IT can be a little bewildering — not to mention frustrating — when a seemingly healthy food, such as broccoli, upsets your stomach, but that was how it was for co-director and owner of Lockdown PR agency Vivienne McCarthy, who first started to suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in her teens.
The businesswoman and mother of two is now in her 30s but, at the time, she found it difficult to get any help for the severe bloating, cramps, and discomfort she endured on a daily basis.
“As time went on, I realised that certain foods really triggered it,” she tells Feelgood.
She was particularly sensitive to wheat, dairy, and fatty foods but also to some vegetables, including broccoli.
McCarthy eventually got help from a dietician and was able to identify the foods that made her feel worse. In later years, a doctor recommended the probiotic Alflorex which, she says, has made a significant difference.
That will stand to her this Christmas, she says, along with a routine that ensures she stays hydrated, gets lots of exercise and plenty of fresh air.
She speaks for all of us when she says that it’s hard to resist festive goodies — and to weather the nights out. And, as the recent Gut Check campaign run by Alflorex shows, one in five Irish people suffer ongoing gastrointestinal problems which can be exacerbated by festive excess.
Nobody, however, wants to be a Christmas killjoy. Gut Check campaign ambassador Anna Geary says it’s important to allow yourself the time to socialise and enjoy all the tasty food on offer.
However, the broadcaster and sports star says it makes sense to try to strike a balance. “Often we fall into the trap of eating ‘treats’ just because they are in front of us. Don’t deprive yourself of anything but be mindful of your portion sizes. And try to make sure you are still eating vegetables, fruit, and fibre.”
Dr Sarah Kingston says it’s very important to talk about your digestive health and to discuss any symptoms with your GP.
If more serious conditions are ruled out, she often recommends that patients keep a food and symptom diary for two weeks to try to identify trigger foods.
“The most common culprits are spicy foods, alcohol, excess caffeine, and sugary foods. Simple lifestyle measures that help include regular exercise, increasing fluid intake, avoiding eating late at night and taking time to chew properly and not rush meals,”the GP tells Feelgood.
As for the 12 days of Christmas? Dr Deirdre O’Donovan, consultant gastroenterologist at the Blackrock Clinic in Dublin, lists 12 ways to help your gut not just over the holidays but in the year to come:
- 1. Add more fibre to your diet. If a product has more than 6g of fibre per 100g portion, then it’s a high-fibre product.
- 2. Eat more plant-based foods, which will help your gut.
- 3. Limit red meat and increase your intake of fish. Red meat is fine in moderation but if you eat too much you are also consuming nitrates which can affect long-term gut health.
- 4. Eat regularly.
- 5. Stay hydrated. We all need at least six cups of water per day to stay healthy. While cups of tea and coffee are good in moderation, try to drink peppermint tea and chamomile where possible.
- 6. Explore the use of prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics are foods, such as asparagus, leek, artichoke, onions and garlic, that can encourage the growth of good bacteria in the gut.
- 7. Consider adding some vitamin D to your diet as it interacts well with your gut flora.
- 8. Be active. Exercise helps the whole body and has been shown to improve the transit time for food through your gut.
- 9. Reduce alcohol as it can affect your bowel.
- 10. Destress. Emotional stress can result in bowel disturbance, as the brain releases certain endorphins that can lead to what is commonly known as “butterflies in the tummy”.
- 11. Get a good night’s sleep as irregular sleep patterns can disturb gut flora.
- 12. Don’t ignore symptoms such as unexplained weight loss, persistent heartburn, a change in bowel habit or bleeding. Go to see your GP.