Lettuce and IBS

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Do you think they eat ice cream every day in the Arctic?   This may sound a daft question but it illustrates a point that I often raise with my clients suffering from IBS and gut health troubles.  

Why as a northern hemisphere nation do we eat so much cold, damp lettuce and raw salad leaves? We eat lettuce all year-round, even when it is snowing, cold and damp outside. It has become such a staple in everyone’s diet and we often reach for the the same variety, the same bag of lettuce each time too. Lettuce is just so routine it tends to pass under the radar when it comes to gut health problems. In fact, people don’t think about lettuce much at all.

Lettuce is rarely considered a possible culprit in irritable bowel syndrome and I can understand why as it seems so counter-intuitive. After all, we know that having lots of fibre is essential for digestive health and so it is a natural instinct to pack in the fibre and roughage if you experience any cramps, constipation or diarrhoea. However, if you are experiencing an Ulcerative Colitis flare-up for example, this can make symptoms worse.

Occasionally lettuce comes up as a food intolerance but more often than not this is a red herring. In gut health, it isn’t always helpful to look at food sensitivities in isolation. You need to look at context and balance, and timing as well. Small adjustments can make the world of difference.

What is it about lettuce?

There is a good reason why we don’t introduce lettuce early on when first weaning a baby onto solids: lettuce is too challenging for a baby’s developing digestive system.

We wouldn’t dream of hanging up our washing to dry in a cold and musty attic would we? Yet many of us don’t think twice about filling our overloaded digestive systems with cold and damp raw foods like lettuce. With IBS and gut health problems, it is often a case of doing some simple renovations to the attic before we move the wonderful, soft furnishings such as lettuce in.

Lettuce is healthy as part of a balanced and diverse diet. While we can’t put the bowel in a sling like we would a broken arm, we can give it a short sabbatical. We can reduce the bowel’s workload. Even a six day mini-break can do wonders.

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Simple tips and timings for a happier gut

Here are just some basic tips which can help support the bowel and reduce its in-tray in the short-term to help promote recovery:

For 7-days:

  • Avoid eating raw foods. Have cooked vegetables as the heating process make them easier to digest. The easiest thing is to roast a whole lot of different coloured vegetables and have any leftovers cold the next day with lunch. If you bake a potato or an apple, leave the skin.
  • Avoid eating too many heavy legumes and after the seven days, have legumes more at lunch rather than in the evening. Legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, kidney and soy beans and are more heavy duty on the digestive front. Like lettuce, chickpeas (and hummus) crop up a lot with my IBS cases. You might also want to try canned legumes as these are lower FODMAP than the dried variety.
  • Eat supper early (be finished by 8.30pm at the latest) and have a 14 hour overnight fast. There is a lot of scientific research into the benefits of intermittent fasting for your gut and brain health. If you eat at 6.00pm, have breakfast at 8.00am, or if at 7.00pm, breakfast at 9.00am. For more useful advice, I recommend Jeannette Hyde’s new book, the ’10-Hour Diet’. That book is also the subject of my next blog.
  • Drink more water. So much constipation and diarrhoea is connected to dehydration. So is hunger often.
  • Eat breakfast, lunch and supper at the same time as much as possible. The gut is a stickler for routine and finds change unsettling.
  • Aim for an optimum 8 hour sleep and sleep on your left hand side.

After the seven days and for the longer-term, it is best to eat raw foods at breakfast or at lunch. Who wants all that cold, damp food festering in their gut overnight when it wants to be resting and recuperating? Some of the best advice I once received was at the Original FX Mayr: they advise ‘no raw food after 2.00pm’. They also encouraged an overnight fast. My own cut-off time for raw food is 4.00pm and of course, there are always exceptions to this rule. However, it’s what you do 80% of the time that can make a huge difference.

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Be more attuned to the environment, your location, external temperature and the time of year. Warming foods are more beneficial during the colder months. Eat foods in season as much as possible. Then, when you do eat lettuce, why stick to the same old Iceberg or Little Gem? There are so many varieties of lettuce, a vast array of different plants and leaves to enjoy. I encourage you to eat as many different plants, leaves, shoots and roots as possible. Explore all the different colours, flavours and textures available. The worst thing we can do is eat the same old foods every day. There is so much research now to show that it is in eating a varied diet, rich in diverse plants, that we really improve our gut and overall health. Your good bacteria, so key to immunity and weight management, will be sure to have a field day!

For more information or to book a nutrition consultation, contact Charlotte Fraser at enquiries@naturopathic-nutrition.com.

Objectively Quantify how Nutrition and Lifestyle Improve Brain Health

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Aside from feeling better, there is evidence of significant improvement in brain and cognitive health when you change your diet, improve sleep, and increase your fitness.   Reducing symptoms associated with stress, anxiety or depression can also make a huge difference!

An engaging and scientifically-validated cognitive assessment

Working with Cambridge Brain Sciences (CBS), I provide clients with a science and evidence-based means of quantitatively measuring how changes to your diet, sleep, and fitness routine can positively impact brain and cognitive health.

As well as understanding how your brain is functioning, you will be able to track how the changes you are making are impacting your brain.  Importantly, you will be able to visualise improvements with objective and quantifiable information, presented in an easy to understand format. Brain health integrates very much with gut health and provides a great indicator of your overall health and wellbeing.

You can take the CBS brain and cognitive assessment as a one-off to get a snapshot of your cognitive health in any point in time. However, you will get far deeper insight if you take the assessments over a series of weeks or months; this enables us to determine meaningful change. 

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Who benefits from doing this cognitive test?

Everyone can benefit. It is especially helpful to those who want to track whether making the smallest changes to their diet, their sleep routine, or increasing their fitness levels, makes a difference to their brain health and overall wellness. 

The CBS Health test facilitates a highly personalized approach to healthcare. It provides useful biomarkers to enable you to take a proactive and preventative approach to optimizing your health and wellbeing.  I further support you with a nutritional and wellbeing programme tailored to your individual needs. We adapt this as required, during the course of the Cognitive Health programme and based on your test findings.  

The CBS Health Test is not a diagnostic tool. However, it may be useful to clients with ADHD, Autism, Depression, Dyslexia, and Cognitive Impairment who wish to monitor progress from nutritional and other lifestyle changes.

What does the Cambridge Brain Sciences assessment entail?

Clients complete a series of fun and engaging neurocognitive tasks online, either during the consultation, or remotely, at home.  

You can relax because this isn’t an IQ test. We aren’t measuring IQ!

The tasks assess aspects of cognition including reasoning, memory, attention and verbal ability.   

You are anonymously assessed against a sample of healthy control subjects.   We factor in your age and gender.

CBS maintains a global normative database of more than 75,000 participants (built off of a larger database of 7 million+ completed tasks). This allows for detailed comparisons of individuals to specific populations. 

On completion of the assessment, I share your individual CBS Health report and we discuss nutritional and lifestyle strategies for improvement. We schedule further tests at agreed intervals to monitor progress and assess meaningful change.  

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About Cambridge Brain Sciences

The Cambridge Brain Sciences (CBS) tasks were developed in the laboratory of Professor Adrian Owen OBE, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging (owenlab.org). Over 300 scientific studies have been run to date using the CBS tasks, yielding numerous publications in leading academic journals. 

The tasks were validated in studies of patients, brain imaging studies of healthy volunteers and in several large-scale public studies involving tens of thousands of volunteers. They have proven to be efficient and sensitive measures of baseline cognitive capacity. For example, in one study, the results of the 30-minute Cambridge Brain Sciences battery were comparable to those of a standard 2-3 hour (paper and pencil) neuropsychological battery (WAIS-R) (Levine et al., 2013). In another recent study of mental capacity in the elderly, the CBS battery outperformed a standard task of cognitive abilities (the MoCA) (Brenkel et al., 2017). Finally, performance on the CBS battery is highly predictive of reasoning and problem solving abilities, as indexed by “classic” tasks such as Raven’s Matrices and the Cattell Culture Fair task (Hampshire et al., 2012). 

How do we measure Meaningful Change?

The Meaningful Change Indicator compares the difference in an individual’s performance on any given task between two time points to the variability in repeated measurements that would occur in the absence of meaningful change. The latter is estimated from a sample of healthy control subjects. The reliable change index uses the test-retest reliability and the standard deviation of scores (measured in a control sample) of a task to describe the range of possible differences that occur in repeat task completions. If an individual’s change in performance from one time point to another is much larger than what is expected due to chance, then one can conclude that there was meaningful change. 

Assessing meaningful change requires data to be obtained in a control sample. Cambridge Brain Sciences has a database of over 8 million test scores, and their normative database consists of more than 75,000 individuals. The interval between self-administered repeated assessments ranges from less than a day, to more than a month. This massive database allows Cambridge Brain Sciences to characterize in the general population how performance on every task fluctuates naturally across a range of intervals. Cambridge Brain Sciences are therefore able to quantify the bounds of what constitutes a meaningful change for every task. 

Contact Charlotte Fraser today to book a Cognitive Health Test and Nutrition Programme.