Food is your medicine… but it can also be your poison.
Do you often experience unpleasant stomach issues such as bloating, abdominal discomfort, flatulence, diarrhoea, constipation or food intolerances? You might be suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, a condition affecting over 4 million Australians.
The good news is that you can prevent and cure this condition by simple lifestyle modifications, starting with your diet. Irritable bowel syndrome is an inflammatory illness so removing anything that’s highly pro-inflammatory from your diet is a good start. The next thing will be changing your mindset and developing a few healthy habits.
1. Eat your veggies
Vegetables are the best source of fibre and you need at least 6 serves a day to cover your recommended intake of 30g. What does fibre do? It acts as an intestinal brush mopping away any residual waste and toxins thus preventing food residue from getting stuck and fermented in your gut, causing flatulency. Keep in mind though that too much of insoluble fibre can potentially irritate your bowels. That’s why you are better of easing on grains, beans and legumes and loading up on leafy greens and other vegetables. Garlic, onion, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage can be also a cause of irritation.
2. Milk is for cows and babies
This is what my grandma used to say and she was right. Our ability to digest lactose (the sugar in milk) declines gradually after infancy making us more sensitive to milk as we age. This doesn’t mean you should avoid dairy altogether, as it is a good source of calcium and other nutrients. While drinking milkshakes is likely to upset your stomach, fermented dairy products such as yoghurt, kefir or quark should be fine as they contain less lactose and more bacteria that aids lactose breakdown.
3. Keep it real
Avoiding processed foods is probably one of the most important tips in reducing symptoms of IBS for many different reasons. Processed foods contain artificial additives, loads of sugar or artificial sweeteners, hydrogenated vegetable oils, trans fats and other pro-inflammatory nasties. Making your own food from fresh good quality ingredients is the best policy and if you are struggling to find quick snacks on the go, do your research and find some natural options free of chemical additives. Chief Collagen Bar could be your new favourite.
4. Smarten-up your diet
If your diet is made mostly of processed foods, sweet drinks, alcohol and caffeine, supplements aren’t going to make much difference. However, if you are doing everything right, there’s a way to supercharge your diet with natural supplements that will help to heal your gut. Collagen is our number one recommendation for IBS as is helps to seal the gut lining and reduce inflammation in the gut. Drinking organic bone broth or using a good quality collagen supplement will make a world of difference in just a few weeks. Just make sure your supplement is very low in sugar and contains vitamin C otherwise most of the collagen will go straight through your gut instead of absorbing in the intestinal lining.
5. Rest and digest
This is as simple as sitting down with your meal and chewing it slowly while also breathing slowly and enjoying every bite without watching TV, reading or checking your phone at the same time. Eating on the run or while engaging in other stimulating activities at the same time leads to poor digestion and exacerbated IBS symptoms. This is due to the ‘fight and flight’ response which switches on our sympathetic nervous system in response to stress and anxiety or even due to too much excitement, the common signs of today’s ‘business’ that many of us wear as a badge of honour. Sit down without distractions; focus on your breathing and on the smells and flavours of your food and chew slowly. While we call it the ‘eating meditation’, you don’t need a meditation room for it; it’s easily done at your desk. It would be better to get outside in the fresh air though.
Above all, get to know your body, as everyone’s digestion is a little bit different and that means different triggers of IBS symptoms. The best tip is to seek guidance from a registered dietitian or naturopath specialising in IBS.
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