Digestive symptoms are easy enough to identify, but diagnoses and causes – well, that’s where things get murky. After reading Dr. Robynne Chutkan’s new book Gutbliss, I have a whole new perspective on why digestive health issues are so complicated. Among the more commonly known disorders – IBS, constipation, celiac disease – there are plenty of other issues that can affect your gut.
The Canadian Health Food Association held its largest annual conference and trade show in Toronto recently, showcasing the country’s fast-growing natural health and organics industry. Supplements, beauty products and (of course) food were all on display at CHFA East, with a smattering of buzz-worthy products from both established companies and recently launched ventures.
Here are six healthy food and drink products that stood out for me, digestively speaking:
I’ve called out these crackers before because they’re an ideal thing to snack on when you’re cutting out gluten and dairy; the company’s founder started making her products after struggling with celiac disease. This new Super Seed variety eliminates tamari, making it completely soy-free (soy is one of the most common food allergies and sensitivities). It lives up to its name thanks to a crunchy blend of pumpkin, sunflower, flax, sesame and poppy seeds.
This bottled drink is a weirdly satisfying smoothie/juice hybrid. Hydrated chia seeds are mixed with juices to form a gel-like substance. As New York Times food columnist Martha Rose Shulman writes, this gelatinous property “aids digestion and contributes to [chia seeds'] low-glycemic index.” The seeds are also packed with fibre – and this drink contains six grams of it, making it a good way to help your digestive system function more effectively.
A sensitive digestive system – and the list of “shouldn’t eats” that comes with it – can be a pain. I often grapple with how to eat right for my system without getting swallowed up by food restrictions and feeling like a social outcast.
It was restriction exhaustion that made me hesitant to do research on the low-FODMAP diet, even though it’s said to be a successful way to manage irritable bowel syndrome. What are FODMAPs? In short, they’re a group of short-chain carbohydrates that are common triggers of bloating, gas and other stomach problems. A 2010 Australian study showed cutting out or restricting these particular carbs was an “effective approach to the management of patients with functional gut symptoms.” The Canadian Digestive Health Foundation also recently created a FODMAPs fact sheet targeted at those with IBS.
FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols – a grouping that includes lactose, fructose and sugar alcohols. Certain fruits, vegetables, grains, sugars and other foods that fall under one of these categories are limited on the low-FODMAP diet. As nutritionist Monica Reinagel writes, the diet is effective because “it eliminates several categories of compounds which, together, are responsible for a large share of digestive drama.”
For many people (myself included), fall feels like an ideal time to pick up new healthy habits. If you’re looking to tune up your digestive system this fall, you don’t have to spend a lot of money or time doing it. Keep it simple and budget-friendly with these three additions to your daily routine:
Drink warm lemon water every morning.
I’ve tried and failed at sticking with this habit because I’m constantly in a rush in the morning. That said, I’m determined to get back on track with it in September. Lemon water is repeatedly touted as an important morning habit for good reason; digestively speaking, it jump-starts hydrochloric acid production and flushes out toxins. To save time, I pre-squeeze 2-3 lemons at a time and store in a glass jar in the fridge, then add about a tablespoon and half to my morning H2O.
Aim for a tablespoon or two of ground flaxseed a day.
I brushed off flax for a long time due to my preoccupation with chia and hemp seeds. But flax seeds are special because of their high soluble fibre content – the type of fibre that helps sensitive digestive systems and combats constipation. Opt for ground flaxseed (whole seeds mostly pass through the intestine undigested) and store in a small glass jar in the fridge so it’s easy to sprinkle on cereal, oatmeal, smoothies, yogurt and applesauce. It’s best to start with a tablespoon and work your way up so your system can adjust.
Drink a post-dinner peppermint tea.
I recently re-started this ritual and I’ve noticed a big difference in my digestion. Peppermint is know for alleviating gas, indigestion and heartburn, and for soothing the digestive tract. There’s also something calming about sitting and drinking tea after a meal. If you don’t like peppermint, chamomile and ginger are also excellent choices – and they’re the perfect thing to order after a large restaurant meal.
Not so tough, right? I’ll be trying to make these habits stick for smoother sailing on the digestive front this fall. I hope they help you, too!
After the last long weekend away at my family cottage, I pondered a conundrum. While up north, I tended to eat not-so-good foods that I stayed away from while at home – pop, chips, candy, bacon. But at the cottage I was relaxed, mostly removed from technology and around a table with my family. At home, my diet swung back to its regular healthy ways, but I scarfed meals down regularly, often in front of my computer or while checking my phone. Why couldn’t I get the combination of eating well and being relaxed?
It seems I’m far from alone in this conundrum. A recent survey done by Love Your Gut, the organization behind the U.K.’s Gut Week, found fewer than one in ten people enjoy a lunch hour away from work and one in five eat lunch sitting in front of the computer answering emails. Unsurprisingly, the survey also revealed more people are grabbing food on the go and skipping eating meals at a table. The bad news? We’re paying the price when it comes to our digestive health.
“It’s worrying that almost a third of the people surveyed feel stressed and anxious most days as these feelings can activate the sympathetic nervous system, which can increase intestinal sensitivity and cause spasms, bloating and indigestion,” said Dr. Nick Read in a release that accompanied the survey.
I recently read a powerful op-ed piece in The New York Times written by a woman who helped a sick friend in a non-traditional way. When his debilitating ulcerative colitis wasn’t getting better from drug therapy, she donated her healthy feces to be implanted in him multiple times. The procedures worked, easing the persistent bleeding and diarrhea he had been experiencing.
I know – not the most pleasant of topics, but fecal transplants are an exciting area of research that have the potential to help a lot of sick people at a low cost. The procedure, in simple terms? Implanting healthy poop blended with saline solution into a person’s colon as a way of re-populating their gut with good bacteria. While the procedure is still considered “investigational” in both Canada and the U.S., there are a growing number of medical professionals who believe it’s an effective treatment, particularly for patients with a Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infection (more details in this recent Maclean’s article on the topic).
It’s always a bonus to find something decadent-tasting that’s actually good for you. Take coconut oil, a product I’ve become a fan of in the last few months. With a buttery flavour that lends itself especially well to smoothies and baking (not to mention hair conditioning), this plant-derived oil can help your digestive system in a number of ways.
People with stomach problems are often told to stay away from high-fat foods, partly because long-chain fatty acids are hard to break down. While coconut oil is indeed a high-fat food (14 grams of fat per tablespoon, 13 of them saturated), it contains mainly medium-chain fatty acids, which don’t cause strain on the system because they don’t require pancreatic enzymes or bile from the liver for digestion.
Smoothies will save us. Okay, that’s obviously an exaggeration, but I’m starting to think we can cure a lot of what ails us by drinking a smoothie every day that’s packed with fibre- and antioxidant-rich foods. I’ve praised green monsters on the blog before, but I’ve switched to a lighter and more juice-like blend for summer, which I found in nutritionist Meghan Telpner’s awesome new book, UnDiet.
I was surprised my blender could handle all the stuff in this recipe – and I wasn’t sure I’d like a smoothie made with water instead of almond milk – but I’m really on board with it. Bonus: It contains coconut oil, a natural antifungal that helps fight off bad bacteria.
It’s starting to get warmer out, so the thought of a hot water bottle could be off-putting. You might also be thinking I’m suddenly a grandma, but hear me out.
I recently bought a HWB on the recommendation of my physiotherapist as a way to help heal a stretched ligament in my wrist. While using it for that, I also began putting it on my stomach any time I was feeling crampy, bloated or in a state of digestive distress. And…it worked! The rush of heat is super soothing and helps your abdominal muscles relax, an important part of relieving discomfort. It’s not a miracle worker, but it’s a great thing to have on hand when your stomach needs some extra attention.
Need more incentive? It’s cheap, travel-friendly and you don’t need a microwave to use it. Yesss.
Time for another round of meal time disclosure! I’m trying to be good and stay off most forms of sugar. And trying, yet again, to start the day with lemon water (I’m at about a 50% success rate at the moment). Did you know lemon water stimulates ever-important hydrochloric acid production in your stomach? Another post on that coming soon, but in the meantime I’ll leave you with this.
Warm-ish water with a quarter of a lemon squeezed in. Virtuous!
I soaked three tablespoons of chia seeds in about a cup and a half of unsweetened vanilla almond milk in the fridge overnight to make chia pudding. After stirring it well, I topped with a drizzle of coconut oil, unsweetened shredded coconut, raw cacao nibs (my new thing) and a few cashews.
Good, but would taste better with a little sweetener I think.
Some leftover brown rice and beans, straight from the fridge, and a few bites of kimchi (am I the only one who craves kimchi at any time of day?). Breakfast didn’t leave me full for as long as I expected.