Digestion is a tricky business. You can do your best to eat plenty of vegetables, drink lots of water and cut out (or limit) gluten, dairy, alcohol, coffee and sugar. I do these things most of the time, and I consider my digestion good (much better than it was a few years ago!).
But – but! – I still go through periods of digestive upset, usually due to stress, eating on the go, or a day or two of “too much decadence.”
That’s why I’m a big fan of two supplements that can keep your digestive system happy even when you’re having a hectic week. I’m talkin’ about probiotics (you know I love them!) and digestive enzymes.
Which leads me to HUM Nutrition, a new-ish company based in California that makes a range of “beauty-boosting” supplements (they’re sold at Sephora in the U.S.). HUM recently sent me their probiotics and digestive enzymes, so I stopped taking my usual brands to give them a try.
I had the opportunity to attend the huuuge health food show CHFA East a couple of weeks ago, and it was overwhelming – so many amazing products! I wanted to do a roundup, so I decided to focus on gut-friendly food products since straight-up supplements are harder to review. After tons of sampling, here’s what stood out for me:
ohso good for you chocolate
This creamy Belgian chocolate bar contains 1 billion live probiotic bacteria – specifically the super gut-friendly lactobacilli and bifidobacteria strains. It also tastes really good!
Vida Grains Superfood Supplement
This blend of seeds, bran and psyllium is a low-effort way to add more soluble fibre to your diet (yep, that’s what keeps you regular). The Savoury Fiesta kind packs a flavour punch thanks to nutritional yeast, cumin and tumeric. Sprinkling it on quinoa, fish and salad greens has yielded tasty results. read more…
September is definitely a “fresh start” month for me. I’m not going back to school or starting anything new in particular, but there’s something about the transition from summer to fall that puts me firmly in the healthy eating, list-making and self improvement mode.
With that, I wanted to check in on some digestive health goals I set at the beginning of the year and share my progress (which isn’t as amazing as I hoped, but that’s why check-ins are good!). Here are the first two:
Goal #1: Commit to meditation
Stress is one of the biggest roadblocks to good health – especially good digestive health. With several stressors on my plate this year, I wanted to take a few minutes a day to calm my mind with simple meditation exercises (and stop and smell the flowers, so to speak). Fun fact: A Harvard Medical School study said patients with gastrointestinal disorders who took behavioural approaches (e.g. yoga, meditation) saw more improvement in their symptoms versus those who only went the conventional medicine route. read more…
If you’ve looked at a yogurt label or women’s magazine lately, you know discussion of gut bacteria is no longer confined to the lab. So it’s fitting the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation recently released a series of video lectures about the bacteria in our gastrointestinal tracts and how big a role it plays in our health.
The lecture by Dr. Stephen Collins, a gastroenterologist and associate dean of research at McMaster University, intrigued me most. He spoke about examining irritable bowel syndrome (which affects a whopping 12 per cent to 15 per cent of the global population) from a “microbiome” standpoint as opposed to the more traditional “psycho-somatic” model that largely links the condition to stress and anxiety. read more…
Last week, I told a few people I had an appointment for an abdominal massage. Most of them looked confused or recoiled while grabbing their stomachs. “Why would you want that?” one friend asked, and yes, I could see where she was coming from. Not only is my stomach sensitive, I’m also ticklish – a seemingly bad combination if someone is going to be touching your tummy for an extended period of time. And aren’t massages supposed to be relaxing?
But I was intrigued. I had read about how Maya abdominal massage could help women with painful periods and infertility by coaxing out-of-place uteruses back into position. This type of massage was also purported to help with digestive problems, including IBS, constipation and gastritis. Like a lot of women, I have a less-than-ideal period. I also tend to clench my stomach when I’m stressed. So I took to Google and found Heather Heaney, one of what appears to be only a handful of registered massage therapists in Toronto who practice Maya abdominal massage.
Note: This is a post I did for Global News in December – but it’s definitely relevant year-round!
‘Tis the season for socializing – and, in many cases, increased alcohol consumption. Thanks to holiday parties, friend gatherings and family dinners, there’s a good chance you’ll be passed a drink on several occasions in December. And not to be a wet blanket, but booze can really do a number on your digestive system.
Here are some ways alcohol affects the gut: It slows digestion and impacts enzyme production, which can result in abdominal discomfort, according to a 1997 study titled “Alcohol’s Role in Gastrointestinal Disorders”. What’s more, certain alcoholic drinks contain common gut irritants like fructose and gluten. And we all know drinking alcohol causes dehydration, which leads to an increased likelihood of constipation. Excess alcohol consumption can also trigger heartburn, stomach pain and diarrhea, especially for people with IBS.
But if you are going to drink, there are ways to prevent disaster. I must emphasize that you’re the most effective gauge of how you feel. If there are certain drinks you know cause trouble, avoid them! That said, here are some words of caution: read more…
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!