The real problem with the FODMAP diet – and how to get some joy back into your relationship with food!

Here’s the problem with the low FODMAP diet: it’s a temporary fix.

Yes, you may get some relief by removing gut-irritants from your diet. But over time you may also continue to eliminate more and more foods until your experience is joyless and deprived. And it won’t get you to the end goal, which is full restoration of a healthy gut.

The only real long-term solution to your health issues is to add things in, not just take things away. I’m talking about he good bugs that you need to restore your gut microbiome, as well as then the wide variety of foods to feed all those crazy new bugs.

So first, drink kefir every day, to add those good bugs back into your system. And then feed the good bugs: eat a rainbow!

Your inner ecosystem is all about biodiversity. Researchers tested how gut microbiota influence mood, and they found that in stressed subjects, there was less diversity in the types of bacteria present in the gut.

The gut and bowels are a very complex ecology, or they should be. The less diverse that environment is, the greater the disruption to the body. Elderly people who are in poor health often have a lower diversity of microorganisms in their microbiome.

Monoculture is bad: in our fields, in the world around us and in the ecosystem inside our gut. We want more species – a thriving wealth of interdependent life forms. The strength of an ecosystem is dependent on the number of relationships between its members. When you start to knock life forms off the ecological ladder, that ladder becomes fragile and starts to fall apart.

This is why diets like the low FODMAP diet – in which certain carbohydrates are eliminated – although temporarily helpful for IBS, don’t provide a long-term solution to the problem. The The answer lies not in eliminating food groups, but in expanding the diversity of bacterial species in your microbiome, and then expanding the numbers and kinds of foods that you eat, in order to feed all those happy, thriving bugs!

At the UK’s Taymount Clinic, which performs faecal transplants and helps clients improve and maintain a healthy gut, experts look for donors with healthy microbiomes who eat 50 different kinds of food per week. So that’s the goal! How many different kinds of food do you eat in a given week?

If you’ve gotten into the habit of avoiding almost all foods, in order to alleviate the abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and diarrhoea of IBS, pain this is good news for you. You’re going to be able to get a lot of foods back into your diet. Again, it’s a slow process, but there is joyful light at the end of this tunnel.

Shop for food by colour

We’re all creatures of habit, and it’s easy to fall into a rut with our food choices. What I suggest to my clients who have backed themselves into a frightened, bland corner with their eating habits, is this: take yourself on a field trip to the supermarket and choose your foods as if you were a seven-year-old child on a fun day out.

Walk up and down the fruit and veg aisle, and shop with your eyes. See something purple that looks attractive? Throw it into the basket. Gorgeous yellow colour? In it goes. Make a deal with yourself that you’ll treat yourself to any fruit or vegetable that you like the look of. Orange, red, purple, blue and super dark green – bee-yoo-tiful!

Let yourself get excited about the colours. If you don’t know what it is, or don’t know what to do with it, that’s okay: those foods are what smoothies are for.
(Side note: blending a fruit or vegetable is fine, as long as the pulp remains with it. Although juicing – taking the pulp away from the juice – has its advocates, it should be avoided while following the Kefir Solution. You need to eat the pulp to slow down the rate at which the food is converted to glucose inside your system; otherwise the wash of insulin that results will destabilize your microbiome and upset all your precious gut bugs.)

Obviously, if you know that you’re allergic to a foodstuff, avoid it, for now. Over time, taking kefir will bring down the level of allergic response, and before too long, you may find yourself able to enjoy things that you never dreamed you could eat.

There’s solid science behind this madness: shopping by colour and using your eyes will help switch on your body intuition. Deep down, your body knows what it needs! Also, the different, intense colours of the fruits and vegetables are due to different phytonutrients, which act as powerful antioxidants. Here are some examples:

Blue
Anthocyanins, which are found in purple and bluish foods like red cabbage, blueberries, and pomegranate, help protect your DNA, reduce inflammation, and provide a wide range of antioxidants that help ward off damage to our cells.

Red
Red fruits and vegetables, such as raspberries, tomatoes, guava, watermelon, kidney beans, cherries, strawberries and beetroot, are likely to be rich in the antioxidants lycopene and anthocyanins.

Orange and yellow
Most orange and yellow fruits and vegetables are rich in beta carotene, which your body converts to vitamin A: a nutrient that not only improves night vision but also helps keep your skin, teeth and bones healthy. They also contain folate, an antioxidant that prevents neural tube defects in unborn babies.

Green
Green vegetables are good for your eyes, bones and teeth, and their vitamin K content helps your blood to clot properly.

White
White fruits and vegetables, including apples, pears, bananas, cauliflower and cucumber, are high in dietary fibre – helping to protect you from raised cholesterol – and antioxidant-rich flavonoids such as quercetin, which is abundant in apples and pears. They may also lower your risk of stroke, according to a group of Dutch researchers who published a study with the American Heart Association in 2011.

Mix it up!

You have trillions of different bugs species in your gut, and they all eat different things. You need to think about consuming a variety of foods, so there’s something in your diet for all your bugs. Fruit and veggies contain a wide array of plant compounds and tiny amounts of trace nutrients, creating a synergistic effect in which the total benefit is far greater than the sum of its parts.

That’s one reason why a varied diet of real food works better than swallowing antioxidant supplements: any supplement you take may not be the exact one your body needs at that moment. A bowl of salad contains more than vitamins and minerals: plant matter also includes remnants of the hormones that plants produce to control how they grow, age and manage water intake.

Recently, scientists have reported that our gut microbes and our human cells may respond to these hormones, and even produce similar molecules of their own. This makes sense: we have co-evolved with plants over time, so it’s not surprising to find that plant hormones have an impact on human health.

So, offer your gut bugs a smorgasbord of choices, with tons of beautiful, brightly coloured fruit and veg. Food is truly medicine for your body. And it should be fun, too. Having variety and colour in your life is part of being human!

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