I just posted a blog on Medium together with my friend and colleague Dr. Steven Tan. The last time we co authored a paper was in 2015 entitled Traditional Chinese medicine based subgrouping of irritable bowel syndrome patients. This time our joint article is related to food, more specifically about how to design a personalized diet that is optimal for you, and which will you to clearly identify food items you may be sensitive to. We start out with the long demonized gluten, a protein that is contained not just in wheat, but that has been added in the form of vital gluten to everything from ketchup, bread, cakes and even cosmetic products. Many people that have self diagnosed with non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), swear that they feel 100% better by avoiding gluten and that a range of symptoms including poor sleep, bloating, fatigue, lack of energy have suddenly disappeared on such a diet. Amazingly, this NCGS group is so motivated to avoid gluten at all costs, that it has spawned a multibillion dollar industry of gluten free products. Now a new scientific study from investigators in Norway challenges the concept of NCGS. Fifty nine participants were randomly assigned to groups placed on diets containing gluten, the sugar fructan or placebo and the diet was rotated every 7 days, so each subjects received all 3 diets. To everybody’s surprise, digestive symptoms, such as bloating and abdominal discomfort did not differ between the placebo and gluten groups! Is this the beginning of the end of the NCGS epidemic?
How do you select a diet that is optimal for you, and which doesn’t contain foods that really don’t agree with you?
If you are healthy and have minor digestive symptoms, like the majority of people, don’t unnecessarily restrict your diet, and stay on what I call the “default diet”. Eat the universally accepted largely plant based diet which provides lots of fiber, is high in vegetables and fruits (in particular berries!), and is low in animal fats, red meat, and sugar.
Many plant based foods, in particular berries, olives and red grapes are packed with anti-inflammatory molecules called polyphenols, which have shown multiple health benefits. Such a diet will have several major benefits:
1) Your gut microbes will thrive and you protect yourself against all kinds of chronic diseases.
2) It promotes your gut health, cardiovascular health, your overall wellbeing and even protects you against cancer.
3) It is good for the environment. The simple reduction of red meat consumption has a dramatic benefit on the environment, from a reduction of green house gases to the conservation of water.
Don’t forget to be mindful when you eat, enjoy the experience, and don’t approach food with a host of anticipatory anxieties which will only you’re your brain send chronic stress signals to your digestive system, which is bad for your digestion.
If you belong to the 10% of the population who suffer from IBS symptoms and you believe these symptoms are consistently triggered by food, such as bloating or indigestion, go on an elimination diet as explained in the Medium blog. Once you find the offending food item, stay away from it or reduce its intake, but otherwise stay on the default diet.
You can use the app Selectivor to help you keep track of the foods that you tolerate and which you don’t, and share this information with friends and family. In the future, you will be able to identify diets that are custom tailored to your gut microbiome and your genetic make up, using such program as offered by Viome, Ubiome and Day Two.