August 23, 2017

Why the Cookie-Cutter Approach Doesn’t Fix Your IBS

The term “IBS” does a disservice to those who are labeled with it by their doctors.  Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a diagnosis given when common medical tests have found no structural changes in the digestive tract that could warrant the symptoms suffered. Symptoms can include any combination of diarrhea, constipation, bloating, cramping, plus resulting pain and/or anxiety. In most individuals, the symptoms are either of the chronic diarrhea (IBS-D) or chronic constipation types (IBS-C).  However, the nutritional and herbal recommendations given in magazines and cookbooks are usually too general and don’t pay attention to which symptoms predominate.

Taking general “IBS advice” can result in an aggravation of symptoms. For example, the IBS patient who suffers from diarrhea should not follow the same nutritional advice as someone who experiences chronic constipation, and vice-versa.  I believe this is why so many IBS sufferers lose hope, and stop believing that diet and supplementation can help not only manage their symptoms, but help them recover from this pattern.  The trial and error attempts they make without resulting benefits can be discouraging when you don’t understand the mechanism by which each recommendation works.

Trial and error takes a long time, costs a lot of money and often doesn’t result in any improvements. My observation is that clients coming to me with IBS have reached a state of analysis-paralysis; that is, they have run out of ideas, say their GPs and GI specialists have not provided any solutions, and they’re looking for a new approach.  Sometimes it takes another, objective point of view to identify what needs changing.

Consider my client, Gary.  After a detailed discussion of his history with IBS, my personalized nutritional counseling helped him overcome 9 years of suffering in just a few months!

So what did Gary do that helped me help him?  He kept a detailed diary of his eating habits and his symptoms, He came to appointments prepared, with questions he had written down and wished to discuss. He tried every recommendation I gave him, and asked his body how it felt after introducing the modification, and kept notes on the response.  His co-operation in sharing the details of how he felt allowed me to recommend specific nutritional modifications and specific supplements.  In addition to that, his willingness to try new things and his diligence to continue doing what worked, not to mention keeping his eye on the prize of well-being are what lead to his complete recovery.

If you suffer from IBS, you may benefit from a Digestive Rejuvenation Program. It’s a customized, not a cookie-cutter, approach to IBS. Also, be sure to read Gary’s testimonial and others if you haven’t already.  Are you ready to change your life?

(photo by TinWorks)

5 Things You Need to Know About the Ketogenic Diet

The ketogenic diet is a way of obtaining the majority of your calories from fats and oils instead of carbohydrates.  It’s quite popular  right now, with users reporting health benefits such as fewer headaches, less bloating, less joint pain, weight loss, and more.

If you’re considering the diet, you need to be aware of a few things:

  1. Carbohydrate intake is limited to between 10 and 50 grams daily. “Standard” nutrition programs have adults eating about 300 grams. Since the ketogenic diet consists mainly of fats, proteins and leafy/juicy vegetables, conventional bread, cereal, ice cream and pizza— as well as some fruits and vegetables— are no longer on your grocery list.


  1. If you no longer ‘own’ a gall bladder, you will absolutely need to use digestive supplementation in order to access the energy found in fats and oils. Otherwise, your body will be hungry. You’ll crave carbohydrates, and you may end up with IBS-like symptoms resulting from incomplete digestion.


  1. There is very little research on ketogenic diets during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Weight loss is a common side effect of this diet, resulting in higher than normal levels of toxins entering circulation from dissolving fat. This could compromise the fetus/infant dependent on you for its nutrition.  If you are an expectant or nursing mother, please consult a health care professional about this diet before starting it.

  1. The ketogenic diet is a lifestyle; it’s not a temporary ‘diet’. Once the body adapts to a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet, the metabolic changes that result from the switch can make it hard to go back to ‘regular’ carbohydrate-based meals without packing on the pounds.


  1. If done correctly, the ketogenic diet can be a sustainable, healthy nutrition plan for those with health goals they have not been able to reach using other eating plans. If you are a type 2 diabetic, have polycystic ovarian syndrome or other hormonal imbalances, you may be surprised to hear that a ketogenic diet may offer you a management solution.  A holistic nutritionist is an excellent reference to assist you in making sure you a) are a good candidate and b) you have the resources to execute the diet in a healthful fashion.






Fibre: Too Much of a Good Thing?

A lot of health professionals seem to be pushing supplementary fibre on their IBS patients as a way of managing their symptoms.

Interestingly, when I look at the food journals of clients with IBS they often demonstrate not only plenty of fibre, but too much!

Excess fibre can contribute to any of the following:

  1. More than 3 bowel movements daily
  2. Uncomfortable gas and bloating
  3. Stool is poorly formed (broken pieces)
  4. Undigested food in stool

Fibre consists of the plant material in our foods, and our bodies don’t make the enzymes to break them down; hence, the term ‘roughage’.  Does that word sound comfortable to you?

These are some possible consequences of excess fibre:

  1. Mineral deficiencies. Phytates (found in whole grains) and oxalates (found in all plant-based whole foods) can bind to minerals like calcium and iron and prevent their uptake from the gut into the body.


  1. Over-active bowel. Fibre increases peristalsis—the muscle-contractions that move food and feces through the intestines.  If you’re vulnerable to incontinence, this can increase your chances of having an accident, or at the very least, Nature may call more often than is convenient.  In any case, the cramping that overactive bowel creates is uncomfortable.


  1. Gas and bloating. Since we can’t digest them ourselves, the intestinal microbes eat certain plant fibres and ”burp” gas in the process. The result of excess fibre can therefore liberate this gas at varying rates and of varying odours.

4.  Loose stool.  The more fibre we eat, the faster our intestines move the food and waste through.  This means less of the water contained in the stool has time to be reabsorbed, creating a ‘watery’, or loose stool.


To be clear, fibre has an important role in our diets, and higher consumption is associated with lower cholesterol levels and lower incidence of bowel cancers.  Plus, many vitamins are found in whole grains.  So with the exception of some very specific health conditions, fibre shouldn’t be removed entirely from your diet.  However, if you’re wondering if your digestive symptoms may be related to your fibre intake, a nutritionist can help you determine this. Be sure to keep a food log that includes approximate quantities of each food eaten.  Keep in mind that individual tolerance for type and quantity of fiber differ from person to person.

IBS, IBD, Gluten or Glyphosate: Which is it?

If you’ve been told you have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), such as Crohn’s colitis or ulcerative colitis–or ‘just’ irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you may have wondered if gluten was the culprit. Perhaps you’ve been tested for Celiac disease–which is the hallmark sign of gluten allergy—but the results came back negative.  What if there’s another trigger of your bowel pain?

Today’s conventionally grown wheat crop in the U.S.A. and Canada is sprayed with glyphosate. Most easily identified by, but not isolated to the brand name Roundup, glyphosate is a powerful herbicide that kills everything green—except the plants that are genetically modified in a lab to be immune to it.  A lot of attention has been given to the topic of genetically altered foods, and rightly so—but could glyphosate be the scariest culprit here? First, I should qualify that to date, the wheat for sale has not been genetically manipulated like corn, soybeans,  canola and other crops have.  However, farmers have discovered that if they spray their crop with glyphosate at harvest time that it dries standing up, thereby reducing harvest work.   Higher levels of this chemical may actually be found and measured in the urine of people who consume not just wheat, but any conventionally grown (i.e., non-organic) grains and soybeans.  The lab Great Plains Laboratory, as well as the non-for-profit Institute for Responsible Technology both state that there is sufficient data that indicate that glyphosate-containing herbicides are toxic to humans and are associated with gastrointestinal disorders we see so much of today.

Do you react?

Several of my non-Celiac nutrition clients who say they are gluten-intolerant have told me that somehow, they were able to eat glutenous pasta and breads while overseas with no ill effects.  For a while, I attributed this to the fact they were on vacation, and therefore were experiencing a lot less stress in their lives (rest increases tolerance for dietary stressors.)  However, a couple of them were actually on business trips to Europe, where the wheat (if not imported from Canada or the U.S.) is NOT treated with benzoyl peroxide nor glyphosate.  How interesting!

Disclaimer: If you have been diagnosed with Celiac disease you must never consume wheat, rye, barley, spelt, kamut or triticale in any form or amount.

What Wheat Flour and Acne Medication Have in Common

Gluten has become a household word by now, and many fear it.  Maybe you’ve been tested for gluten allergy and you were shocked when the results came back negative. About half of the clients I consult with have told me that they feel better without wheat in their diet. They report less bloating, better digestion and less weight.   So if it’s not gluten, what’s the culprit here?  Consider this little known fact about the wheat products produced in North America:

  1. Most white wheat flour today is bleached with benzoyl peroxide. If that rings a bell, think back to your teen years. That’s right: it’s a topical acne medication.  Remember white spots on your colourful bathroom towels? Benzoyl peroxide kills bacteria with oxygen, and in the process, it bleaches.  Many people, after years of use of this topical acne medication, have developed skin sensitivity to benzoyl peroxide—creating inflammation, most notably as dryness and itching. Even though the concentration of the ingredient is surely lower than those used in medication, consider that as a rule, people tend to become sensitized to things they are over-exposed to–either by intensity, duration or frequency of exposure.  Could wheat flour be causing the same inflammation in the digestive tract and resulting symptoms?  We don’t know, but it’s something to consider.

Organically Produced Wheat is Safer

Gluten is a group of proteins naturally present in wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut and triticale grains, so organically grown grains from this list will have them, too. However, by choosing organically grown wheat products, we are reducing our exposure to harmful glyphosate, benzoyl peroxide and other chemicals used to treat wheat products both in the field and in the factories.

If you suffer from IBS, IBD, or other gastrointestinal symptoms, consider modifying your intake of conventionally grown grains accordingly.

Disclaimer: if you are allergic to gluten (diagnosed with Celiac disease/gluten enteropathy), you must not eat ANY wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut or triticale products of any kind.





3 Estrogenic Foods You Didn’t Know About

Estrogens–a key group of hormones necessary for female health– are feared by many these days. First, there was the famous Nurses Health Study, which was cut short in 2003 when researchers realized that the participants on synthetic hormone replacement medications were experiencing more heart attacks and strokes.   Then in 2006,  Canada banned the use of chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) from baby bottles over the concern that BPA is in fact an estrogen-mimicker, with unknown effects on developing infants.  Unfortunately, these very real concerns have lead to a paranoia about soy-based foods, since they naturally contain estrogen-mimickers as well.

So, should we limit our exposure to ALL estrogen-like substances, natural or unnatural? I am asked this question frequently in my nutritional counseling practice.

In fact, there is nothing inherently wrong with phyto-estrogens; many traditional food sources from various cultures around the world have naturally contained components that mimic human estrogen, albeit in a very MILD way.  That is the key. The fact that they are much, much  weaker than our own estrogen means that they are not capable of the nasty potential effects that xeno-estrogens—the chemical estrogen-mimickers–have.

Here are a few foods that naturally contain phyto-estrogens—chemicals that act like weak estrogens:

Beans: Not just soybeans, but black beans, kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, black-eyed peas,….in fact, if it is a legume (not to be confused with the term “vegetable”), it contains phyto-estrogens such as genistein and daidzein.   Removing these from our diets is a sacrifice because they are an excellent source of fiber, protein and complex carbohydrates. If you do eat soy products, make sure they are organically grown, as over 90% of conventionally grown soybeans are from genetically-modified plants.

Alfalfa: Alfalfa sprouts are found in the salad department of our grocery stores, typically in clam-shell-like containers.  We add them to salads, sushi rolls, and sandwiches. Not only are these sprouts a good source of vitamin K, they are also sources of phyto-estrogens. After all, alfalfa is also a member of the legume family. Once again, look for organically grown sprouts, or grow your own with organic seeds from the health food store.

Flaxseed: This little brown or blonde-coloured seed has been celebrated mainly for its outstanding omega-3 content. However, it’s also a high source of lignans—another phyto-estrogenic plant component.  Flaxmeal and flaxseed oil should both always be stored in the freezer as it can go rancid easily.

These 3 foods are not to be feared.  There is a theory that phyto-estrogens help block xeno-estrogens from our estrogen receptors, protecting us from the strong estrogenic effects of BPA and other plastics. Enjoy these foods as part of a varied diet. They have so much to offer!

The BEST Reason to Log Your Food

Maybe you’ve tried keeping a diet journal, and for a number of reasons, you didn’t Businesswoman Writing In Diarykeep it going.  Here are some common objections and excuses I have heard for avoiding this practice:

“It takes too long.”

“By the end of the day I’m too tired to do it.”

“My day was so hectic that by lunchtime I can’t remember what I had for breakfast.”

“I’m too lazy to do it.”

Then there’s the most honest reason:

“I hate admitting to myself that I ate something I shouldn’t have.”

What if I said that keeping a diet journal is ESSENTIAL to reaching your health and weight goals? That logging your food (and beverage!) consumption is the behaviour that is most important to losing unwanted pounds?

Studies have shown repeatedly that individuals who consistently keep diet journals lose twice as much weight as those who don’t! 

It’s NOT All or Nothing.

Here’s the best news: in these studies, it didn’t matter how ‘perfectly’ the individuals kept their journals. Just the fact that they recorded what they ate and drank on a regular basis lead them to success!

Here are four more great reasons to keep a food diary.

So, if you’ve stopped keeping a journal because you weren’t doing it perfectly or eating perfectly all the time, try again. It could really make the difference in your success!



Are These 4 Bowel Bullies Part of Your Diet?

Foods that you thought were good for you may be wreaking havoc in your intestinal tract. If you’ve been told by a doctor that you have irritable bowel syndrome, it means you have been checked for cancer, inflammatory bowel disease and Celiac disease.  So why do you have symptoms? It could be a food you’re eating more often than your bowel can tolerate. Here are some common culprits:

Wheat ear

Wheat bran: This carbohydrate is indigestible, and consists of a scratchy, insoluble fibre. As it scrapes through your bowel, it can irritate the lining, leading to spasms, gas and an urgency to ‘go’. It’s often an ingredient in ‘whole grain’ cereals, breads, crackers and cookies.


Raw Kale: This leafy green is the poster-child for ‘roughage’.  It is also actually high in oxalates, which are not harmful, but without the right balance of intestinal micro-organisms to break down these natural plant chemicals, gas and bloating have been known to occur.  Pair this with all that insoluble fibre and it can go either way: you may become constipated, or you may experience some urgency.  If you enjoy kale, cooking it  and pureeing  it into a soup is your best bet.

Xylitol and other alcohol sugars:  They’re sweet like sugar, but they have no caloric value. They aren’t alcohol either, so their name is deceiving. However, any sweetener that ends in ‘ol’ is an indigestible carbohydrate that can lead to diarrhea if an excessive amount is consumed.  Look out for alcohol sugars in chewing gum, and diabetic/low-carb snacks.

granola-bowlGranola: This so-called health food can actually be very hard to digest. Baking dried grain at high temperatures with oil and sugar dehydrates the food further to the point it will act like a ‘sponge’ in the digestive tract, sucking up moisture as it scrapes by.  Muesli (an unbaked oat, dried fruit and seed mixture) is a safer bet.

Bottom line: How much you eat and how frequently you eat them will determine your vulnerability to the above bowel bullies.  Keeping  a journal will help you determine links between your diet and your symptoms.


Why I Love Buffets

If your conscience is punishing you about partaking in buffet-style restaurant meals, park that guilt! There are actually many good things about buffets. From a nutritional standpoint, here are a few:

  1. Variety of flavours.  East Indians, for instance, have known for millennia that a balance of flavours in a meal are good for digestion and satisfaction.
  2. Variety of nutrients. Few menus offer single dishes that have a good balance of protein, carbohydrate, fat, minerals and vitamins.  A good buffet will provide a well-rounded selection of nutrients that you otherwise might not achieve by the end of your day.
  3. You ARE in control of how much is on your plate. The average nutritionist’s attitude on buffets is AVOID them because it’s too easy to overeat.  While I agree that one must exercise some won’t-power at a buffet, I believe it’s actually easier to control your portions when it’s not a set plate.
  4. Try foods you saw in the produce aisle but didn’t know what to do with.
    You’ve heard avocadoes are good for us, but never got around to making or trying guacamole. Or, you’ve seen blue potatoes at the store but wondered if they tasted the same as white ones. Here’s your opportunity to try them without risk!
  5. Be inspired by new-to-you recipes, or ways of preparing ordinary foods.  Even if you’re a ‘foodie’ and have tried many vegetables, you may not have ever thought of preparing them in the way that you find them at a buffet.  Be adventurous!

Here are my recommendations for the best buffets in Ottawa, from a nutritional standpoint:

  • Viva International Buffet: International cuisine, home-cooked style.  Usually there are many options for vegetarians and those with food sensitivities.  Kanata.
  • Mandarin Buffet: An Asian food nirvana. Includes sushi. No MSG added. Orleans and  Riverside+Hunt Club locations.
  • The Green Door: Vegetarian.  Pay by weight.  All items have common allergens identified.  Main St., Old Ottawa south.
  • The Table: Vegetarian cuisine. Pay by weight.  All items have a full disclosure of ingredients.  Wellington Village at Holland Ave.

Enjoy your buffet experience!

Four Reasons To Log Your Food

  1. Increased Awareness.  Recording what you eat and drink will bring an awareness of how often you consume less nutritious foods and their ingredients. Sugar, artificial sweeteners, caffeine, alcohol, salt, and fried oils are just a few of the treats that can add up in a day, a week, and a month.  Journaling will bring to your attention the frequency and quantity of the unhealthful parts of your diet.Businesswoman Writing In Diary

2. Accountability. Once you write it down, you’ve admitted that you’ve consumed it.  Knowing that your nutritionist will be asking to look at your food journal will help you think twice about some of your food choices. So if you ate a second piece of chocolate cake, there’s a good chance you won’t do it again because you know you have to write it down!

3. Accuracy:  Most people have difficulty remembering what they ate yesterday, let alone for the last week.  Plus, many of us have selective memory; that is, we recount what we want to remember, not what we don’t.  Giving your nutritionist a look at your diet over an entire week or more will help him/her help you by making sure you haven’t left out any important details, like the spinach in your smoothie, or the nuts in your salad.

4. It shows your nutritionist what you like to eat.   The last thing we want to do is alienate our clients with weird, foreign and complicated recipes.   Your journal helps me identify recipes that may serve as more nutritious versions of your favourite convenience foods.

Here’s what I like to see in a client’s diet journal:

  • Was it something your prepared yourself, home-made, or was it a restaurant meal? Your nutritionist will want to know because portion sizes tend to be larger in restaurants, and because the food may have been cooked in an unhealthy way (for ex., deep fried).
  • Quantities. You don’t have to weigh your food, but the amount of food eaten is very useful information for your nutritionist—especially if your goal is fat loss. If you ate nuts, about how many? If you had pasta, did you have one helping or two? Was it a super-sized soda or a grande frappuccino?
  • Product Details. I like it when clients write down the brand and version of the cereal or yogurt they’ve eaten. This helps me approximate the amount of sugar or fibre they’ve ingested in the meal.
  • Fluids consumed. Remember to record what you drank with the meal. Was it bottled water? Tap water? Hot? Iced? How much? Did you have red wine or white? Skim milk or 2 percent?
  • How you felt after eating the food.  Reserve a section where you can rate your digestion, your energy and your mood. This will help identify possible connections between what you ate and how you feel so that you can either eat more of it (if it made you feel good) or eat less of it (because it made you feel ill).
  • Clear separation of meals and snacks. Make sure your diary doesn’t look like a grocery list.  When you eat a food and what you eat with it could be important in explaining your energy levels, your blood sugar and more.

Black plate, fork and knife on red napkin. Isolated on white. Square format.All of the above details help me identify excesses, but also what nutrients may be in need of augmentation.  Once considered along with your health challenges and goals,  I will be able to give you appealing , suitable, practical and nutritious meal suggestions that will help you reach those goals.

Don’t have a food journal yet?  Start one today and you will probably automatically begin improving your diet!  You can find a sample one here and get started now.