Over the years, there has been an increased emphasis on gut health. We now know how connected the gut is with the whole body, from our brain to our immune system. You’ve probably been told that it’s recommended to take a probiotic to keep your gut healthy, or to eat fermented foods like kimchi and drink kombucha to heal an unhealthy gut. But do you know the difference between eating for a healthy gut and eating with a gastrointestinal disease?
What is a Gastrointestinal Disease?
Even an unhealthy gut is still a relatively healthy gut when you compare it to that of a someone with a gastrointestinal disease. Gastrointestinal diseases are categorized by symptoms that affect the GI tract and they come in two forms, functional and structural. Functional gastrointestinal diseases are when the GI tract looks normal but isn’t working properly. Structural gastrointestinal diseases are where the GI tract not only doesn’t work properly, but it also looks abnormal. Structural can be caused by diverticulitis, fissures, polyps, and more; furthermore, typically structural GI diseases require surgery to correct the GI tract.
Now, before you start Googling (trust me, close the tab on WebMD), let’s review some basics. Common symptoms of functional gastrointestinal diseases include gas, bloating, and constipation. You may be thinking that you’ve experienced symptoms like this before, but the difference between a gastro disease and an unhealthy gut are that symptoms caused by a GI disease are chronic. What does this mean exactly? Well, everyone gets bloated from time to time. But people who have a chronic GI disease experience symptoms like painful bloating, along with cramping and gas, on a more regular basis.
The two most common functional gastrointestinal diseases are IBS and GERD. But what are they?
What is IBS?
IBS, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome, affects the large intestine and can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloating, gas, constipation, and cramping. While this is a chronic condition that affects 10-15% of the United States, some of the lucky ones don’t even know they have it! Approximately only 25% of people with IBS have severe symptoms.
What is GERD?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) happens when stomach acid flows back to the esophagus, causing irritation. Symptoms of GERD include heartburn, chest pain, difficulty swallowing, and a sensation that there is a lump in the throat. It’s estimated that 15-30% of the US population has GERD, but the number may be higher than that.
Why Eating for a “Healthy Gut” Doesn’t Work for IBS/ GERD
Now that we’ve established what IBS and GERD are, you may be asking what’s the difference between eating to promote good gut health and eating with a gastrointestinal disease. Don’t probiotic rich foods benefit IBS and GERD too? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Some of the foods that are recommended by doctors to promote a healthy gut can actually worsen the symptoms of IBS or GERD.
Below is a list of 5 staples foods that you’re recommended to eat to promote good gut health. With each item, we’ll breakdown if that food is good or bad to eat with IBS or GERD.
- Yogurt: Full-fat, live yogurt is a great source of probiotics. This tasty breakfast or healthy snack can contain high numbers of good bacteria that can benefit of the gut. Unfortunately, it’s best to be avoided with IBS. People with IBS are advised to avoid dairy (RIP cheese) as it can cause symptoms like gas and bloating to worsen. However, those with GERD can rejoice because low amounts of dairy, like yogurt, are ok!
- Kefir: This probiotic drink is made by fermenting milk and has gained a lot of popularity over the years in the United States. Again, dairy products are best to be avoided with IBS. But, if you like kefir and have GERD, you’ll be happy to know that kefir is actually considered a superfood that can reduce heartburn.
- Miso: This bacteria and enzyme rich fermented soya bean, is not only a staple in Japanese cooking but a great option for good gut health. Luckily, miso can be a safe choice for those who suffer from IBS and GERD! Actually, low amounts of miso soup is proven to lower acid reflux and aid in reducing heartburn.
- Sauerkraut: If you’ve ever been to Germany, you’ve probably been served this fermented cabbage dish. While it’s high in probiotics, fiber, and vitamins, it’s a no go when it comes to IBS. Anything fermented is typically on the ‘do not eat’ list; plus, cabbage is very hard for the stomach to breakdown. This can cause painful bloating and worsen IBS symptoms. However, sauerkraut may just be a hidden gem when it comes to GERD. Low amounts of purple cabbage are shown to improve acid reflux, and evidence shows that the probiotics in this German dish can aid in protecting the stomach lining and help prevent regurgitation.
- Garlic: Did you know that garlic can help keep bad bacteria at bay? Garlic not only tastes heavenly on everything but also helps balance the yeast in the gut. But garlic is also surprisingly hard for the gut to breakdown. This can cause gas, cramping, and bloating if you have IBS. Unfortunately, garlic isn’t recommended for people who suffer from GERD either. The acid in the garlic can irritate and inflame the lining of the esophagus, making the symptoms of acid reflux even worse.
Living with a chronic gastrointestinal disease can not only be frustrating, but very difficult to navigate. Whether you have IBS or GERD, neither one is as easy as eating probiotic rich foods to keep your gut healthy. When you have a chronic GI disease, it goes so further beyond a healthy gut. A gastrointestinal disease is more than just having bad bacteria in your gut and eating to heal it. It’s a disease with chronic symptoms that can be improved by avoiding and eating certain foods, but good bacteria unfortunately won’t heal IBS or GERD.
While there are certain food groups and trigger foods that are best to avoid, depending on if you have IBS or GERD, ultimately it comes down to what your stomach can tolerate. Trigger foods are those items that cause symptoms of a gastro disease to worsen. And while there are countless diets out there that can help guide you through what is best for your condition, these diets aren’t a one size fits all.
The best thing to do is take it day by day. Here are a few of my tips to helping you discover what your trigger foods are:
- Do a food allergy test: This can be a great indicator for potentially unknown allergies that are causing inflammation, which are ultimately leading to worsening symptoms.
- Keep a food diary: Although it can be a pain, recording everything you eat can be extremely beneficial in determining what food may be triggering your symptoms.
- Try an elimination diet: During this diet, you take out potential trigger foods (dairy, alcohol, etc.) for up to four weeks. Then, you slowly add one food back in at a time. Although this is a tedious process, it can be one of the best ways to determine what foods your body does and doesn’t like.
Finally, remember to not get overwhelmed. So much of researching and identifying trigger foods focuses on what you can’t eat. When you think of what you’re restricting and removing from your diet, it can become not only overwhelming but also discouraging. Feeling like you’re stuck in a small box from which to eat from is not a fun feeling- trust me, I know.
BUT that’s what I’m here for! Having fibromyalgia, IBS and being gluten-free, I know what it’s like to be on a restrictive diet and I’m here to help. You don’t have to feel limited from what you eat and I have so many tips & tricks to help you through this!
So, remember to follow me on social media and leave a comment below. I’ll be sharing what I’ve learned along with all of you, along with a ton of delicious recipes!