Gut feeling about food


In the third of our series looking at foods that can help different health conditions, we consider what’s good for your guts

SUPERMARKETS INDUCE a type of coma in many of us. With tens of thousands of products swamping the aisles, they are designed to appeal to our eyes and emotions.

As shoppers we respond to appearance, packaging and smell. Shininess and the colours yellow and red are appetite stimulants. But it’s our gut rather than our eyes that ends up dealing with the foods we put in our trolley, and recently our knowledge of the stress that we’re placing on our digestive tracts has vastly improved.

Researchers at University College Cork identified that 50 per cent of patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) also suffer from anxiety and depression. Whether it’s the IBS causing the depression or the other way round is undetermined. But it’s a measure of how everything is connected to what we eat.

Most of us know that eating fibre is good for our gut. But it’s frustrating to be told to “eat more roughage” as the sole key to digestive problems. Thankfully there are alternatives and some of them are even quite tasty.

Bloating: A swollen or tight feeling in our stomach can mean food is not passing through quickly enough, so it ferments and produces gas.

As well as drinking plenty of water and the aforementioned fibre (fruit, vegetables and wholewheat cereals and grains), try peppermint tea or fresh mint in a salad to encourage quicker digestion. For a bowel-friendly snack, mixed nuts or sunflower seeds are high in magnesium.

Magnesium can play a powerful role in the bowel. It is the central ingredient in most chemical laxatives as it draws water into the intestines to move contents along. Almonds and cashew nuts are high in magnesium. If you fancy something rich in magnesium, potassium and B vitamins, reach for an avocado and eat it with a spoon.

An easy superfood salad for your bowel is a tossed mix of spinach, feta, peas and bulgar wheat, with shavings of parmesan. Or try a broth with boiled broccoli, carrot, onion, pepper and a little cream for richness. It’s great with some wholemeal croutons or crusty grainy bread.

If you can’t face cooking, try low-sugar granola bars with dried fruits, muesli with natural yoghurt or porridge to start the day.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): This is a common condition and if you’ve persistent cramps, bloating, diarrhoea or constipation you could be a sufferer.

IBS can be related to stress but certain foods can help, with the Fodmap diet proving a success for many. The term Fodmap is used to describe a collection of mainly carbohydrates that increase levels of gas – fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols are found particularly in foods high in lactose and fructose. The idea is to base your diet around “low” Fodmap foods, such as bananas, grapefruit, oranges, strawberries, hard cheese, green beans and gluten-free products.

Wind: If too much movement in your insides is the problem and you’re prone to passing wind, look for bananas, hard cheese, eggs, nuts and yoghurt. Probiotic yoghurts can be good for your gut but many of the health claims made by probiotic yoghurt brands have been found by the European Food Safety Authority to have insufficient evidence to back them up.

A pot of cheaper, natural yoghurt may be just as good for your insides.

Next time: viruses, coughs and colds