Stomach, digestive system health: What’s your gut telling you?

Sandra Guy | February 21, 2018

If your digestive tract is healthy, you generally feel better. Researchers and physicians for years have been touting the importance of good gut health to a person’s overall well-being.

Those with less than optimum gut health know there’s truth to the assessment.

Case in point: A lettuce leaf can bring Danny Bernstein to his knees in excruciating stomach pain. A piece of broccoli can send him to the hospital.

Bernstein, 56, has suffered from both Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) for 43 years, so he has had to learn which foods he can eat without doubling over in pain. He can handle bananas, for example, as long as they’re crushed in a blender or — if he has the time — can chew them well. He can eat avocados, but not onions.

Indeed, dealing with irritable bowel syndrome and other gut-related illnesses isn’t “a cookbook science,” experts say.

“It’s a lot of trial and error, and finding out what works for you,” said Kristi King, spokeswoman for the Chicago-based Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Yet research shows that people who struggle with chronic diarrhea, constipation or both, can minimize their symptoms by drinking lots of water, exercising an hour a day, and keeping lists or diaries of their food intake to figure out the foods that may make them sick.

“A food diary can be important, as well as writing down the time you have symptoms, to see if there’s something you’re eating that’s making your symptoms worse,” King said.

For those with diarrhea or frequent gas — the kind that occurs at least once a week over a three-month period – the best diet is one with lots of soluble fiber (the kind that dissolves in water), such as apples, pears, carrots, berries and oatmeal.

If you have frequent constipation, the recommended diet is one with insoluble fiber, such as asparagus, celery, kale, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

Foods to avoid include those with high fructose such as mango, cherry, pomegranate, watermelon and grapefruit, and well as high sugar-alcohol foods such as ketchup, barbecue sauce and fruit-flavored snack foods.

After visiting a doctor or a registered dietician, IBS sufferers may be guided to what’s called a low-FODMAP diet — based on fermentable, oligo-di-mono and polyol substances, King said. The six- to eight-week diet eliminates foods high in certain carbohydrates such as garlic, onions and onion powder.