Word on Health

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Word On Eating Better

Our grateful thanks to the charity CORE for their input into our on-air report which you can hear again via the radio player further down this page.

The scale of the problem from poor diet and eating habits shouldn’t be under estimated.  One of the conditions that has seen a huge increase in sufferers, due in part to these factors, is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). 

Research shows up to a third of us  will encounter the symptoms of IBS at some point in our lives and at any given moment, the Irritable Bowel Syndrome Network tell us, it affects a staggering 15% of the population. 

So what is IBS

It's the term used to describe a variety of gut  symptoms. Symptoms vary from one individual to another and can be worse for some than others. It is a very common condition with around one in five people affected. Typical symptoms are:

  • Low abdominal pain which may ease after opening your bowels
  • Diarrhoea and/or constipation
  • Bloating and wind (flatulence and burping)
  • Passing mucus
  • Feeling the need to open your bowels even after  having just been to the toilet
  • A feeling of urgency to open your bowels 

It is not normal to pass blood in poo or lose weight  unintentionally. So consult your doctor if this happens.  It is important to have a diagnosis of IBS confirmed and other conditions such as coeliac disease and inflammatory bowel disease ruled out. Talk to your GP about having a blood test to rule out coeliac disease prior to making any changes to your diet.

As symptoms usually  occur after eating it is not  surprising that food is often blamed. True food allergies are rare and are unlikely to cause IBS  symptoms. However, they could be caused by  food intolerance. There  are many tests available commercially claiming  that they can diagnose food intolerance e.g. IgG blood test, kinesiology, electrodermal (Vega) testing or hair analysis. 

There is no convincing evidence to support any of  these tests. The only reliable way to identify the problem foods is by eliminating and reintroducing foods. This should be done under the supervision of a dietitian, so if you feel your symptoms are due to food  intolerance, ask your doctor to refer you to a dietitian.

What steps can I take? 

Try to:

  • Eat three regular meals a day.
  • Try not to skip any meals or eat late at night. Smaller meal sizes may ease symptoms.
  • Limit alcohol intake to no more than two units per day  and have at least two alcohol free days a week.
  • Cut down on rich or fatty foods including chip; fast foods; pies; batter; cheese; pizza; creamy sauces; snacks such as crisps, chocolate, cake and biscuits; spreads and cooking oils; and fatty meats such as burgers and sausages. 
  • Reduce your intake of manufactured foods and cookfrom fresh ingredients where possible.

Helpful Hints:

  • Keep a food and symptom diary whilst you are making  changes so you can see what has helped.
  • Take time to eat meals - chew your food well. 
  • Take regular exercise such as walking, cycling,  swimming.
  • Take time to relax - relaxation tapes, yoga,aromatherapy or massage may help
  • Make one change at a time so that you can see what has helped.

Make changes according to your symptoms 

If symptoms include bloating and wind:
  • Limit fruit juice to one small glass per serving
  • Limit intake of gas producing foods e.g. beans  and pulses, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage,  cauliflower, and also sugar-free mints/chewing gum
  • Lactose can sometimes cause wind and bloating and IBS-type symptoms. Trial using lactose free  cows milk, yoghurts, cream and cheeses instead of ordinary versions for two to four weeks. Using these  products will help maintain your calcium intake. If it  makes no difference, then return to using ordinary  milk and dairy products
If symptoms include constipation: 
  • Ensure a good fluid intake – about eight glasses/ mugs (two litres) a day
  • Increase your fibre intake gradually - any sudden  increase may make symptoms worse. Choose whole grains and eat more fruit and vegetables. Oats and  linseeds are good sources of fibre and will help to soften poo and make it easier to pass.
  • Try adding one tablespoon per day of brown or  golden linseeds (whole or ground) to breakfast  cereal, yoghurt, soup or on salad. Have around  a small glass/teacup (150ml) of fluid with each tablespoon of linseeds taken.
  • Avoid eating extra wheat bran.
You may wish to try ‘probiotic’  supplements, yoghurts or  fermented milk drinks. Take them daily for at least four weeks to see  if they improve symptoms. If they do not appear to help then you  could try an alternative brand.

Listen to this weeks radio report

All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.