One of the most common complaints I hear about in clinic, as well as clients and friends, is GI (gastrointestinal) problems. Gas, bloating, cramping and either diarrhea or constipation. Here are the top 3 things that could be causing these issues.
Yup, you heard it. Veggies. Veggies are the one food group just about everyone can agree is an essential part of our diets; from vegans to Paleo diet followers- veggies usually make the cut! But if you have GI issues, you may have already suspected certain vegetables may be the culprit; and you’d be right!
From a Chinese Medicine perspective, vegetables are a very cold food and if you have a weak digestive system, TCM practitioners usually recommend that you cook all your veggies. This ancient tradition falls in line with the more modern therapies being applied to GI issues from the Functional Medicine perspective: avoidance of certain foods due to their fiber content and carbohydrate make-up making them difficult to digest and causing all the problems mentioned above. All these dietary methodologies recommend either complete avoidance, or cooking, peeling, pureeing etc until the digestion is fixed.
The GAPS diet, for example limits vegetables to certain types of well-cooked starches and a small amount of fermented veggies, consuming almost every veg in a soup or stew. The SCD diet strictly limits veggies at the beginning, slowly adding in new ones, always well-cooked, peeled and pureed. Low carb dieters often experience constipation due to the limitation of veggies on some meal plans; and this would explain why a lower carb diet might be beneficial for someone using the bathroom 3-10 times a day!
I want to be clear: Veggies ARE an essential part of a healthy diet. I do NOT condone removal of veggies indefinitely. In fact, if you cannot eat veggies because of digestive issues, this a sure sign that you need to take some major steps toward heal your gut. But in the short term, removing certain veggies, cooking them well and focusing on soups and bone broths will make a world of difference in symptoms.
2) Gluten and Dairy
These two are clumped together because they have similar causative factors in digestive issues. Both contain proteins that cause allergic reactions and inflammation in the intestinal lining that leads to gas, bloating, cramping and (usually) diarrhea. There are many other issue with these foods, but the biggest is the inability to digest them due to lack of enzymes and intolerances. If you have digestive issues, including constipation, these foods should be closely examined and 4 wk removal considered. Gluten sensitivity is a serious disorder and can cause many serious health problems, not just GI issues. If you would like help with deeper investigation of the problems gluten may be causing, seek a properly trained Functional Medicine practitioner.
3) Hidden ingredients
Often, I encounter patients and clients who are well versed in the dietary limitations they have and are following a strict plan to eliminate their symptoms. However, they are either not getting better or have flare-ups of symptoms and don’t know why. Often, supplements and foods specifically intended to help GI symptoms contain ingredients that are having the exact opposite effect. A perfect example is a probiotic supplement that contains FOS.
Probiotics are becoming mainstream. They are becoming one of the top supplements purchased today. More and more Americans are becoming aware of the importance of the micro-biome (the beneficial bacterial living in our intestines) and are using probiotic supplements in the hopes of fixing their GI problems. I love this trend! However, as usual, there can be deleterious effects when people self prescribe and do not understand all the ingredients.
FOS stands for Fructooligosaccharides. These are a type of carbohydrate that feeds beneficial bacteria in our GI tract. Probiotic manufacturers put FOS in the mix to provide food for the bugs in the capsule, amplifying the effectiveness of the Probiotics. (Imagine stocking a pond with a bunch of fish. These fish would be starving if there was no food in the pond, which would make for great fishing, but how long would the fish last without food? Now imagine you stocked the pond with the fish and a bunch of food. The fish would thrive.) So this is the theory behind adding FOS to the probiotic capsule.
The problem is, the FOS ALSO feeds non-beneficial bacteria and bacterial overgrowth in the gut, which many, if not most of us with GI issues have! FOS is not the only “hidden ingredient” that is well-intended but often detrimental. Inulin, chicory, resistant starch, oligofructose, and anything termed “pre-biotic” will wreak havoc on a sensitive gut.
Pre-biotics are naturally occurring in vegetables and like veggies, have some amazing health benefits! By feeding the beneficial microbiota in our large intestines they are an integral part of achieving robust health. However, like veggies, if you have GI distress, avoidance is pretty important until you fix your gut.
Other hidden ingredients to look out for are: pre-biotics in protein powders, and all supplement powders; Guar Gum, Xanthin Gum, and carrageenan in everything from nut milks to protein powders to energy bars; gluten hiding in spices, sauces and prepared foods; and fake sugars like aspartame, sucralose, as well as naturally occurring sugar alcohols: erythritol, xylitol, mannitol – all can cause GI distress.
These are just the beginning of foods that, unbeknownst to you, can be contributing to your stomach issues. There are many, many causes for GI issues and this article does not begin to address them all. If you have severe GI distress, see your doctor or a gastroenterologist. However, many times, people come to me after several doctors could not help them. Diet is the FIRST thing that needs to be examined. Please do not do a long term elimination of vegetables without seeking the advice of a properly trained practitioner. If you need deeper investigation and guidance, work with me.