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.

‘A Well Mind’ by Dr Lisa Parkinson Roberts: Book Review

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Why are we taught how to care only for our body and not our mind?   That’s the question that is the driving force for Dr Lisa Parkinson Roberts’ new book, ‘A Well Mind’.  I have often asked the same question! As Lisa rightly observes: “while this is slowly-changing, it is “more in the context of ‘Better do crosswords and talk to people daily so we don’t get Alzheimer’s,’ or ‘Better see a doctor if I’m feeling depressed.” 

With all the discussion about mental health, as a society, we still remain focussed on treating the symptoms of disease. Little attention is given to cultivating a well mind. Good health is, however, about more than the absence of disease and that’s why I whole-heartedly recommend ‘A Well Mind’ to you dear Reader. As well as being informative and engaging, this book is refreshing to read.  Positively uplifting in fact. As Parkinson Roberts says, “You have more control over the wellbeing of your mind than you might currently believe.” This is a message that I am keen to share as it can make such a profound difference to one’s overall health and treatment outcome.

Imagine if in school we had lessons on cultivating a well mind.  Imagine being given tools to calm our nervous system, tools to ward off anxiety and depression, foods to nourish and heal our mind.  Imagine if we were taught that we are not our thoughts; rather, we are an audience who has the power to choose which thoughts to watch and nurture, and which thoughts to dismiss.  Imagine if we were taught how to rewrite the narrative in our head, and let go of what doesn’t serve us.” 

Lisa Parkinson Roberts PhD

Published by Exisle Publishing, ‘A Well Mind’ (RRP £12.99) is a comprehensive and holistic guide to improving your wellbeing by eating well and maintaining healthy routines. Dr Parkinson Roberts looks at why the health of one’s mind is just so important. She investigates nutrition, sleep, stress management and exercise to achieve optimal mental health and to help you to regain control of how you feel. She likens her journey to reduce inflammation in her body and mind to that of a person embarking on a weight-loss journey. 

The Author’s candour, her realism and compassion is striking. This is an author and academic who knows what she is talking about, not just from years of study and clinical practice (she has a PhD in Nutrition Science) but from deep and at times, most painful experience. Her personal journey makes the book all the more compelling to read and her passion and curiosity shine through.

Lisa Parkinson Roberts, Ph.D. Author of ‘A Well Mind’

Diagnosed with Bipolar at the age of fifteen, also depression and OCD, Dr Parkinson Roberts has struggled with mental health for most of her life. She now manages her mind by using “food as medicine”. Dr Parkinson Roberts found successful methods for coping and she shares these tools and her academic expertise with her readers. She learned an important lesson during her journey: “struggle can alchemize into growth, and we all struggle; the struggle just presents differently for each of us.” 

‘A Well Mind’: In Summary

Parkinson Roberts explores the Gut Brain Axis, the role of the microbiome, and explains how the diversity of our good bacteria and the foods we eat influence our mind and emotions. She highlights important nutrients, vitamins and minerals to consider for optimum mental, emotional and physical health.

Supported by the latest scientific research and case studies, the Author also explores Epigenics; the benefits of immersing in nature, mindfulness techniques; the importance of breathing properly, nourishing food and nurturing relationships; the value of community and the value in finding gratitude, purpose and meaning. Dr Parkinson Roberts is only the second person I know to reference Eudaimonic wellbeing in the context of contemporary wellness. One of my mentors, Patrizia Bortolin, the innovative Spa Director at Preidlhof and a leading Transformational Wellness Coach is the first. I must take Patrizia a copy of the book when I go to Italy!

Aside from the solid nutrition and lifestyle advice, I particularly like Dr Parkinson Roberts’ mind-changing or ‘shift’ exercises. These are very helpful – powerful too. I place a great deal of importance on mindset in my own nutrition work with clients. Our thoughts affect our gut health, our emotions, our behaviour, and vice-versa! Indeed, our overall health. Our thoughts and emotions can also manifest in physical symptoms. It was a ‘change of mind’ that helped me in my own past struggles with ulcerative colitis. One day, I changed my mind. I decided to be well… that I really was going to get better. That mental shift was profoundly life-changing.

The beauty of a well mind is that it alters the landscape surrounding us.  We can move from living in the past, and with it anxiety and regret, or from being caught up in the future, and with it uncertainty, to experiencing each day
mindfully and calmly.” 

Lisa Parkinson Roberts, Ph.D

Dr Lisa Parkinson Roberts, I salute you!  ‘A Well Mind‘ is a keeper! I will enjoy recommending this book to my clients and revisiting it time and again.  Thank you!

Nuts Help Protect Against Dementia

People who eat more than two portions of nuts a week in their forties, are 21% less likely to have impaired memory after the age of sixty. That’s according to a study published in Age and Ageing.

Eating nuts just once a week in middle age also makes you 19% less likely to have impaired cognitive function. Rich in a variety of nutrients, it’s thought they help reduce inflammation and boost blood flow.

Researchers at the National University of Singapore carried out a long-term study into diet and dementia. From 1993 to 2016, they tracked 17,000 people aged 40 and upwards. The researchers analysed how often each participant ate nuts and carried out repeat cognitive testing over the the years. Reduced cognitive function is an early warning sign of dementia.

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The Singapore study supports other evidence that eating nuts can help protect against dementia. Researchers at the University of South Australia also found that they can help improve brain function in old age. Their study tracked 4,822 Chinese adults over the age of 55. They found that consuming two teaspoons ( around 10 grams) a day improved thinking, reasoning and memory.

Health benefits

Nuts are a good source of healthy fats and fibre. they are among the best sources of plant-based protein. They all have their individual nutritional benefits but for optimum health, moderation and variety is recommended. Some of the healthiest varieties are detailed here.

A word of caution:

Moderation is key as nuts are calorie dense. Have them as part of a balanced diet.

Be sure to always chew them well.

Some people find that nuts upset their digestive health. Eating too many can cause you to feel gassy, cramped, or bloated. They are also a common dietary allergy.

To book an in-depth nutrition consultation and a Cambridge Brain Sciences cognitive test, contact Charlotte Fraser at enquiries@naturopathic-nutrition.com.