FEATURE — Digestive complaints are becoming increasingly common and it would follow that individuals are seeking a solution. As fad diets abound, there seems to be no end to the list of elimination diets, detoxes, cleanses or supplement regimens that promise better digestive health. Many of these lack scientific evidence of efficacy.
There are research-based methods that have been found therapeutic for anyone with digestive symptoms.
When digestive discomfort is present, it is a sign that something is going wrong. Bloating, gas, indigestion, heartburn, diarrhea and constipation are not normal. People tend to push through these symptoms but it is important to listen and learn from them.
These can be a sign of inflammation in the digestive tract, lack of adequate digestive enzymes, imbalance in natural gut flora or, in some cases, sign of a more serious inflammatory bowel condition like celiac disease, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
Seeing a gastroenterologist and being screened for these more serious digestive diseases is advised before making changes to diet. The popular trend of eliminating gluten prior to testing of celiac disease can result in a false negative and therefore prevent proper and vital treatment protocols.
A good dietary treatment for the above symptoms, including these disease states, would be a low FODMAP diet, which stands for fermentable, oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols, types of fermentable carbohydrates.
When the digestive tract is compromised, digesting these types of carbohydrates is difficult and often results in pain, gas, bloating, heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, et cetera. It isn’t so much a matter of carbohydrates, but choosing the type of carbohydrates that are easier for your digestive tract to process. Certain foods within each food group will contain FODMAPs, such as the following (this is not an exhaustive list):
- Grains: wheat, barley and rye (gluten is a protein and is unrelated to fermentable carbohydrates; coincidently, gluten-containing grains are high in FODMAPS and many mistake a FODMAP intolerance with a gluten intolerance)
- Fruits: apples, pears, cherries, grapefruit, peaches, plums and watermelon
- Vegetables: onions, garlic, artichokes, beets, cauliflower, corn, mushrooms
- Nuts/legumes: almonds, cashews, beans
- Dairy: milk, yogurt, ice cream
- Condiments: honey, hummus
Monash University in Australia does extensive research on FODMAP content of foods. They have an app available for iPhone and Android that is a great resource for the FODMAP content of individual foods, indicated by green (low FODMAP), yellow (moderate FODMAP) and red (high FODMAP) as a tracking system. For anyone suffering from digestive distress, I would encourage you to download it for convenient access to FODMAP levels in food. Search “Monash University low FODMAP diet” in your app store.
Many people with these digestive systems make the decision to eat healthier but they include many of these high FODMAP foods, since they would be healthy choices for anyone else. In this case, it’s easy to get discouraged! A few simple swaps – like eating bananas instead of apples, peanuts instead of almonds, bell peppers instead of mushrooms, regular potatoes instead of sweet potatoes and maple syrup instead of honey – can make a world of difference in how you feel. And, as always, I do encourage working with a trained nutrition professional when making changes to diet.
As you eat foods that are easier for your digestive tract to process, it creates the opportunity for your digestive tract to heal. Listening and responding to the messages your body is sending through pain and discomfort can result in healing and repair. Who doesn’t want that?
Finding relief from painful symptoms is priceless. I do hope you find the relief, health and healing you seek.
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Written by Emily Fonnesbeck for St. George Health and Wellness magazine and St. George News.
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