We know that many of our customers are concerned about what is an ideal diet to improve or maintain their gut health. We’d like to try and help you with some guidelines and advice on what are generally considered ‘good gut foods’. We understand how hard it is when you’re feeling ill to know what to eat to restore your gut health. Hopefully the information we’ve put together will be useful.
As with everything, however, it can be highly individual and what benefits one gut may not necessarily be what helps another. That said, there are still foods that most people with a sensitive gut seem more likely to find easy to digest, and may form part of keeping symptoms at bay.
It can be incredibly useful to keep a food diary of how you are reacting to different foods, including how you feel if you cut them out. This should help you to build up a picture of what your gut ‘likes’ and ‘doesn’t like’. Also there are plenty of resources online about gut-friendly diets such as on the IBS Network’s pages; and nutritionists and nutritional therapists like Amelia Freer or Dr Joan Ransley, among others, have recipes specifically tailored to gut health.
Patients often report that a diet rich in oily fish, white fish, chicken and other lean meats will reduce symptoms. Fatty foods may cause nausea, bloating and diarrhea. This is because fats are very reactive in the gut and are the most difficult thing for the body to digest. Eating them stimulates the digestive tract very rapidly and can therefore trigger IBS what can feel like almost instantly. In this vein, not overloading on dairy may also help.
Given gluten can be an irritant in the body, its also been reported that lowering intake of wheat is another option to try, and using gluten-free flours/pastas/breads will likely reduce symptoms. In terms of making sure of your ‘five-a-day’, research shows that for those with IBS and other gut health problems, spreading your fruit out throughout the day and not having too much at one time may help.
For drinks – plenty of water or herbal tea – hydration is key to a well functioning system. Coffee, tea or any other drink that contains caffeine can contribute to colonic spasms. There is also a clear benefit from reducing alcohol consumption – perhaps only drinking one-two nights a week and limiting intake so it’s not excessive.
Research also shows that fermented foods are highly beneficial, ie things like sauerkraut, kefir and other pickled vegetables. This is because they help balance stomach acid, and the bacteria formed in the fermentation process are useful for fighting off harmful bacteria and aiding digestion. They effectively help ferment carbohydrates. This process creates byproducts that keep the gut acidic, which prevents harmful organisms from being able to grow, while good gut bacteria more firmly establish themselves.
Additionally, carminate herbs have been reported to be of benefit. These are spices like cinnamon, cumin, nutmeg and cardamom and herbs like peppermint and contain an agent to prevent or relieve gas in the gastrointestinal tract. They act as a mild irritant (in a good way!), as a result relieving cramping and helping to expel gas. Peppermint also effectively anesthetizes the nerves in the intestinal tract, making it great for stomach pain or an upset stomach. Coriander has anti-spasmodic properties.Ginger also reduces cramping of the stomach and bowels.
In general, patients have found that not skipping meals, and trying not to eat late at night are also both helpful to manage symptoms. Introduce different foods slowly, and try and become increasingly more aware of your body and how a certain food feels as you’re digesting it. Sometimes it’s the combination of foods that is the problem – sometimes you might be able to tolerate small amounts of a ‘bad’ gut food, but not if combined with more than one other for example. Hopefully, in time, you’ll have your own list of foods that make you feel great inside!