More and more people nowadays are suffering from food allergies, food intolerances, and digestion problems. And while we may have questions about our digestion, many of us are afraid or embarrassed to ask. Thankfully, Maye Musk, a registered dietitian, was here to give us some straightforward and comprehensive answers to our top questions. Keep reading to learn more about all things digestion.
1. Sometimes people have digestive issues, but just put them down to something they ate. What are some digestive symptoms that shouldn’t be ignored?
Constipation is the main problem my clients ignore. They think they have to live with it, not realizing this digestive issue can be treated and managed. They also mention gas, bloating, diarrhea and heartburn.
Instead of living with these problems, talk to your healthcare provider to find a solution. See a dietitian to help you plan a nutritious diet. For constipation, many of my clients use something gentle and effective like MiraLAX that either their doctors recommend or they just purchase it OTC. Clients who travel a lot or are taking drugs or supplements that cause constipation are really pleased with regularity, as you can imagine.
To understand what is meant by constipation, you need to know what is normal for you. Some people have bowel movements three times per day, some three times per week, both could be considered normal. If stools are hard and painful to dispel, requiring straining and discomfort, that is constipation.
2. What are the most common digestive issues that baby boomers are dealing with today?
In my practice, bloating and constipation. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, nearly 40 percent of older adults experience at least one digestive disorder symptom a year. That makes sense. Baby boomers did not grow up with high-fiber foods, and many are stressed and inactive.
After taking a dietary history, I always recommend the same thing: improve your health habits. There is great information on www.MyBoomerWellness.com to help boomers understand and manage their digestive health and lifestyle habits including diet, exercise, stress, sleep and goals. Actually, I refer clients of all ages to this website. Young people can suffer from constipation too.
When bloated, you aren’t comfortable, your energy is low, and you don’t feel attractive. When you eat well and your bowel movements are regular, you feel great. You know that when you work out, you look better, have more energy and feel less stressful. Start by taking a long walk after a meal.
3. What are the most “digestion-friendly” foods out there?
High fiber foods help with regular bowel movements, which cannot be overemphasized. Fiber is only found in plant foods such as whole grains, beans, nuts, vegetables and fruit. Fast foods, high fat or high sugar foods and prepared foods are usually low in fiber. Increasing fiber not only helps with the digestive organs, it also helps with all organs. When you eat well to stay healthy, you look and feel more attractive and positive.
When going high-fiber, take it slowly. Rapid increase in fiber can lead to discomfort. The bowel has to get used to the extra bulk. With the fiber-containing foods, increase fluid intake such as water, soups, coffee, tea, diet sodas (decaf after 4 p.m.) vegetables and fruit juices.
4. What is the difference between food allergies and food intolerances?
A food allergy is an immune system response and occurs every time you eat a food containing an ingredient the body mistakes as harmful. A food intolerance is a digestive system response and occurs when an ingredient in a food irritates the person’s digestive system.
Among my clients, I’ve seen many who’ve been tested and found to be allergic to peanuts, fish and shellfish, less with milk, eggs, soy products, and wheat. When one of these foods is eaten, there is a reaction such as rash, stomach pain, diarrhea, chest pain, even the most serious anaphylaxis.
With food intolerance, some symptoms are similar, stomach pain and diarrhea, but also gas, cramps, heartburn and irritability.
Allergies are not dose dependent. A small amount of food can cause reactions. For example, eating a certain fruit will always cause swelling of the tongue and a rash around the mouth. Avoid this fruit or suffer. Eating peanuts will always cause anaphylactic shock. Avoid this food at all times.
Intolerances are dose dependent. For example, if you’re lactose intolerant, you may be able to have milk in your cereal, but drinking a glass of milk on its own will cause bloating, gas, and diarrhea (not a pretty picture). Stay near the bathroom if you aren’t sure how much you can tolerate.
5. How can you tell if you have a food allergy or intolerance?
See a dietitian to find out if it’s a food intolerance. An allergy is more serious and a doctor should diagnose that. Living in fear of eating certain foods slows us down. When we are doing our best to have our digestive organs work well, the rest of our organs work better too, and we feel more energetic and confident. Be sure to check out any intolerances or allergies.
6. Are there any supplements people can take that may help with their digestion?
There aren’t any supplements I’d recommend for digestion; eating well is best. In fact, some supplements and medications cause constipation. I work with their doctors when diet is not enough.
7. What important foods should people eat on a daily basis?
High-fiber foods: whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, nuts.
For digestive health and overall health, plan your meals and snacks. Here are some examples for high-fiber foods:
Breakfast: 1 C. cereal with 4-8 g fiber, 1/2 C. berries
Snack: 2 Tbs. almonds
Lunch: 2 slices whole wheat bread or 1 medium whole wheat roll
2 C. salad including 1/2 C. beans and 1/4¼ avocado, or 1 C. vegetable bean soup
Snack: 4 dried apricot halves or 1 C. edamame in shell
Dinner: 2 C. vegetables
Snack: 1 apple
The rest of the diet should include low-fat dairy and protein, and healthy fats. Find a dietitian on www.eatright.org to set a meal plan that works for you.
Maye Musk, MS RD is a registered dietitian who has helped thousands of people eat well and maintain good digestive health. Her dynamic career has spanned 40 years and seven cities in three countries. As an award-winning, trusted nutrition expert, she has appeared on popular media outlets such as CNN, ABC, CBS, and Discovery Health, and in magazines including Prevention, Shape, Fitness, and More. Maye continues to help people enjoy good health through speaking, media work, writing and her private practice in New York City.