using it for meals throughout the week.

Tip: you can speed up how long it takes for the Instant Pot to come to pressure by putting it on “Saute” mode beforehand.


Instant Pot Recipe Ideas || Gluten Free Dairy Free

Ok so there are my tips for using the Instant Pot for meal prep. Although I love it for meal prep alone, it’s also great for throwing together hands-off, last-minute meals. I need to re-make and perfect a few of the recipes we’ve been experimenting with before sharing, but in the mean time, here’s a few on my to-make list.

Chicken Pho

chicken-pho instant pot

Ok, truth? I’ve never had pho. But I reallly like the idea of it. Looks delicious and soul warming and spicy and delicious. Oh I said that already. But the fact that I can cook the chicken and make a hearty broth all at once just sucks me right it. Plus I love a good play on words so you had me at Faux Pho.

Chicken Faux Pho from The Sophisticated Caveman.

Chili Lime Chicken

chili lime chicken instant pot

The versatility of this simple staple speaks to me. Chicken and rice. Tacos. Lettuce wraps. Salad. I’m in. Plus you can’t go wrong with chili and lime.

Chili Lime Chicken from Our Best Bites

Beef & Broccoli

beef and broccoli instant pot

I’m not really a beef person, but if my husband says “Chicken agaaaain?” one more time, someone’s gonna get hurt. Since I’m an awesome wife, this former vegetarian is taking one for the team. And since I reallllly like Chinese food but can’t get takeout {kiddo’s soy allergy}, this sounds like the next best thing.

Beef & Broccoli from Pressure Cooker Today

Korean Black-eyed Peas

korean-blackeyed-peas-instant pot

I love that this has a Korean twist AND it’s meatless. I can only think of one Korean dish I’ve made and it was delicious, so it’s time to add to my repertoire. Blackeye peas just happen to be one of my southern husband’s most favorite foods so I’m hoping he won’t notice the lack of manly meat.

Korean-Inspired Black-eyed Peas & Kale from Fat Free Vegan

Butternut Squash Risotto

butternut squash risotto instant pot

Yes, you read that right: risotto. In the same post with instant in the title. I love risotto but not the time-intensive involvement of standing at the stove stirring for 20 minutes. I probably haven’t made risotto since, well, before I had kids, because…kids. Kids + stoves + long time = nope. So yeah, trying this out for sure. Plus thought it looks creamy, I assure you it’s dairy free.

Butternut Squash Risotto from Make Real Food

Braised Cabbage

braised cabbage instant pot

To me, “braise” means “take forever”. I know it’s totally not true, but I always avoid recipes that calling for braising because of that. This solves that. Plus it’s just a fun veggie-filled way to use a pressure cooker.

Sweet and Spicy Braised Cabbage from The Kitchn

White Chicken Chili


Those jalapenos are just calling mine name. Like I really need another chili recipe. Or chicken recipe. But this sounds like one that wouldn’t be hard to mess up as a pressure cooker newbie.

White Chicken Chili from Allergy Free Alaska

Snag an Instant Pot here!

Do you use a pressure cooker for meal prep or easy meals? I’d love to hear your tips and favorite recipes!

Buttermilk Apple Pancakes {Vegan & Gluten Free}

Take your gluten free pancakes to the next level with this buttermilk apple pancakes recipe. They’re dairy free and vegan too.

Ok, I know it’s not apple season yet, but I just can’t wait until fall to dig into some apples. I’ve been buying gala apples by the 5lb bag and can’t seem to make them last long enough. I cannot wait until we can go apple-picking and grab some fresh ones – hopefully we can actually make that happen this year.

Gluten free pancakes with apple three ways

Anyways, I’m all about some apple and these gluten free pancakes include it in not one, but three ways. Feel free to stick to just one, but why stop there when you can get triple the apple action? I may have called them “buttermilk” pancakes, but don’t be fooled – these pancakes are dairy-free and gluten-free too.

Dairy free buttermilk pancakes recipe

By adding apple cider vinegar {wait, does that mean there are apples FOUR ways?}, to the Almond Breeze Almondmilk, you can “fake” a buttermilk-like effect.

dairy free almond milk

vegan pancake recipe

For super apple power, top these gluten free pancakes with chunks of apple {I like to sprinkle mine with lemon juice and cinnamon} and add a dollop of fresh homemade apple butter.

buttermilk apple pancake recipes

Apple Buttermilk Gluten Free Pancakes

by Heather Neal


  • 1 1/2 cups gluten-free flour {I use oat flour}
  • 1/2 cup gluten-free oats
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups Almond Breeze Almondmilk Original
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4-1/2 cup diced apples
  • apple butter {store-bought or easy apple butter recipe here}


Mix apple cider vinegar and almond milk together. Set aside.

Combine remaining ingredients except apples.

Stir in milk mixture.

Gently fold in apples.

Heat a skillet to medium; cook pancakes several minutes on each side. {Flip when you see air bubbles or the edges start to dry.}

Serve with extra apples & apple butter on top.

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For more recipes using almond milk, check these out –>

almond milk recipes

Funfetti Cinnamon Rolls

Vegan Queso Blanco

Green Monster Cubes

Chocolate Hazelnut Cinnamon Rolls

Toasted Almond Scones

Vegan Chocolate Chip Sticky Buns


This post was originally sponsored by Almond Breeze Almondmilk.