Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a group of symptoms that occur together, affects about 12 percent of the US population. Doctors classify IBS as a functional disorder related to how your brain and gut work together. Symptoms may include abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and diarrhea, and may be present without any visible changes or disease in the digestive tract. Many of these symptoms may be due to changes in the way the muscles in your bowel contract. For relief, the first approach is diet modification. Other strategies include lifestyle changes, medicines, probiotics, and mental health therapies.
If you have ongoing issues with digestion, constipation, or diarrhea, consult a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) specializing in irritable bowel syndrome and the FODMAP diet. Developed by Monash University in Australia, this diet has been used successfully with IBS patients for more than ten years. I do not recommend that you self-diagnose and use the FODMAP diet on your own. Though you might experience symptom relief, you should not follow the diet for more than six weeks because the plan tends to be very low in fiber.
Many people feel better when they stop eating bread. They attribute gluten sensitivity; however, in my experience, the culprit is not gluten but rather a predominant protein found in American hybridized wheat. You might try eating bread made with flour from ancient grains. Both Barrio Bread in Tucson and Mediterra Bakery, in Coolidge, bake bread with Arizona Sonoran Wheat, an ancient wheat variety. You also may be able to tolerate spelt flour bread.
Because the pancreas produces less lactase as we age, milk sugar (lactose) can create stomach and upper GI problems for older people. I recommend using organic soy milk in place of cows’ milk. Aged cheeses (like cheddar and parmesan), Greek yogurt, and kefir are all low in lactose, and most people can consume these in small quantities. If the source of the problem is milk protein, you could try the more easily digested goat or sheep’s milk.
To be safe, talk to a dietitian before trying a probiotic supplement. Many people often experience digestive distress because the strains in some probiotics don’t get along well with your resident gut bacteria.
When you adopt these ten habits, your bowel should thank you by moving more regularly. Also, you may enjoy better health because 80 percent of your immune tissue is in your gut. If any of these foods cause digestive discomfort, please seek the advice of an RDN because your symptoms may be due to food intolerances.
- Begin your day with a fiber-rich meal. A full cup of cooked old-fashioned rolled oats or an ounce of bran flakes will provide five grams of fiber without a load of unwanted sugar. Instead of juice, enjoy fresh orange or a half grapefruit.
- Strive for five. Eat at least five servings of non-starchy vegetables every day. A serving of vegetables is about a half-cup. Most vegetables contain both soluble and insoluble fiber.
- Eat prunes. Two or three dried prunes with two walnut halves make a great snack.
- Adopt the half-cup habit. Choose to eat one serving of beans or legumes daily: a cup of soup, a half-cup of cooked beans, or a quarter cup of hummus some options. Chickpeas and black beans are more easily digested than other types.
- Eat probiotic-rich foods. Lactose-free kefir, low-lactose Greek yogurt, naturally fermented sauerkraut, and Kim Chi are probiotic-rich foods that can help maintain gut health.
- Stay hydrated. Drink six ounces of water or unsweetened tea or coffee every hour up until two hours before bedtime.
- Be physically active. Aim for at least 30 minutes of heart-healthy activity each day.
- Move more. Each hour, get out of your chair and walk briskly for two minutes.
- Relax. Stress is a primary cause of constipation. Try doing a brief meditation each morning, and train your bowel to move about the same time each day.
- Sleep. Rebalancing of all the body’s hormones occurs during sleep. Also, our brain resets, and healing of the tissues occurs.
Nancy Teeter, RDN, is a SaddleBrooke resident who is passionate about sharing her nutrition knowledge with others. This article should not replace advice from your medical provider.