Manage Gut Health and IBS with the Low FODMAP Diet
Do you often experience cramps and bloating after eating certain foods? Are you eating too fast and simply JUST eating? Are you often constipated, have diarrhea, or alternating periods of both? You may be experiencing symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, also known as IBS.
What is IBS, what causes it, and how should you deal with it?
We have yet to find the root cause for IBS. However, there are a few factors that we believe may contribute to developing this syndrome.
Genetic conditions that may contribute to IBS:
Once the food we eat travels through our esophagus, stomach, and small intestine, it then reaches the big intestine, where it makes its way around through to the anal canal through a process we call peristalsis (the involuntary constriction and relaxation of the muscles of the intestine or another canal, creating wavelike movements that push the contents of the canal forward.)
In some cases, the contractions of the muscles around the gastrointestinal tract happen too fast, causing the food to travel through too quickly. As a result, the lining of your large intestine does not have enough time to absorb the water and nutrients from the food you eat which may cause someone to have watery stools often.
In other cases, the contractions happen too slow. As a result, your large intestine absorbs too much water from your food which may result in hardened stools and constipation.
Our brain is in constant communication with the rest of our body. When we eat, our digestive system sends signal to our brain, keeping it informed on the state of our digestion: how much food it is dealing with, if we are full, and so on. In some people, the nerves surrounding the GI tract are too sensitive and send disproportionate signals to the brain which, in turn, sends stress hormones back to the digestive system which causes your bowels to spasm. On top of hindering digestion and prevent you from properly absorbing nutrients, this may also cause cramps, bloating, discomfort and gas.
Environmental conditions that may contribute to IBS:
It is believed that in some cases, consumption of foods that are either inflammatory such as junk foods, simple sugars, alcohols and/or foods that we have allergies or sensitivities to repeatedly upsets the gut lining, until finally it is damaged enough that we do not have the same capacity to break down and absorb certain foods. What happens next is that the undigested food left behind starts fermenting and drawing water into the bowels, creating water retention and making us feel bloated, giving us cramps and gas.
Experiencing IBS symptoms can be quite debilitating, painful and may mean you need a washroom close by at all times if diarrhea is one of the symptoms you are experiencing often. So, if that is you and you suspect you may have IBS… What now?
First, it is important to mention that for most people it is a mix of two or more of the above possible reasons listed for experiencing IBS symptoms.
Low FODMAP diet
What is the Low FODMAP diet? FODMAP stands for Fermentable, Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols... What?
In other words, FODMAPs are fermentable short chained carbohydrates that are harder for your body to breakdown and easy to ferment in the gut when they are not absorbed properly, which, like explained above, may cause pain, bloating, and discomfort along with a spectrum of other symptoms.
In turn, the low FODMAP diet is a diet low in these short-chained carbohydrates minimizing the risk factor for indigestions, pain, bloating, and gas. When you hear about low FODMAP foods, this refers to carbohydrates that have a low risk of fermentation in the gut as opposed to high FODMAP foods that have a high risk of fermentation.
What are these FODMAPs?
Surprisingly enough, high FODMAP foods do not only include simple carbohydrates and fruits that are high in sugar. The list also includes foods that are not as obvious such as celery, asparagus, artichoke, onions, avocado, apple or cashews to name a few.
Here is an extensive list of both low and high FODMAP foods to get you started: https://www.ibsdiets.org/fodmap-diet/fodmap-food-list/
A helpful app for your phone is Fast FODMAP. This app allows you to type in any food and will tell you right away if the food is low, high, or medium FODMAP. It even quizzes you if you wish to learn about the diet!
Ideally, the FODMAP diet should only be sustained for a certain period of time while our gut has time to heal through eating an anti-inflammatory, whole foods diet until eventually we are able to slowly re-introduce these foods to a new, healthy, happy, and fully functioning gut.
Arbour Lake and 130th Avenue stores in Calgary and the Enjoy Centre store in St. Albert carry Fody Foods products, which are low in FODMAPs.
Stress can be huge factor in contributing to IBS symptoms. Stress in and of itself causes our muscles to contract especially in our abdominal and around our digestive area. If our digestive system is already struggling with abnormal contractions and we are constantly experiencing chronic stress, creating tension in that area, it is easy to see how stress management techniques can be enormously beneficial in managing IBS symptoms.
Including stress management techniques in your daily/weekly routine does not mean you have to meditate for an hour a day and become a yoga guru, although meditation and yoga are incredibly beneficial. However, it is not a requirement and there are many other ways to include stress management techniques in your day to day life:
Remember to take a breath. Beyond diet, beyond breathing exercises, simply remember to take deep breaths throughout the day. Whenever you remember, whenever you notice your shoulders, neck or jaw being tight: take a few seconds to take deep slow breaths. It will become a habit and it will improve your quality of life, your central nervous system, and even your digestion.
Start your day with gratitude. We all know how mornings can be: You snooze the alarm too many times, you spill coffee on your white shirt on your way out the door, there is a traffic jam, you get to work realizing you forgot important papers at home. There are endless ways a morning can be frustrating and let’s face it: There is no way to change rush hour, or the fact that your bed seems to be a fluffy cloud of coziness in the morning.
What you can do are little things to ensure you react to the morning events positively and set yourself up for a great day. After all, it’s 24 hours you’ll never get back, right?
Before you even get out of bed, take 30 seconds to think about all the things that you are grateful for, and take a few seconds to truly feel that gratitude.
This will not only ensure you start your day off right, but it will train your brain to think positively, helping you react better in your day to day life. In turn, this will reduce stress and improve your quality of life.
- Nino, Wellness Lead Arbour Lake store