Carbohydrates, in general, get a bad rep in the health and wellness media because we have concluded that they cause all kinds of health issues, including obesity, diabetes and inflammation. You might be surprised to know that one of the fundamental aspects of managing IBS and IBS-related symptoms is the consumption of adequate amounts of healthy carbohydrates. Now, not all carbs are created equal, which is why being selective about which carbohydrates you consume and from which sources is of utmost importance to managing your IBS.
So, how do you know if you’re getting the right kinds of carbs?
We tend to forget that the word ‘carbohydrate’ is a broad term that encompasses many different kinds of carbohydrates, including fiber, which we all know is very important for a healthy digestive system and balanced blood sugar. The interesting thing about carbohydrates is that they coexist in nature, all bundled up in the various foods we eat. The food industry has perfected the separation of all sorts of carbs because the economics of large scale processed food manufacturing makes these carbs a very attractive ingredient, individually. That’s not good for our health, however, because our bodies are not designed to digest and metabolize carbohydrates in such a disaggregated form. One of the dangers of consuming processed foods high in manipulated carbohydrates - such as high fructose corn syrup and filler starches - is they tax our digestive system through starving our gut microflora; the engines that keep our intestinal tracts healthy and functional.
IBS is a disease where, in part, the gut microflora are suffering severe imbalance. To restore balance to our gut microflora, it’s often necessary to first repopulate our gut culture with new healthy colonies by way of consuming probiotics. There have been incredible advances in this area of science, starting with new ways to manufacture healthy and sustainable probiotics, to the strange but seemingly effective practice of fecal microbiota transplantation. Repopulation is often a short-term regimen or something that you may need to do a few times a year. The longer-term maintenance that is essential to managing IBS symptoms is feeding your gut microflora the right foods that will keep them healthy and functional, while also avoiding foods that can harm them and exacerbate your symptoms. That’s where carbohydrates come in!
The balance of optimal foods is a lot easier than you might think, if you’re ok making some sacrifices. First, you want to avoid high fat foods. Research has demonstrated that the population size and effectiveness of gut microflora decrease the more fat we consume. Simply put, higher fat foods tend to be lower in fiber, think french fries and steak, so the more of these foods you consume, the less fiber you will be providing your gut microflora to survive and thrive.
Secondly, you need to consume way more plant-based foods that are high in dietary fiber. Dietary fiber is a class of carbohydrates that our bodies cannot digest, but our gut microflora can. In fact, researchers have been astonished to discover that our gut microflora can digest fiber and make short chain fatty acids that your colonocytes (cells lining your colon) can use to stay healthy and active. Additionally, your gut microflora makes your body’s required intake of Vitamin K which is extremely important for the maintenance of your circulatory system. Plant-based foods, in general, especially fruits and vegetables, are high in dietary fiber. But, here’s the trick: they are also high in a different class of carbohydrates called FODMAP, which is short for: Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides, and Polyols. This cocktail of carbohydrates is not good for your gut microflora because they are fermentable, meaning how your gut microflora digest these carbs is more of a fermentation process than normal digestion, and so when they do get fermented in your gut, they create symptoms of IBS, such as bloating and irritation. It is therefore suggested that you follow a low FODMAP diet where you consume less of the FODMAP carbs to help manage your symptoms. Don’t avoid them all together because they also serve a purpose for your body and, overall, those plant based foods high in FODMAPs are so healthy for you. It’s simply a balance to ensure your gut is well taken care of and you can manage your IBS symptoms effectively. The GI Society has really great info on low FODMAP diets.
How can we help?
When you’re designing your dietary routine to best serve your digestive health, you can’t forget about the power of soluble fiber. Soluble fiber is one of the dietary fibers that your gut flora thrive on because, as the name implies, it’s a fiber that dissolves in water (soluble) which forms a gel in your digestive tract. This helps slow down digestion so your body can get the most benefit from the foods you eat and so your gut microflora can take their time feasting on the fiber you provide them. Soluble fiber has also been found to help with colon motility and the overall consistency of your bowel movements. Cold pressed juice is full of soluble fiber in higher concentrations than you would get in, say, a salad or a smoothie. It takes 3-4 lbs of fresh fruits and vegetables to make one 500ml bottle of juice, which you would not be able to consume in one meal. It’s unfortunate that our food labeling system in Canada does not allow for the display of soluble fiber on the labels, but nonetheless, those fibers are in there and in abundance. Because the insoluble fiber is removed from cold pressed juices, the soluble fibers remain in the juice further amplifying their individual benefits. If you’re looking to get more soluble fiber in your diet, try our IBS Support Pack, which we specifically designed to help reduce your IBS symptoms. Further details about that can be found here. We also make a high quality, non-GMO heritage corn fiber that is completely soluble in any liquid. Each TSP provides you 4 grams of soluble fiber that you can add to your favourite juices or beverages.
NOTE: If you are looking for an effective and high quality organic probiotic, we always recommend Dr. Ohhira’s probiotic gel caps. They are unique because they are cultured on plant based materials through a long fermentation process, and the actual fermented substrate is included in the gel caps along with the probiotic. This is so important because that substrate is the food that the flora eat which makes them more effective at colonizing the gut when their environment is preserved upon consumption. Most probiotic powders or capsules on the market are just cultures dehydrated or preserved without their substrate. That makes a difference in terms of their effectiveness.
For additional reading, visit:
Canadian Society of Intestinal Research. (2006). Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and diet: The foods you can eat. Retrieved from: https://badgut.org/information-centre/health-nutrition/ibs-the-foods-you-can-eat/
Canadian Society of Intestinal Research. (2006). Relief of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms with low FODMAP diet. Retrieved from: https://badgut.org/information-centre/health-nutrition/ibs-the-foods-you-can-eat/
Barrett, J. S. (2016). How to institute the low-FODMAP diet. Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 32 (Suppl. 1), 8-10. Retrieved from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/jgh.13686
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