Irritable bowel syndrome isn’t considered a disease. Yet it is the gastrointestinal complaint most frequently diagnosed by medical professionals.
But most physicians don’t know what to do about it. There isn’t a pill you can take to cure it.
In the meantime, the gas, bloating, pain and bowel issues associated with IBS can be excruciating, embarrassing, and interfere with your active lifestyle.
It’s the poor food we’re eating; it’s stress; it’s the terrible condition of our gut microbiomes.
Still, there are certain foods that are worse than others.
One of the most common reasons for IBS in our society is the misguided insistence that dairy products from cows are good for you.
The dairy industry claims that “milk does a body good.” It is celebrated as a healthy food choice. It is glorified as a great source of calcium for your bones.
But should animal based dairy products really be a regular part of your diet?
We Were Born to be Lactose Intolerant
Humans are the only mammals that continue to drink milk after we’ve been weaned. We are also the only ones who consume milk from other species. And our bodies are not equipped to handle it.
You see, as we grow into mid-childhood – somewhere around six or seven years old – we really begin to lose the lactase enzyme. This is the enzyme that digests the main sugar (lactose) that’s found in milk.
When you don’t produce enough lactose to break down the milk sugars, they remain in the digestive system where they end up being fermented by bacteria. This is what creates the gassiness, bloating and hardness or looseness in the stool that is associated with lactose intolerance.
For a long time, scientists thought this was some sort of disorder. But now we’ve discovered that lactose intolerance is our normal state. We really aren’t supposed to be able to digest milk once we pass infancy!
Instead, it turns out people who keep producing lactase – and who can continue to digest milk as they age – are the ones who are abnormal. These people have an unusual gene mutation that started off in a group of European dairy farmers about 7,500 years ago.
Even though this variant has spread throughout the ages, more than 60% of people worldwide still can’t digest the lactose in milk. And it’s perfectly normal.
In the meantime, research repeatedly shows that dairy products have little or no benefit when it comes to your bone health. In fact, just three glasses of milk daily is associated with more bone and hip fractures and a higher risk of premature death in both men and women.
So if you’re lactose intolerant, you aren’t missing out on anything. Especially considering all of the plant-based dairy options available today.
The Problem with Grains
Another leading cause of IBS these days is gluten.
Just like some people can’t break down lactose, others have an inability to digest gluten. This is a protein found in grains that acts like glue to hold dough together and provide elasticity.
You’ll find gluten in wheat, rye, barley and foods made with these grains, such as breads, cereals, pastries, pasta and crackers. You’ll also find gluten in many packaged foods like gravies, soups, condiments, processed meats, salad dressings and more.
In people with gluten intolerance, these foods cause classic symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, gas and bloating. Gluten sensitivities can also manifest as bone and joint pain, fatigue, headaches, depression or eczema.
The damage from gluten is cumulative and eventually creates an inflammatory state that damages the lining of the small intestines.
If you have a reaction to foods containing gluten, you should steer clear of foods that contains wheat, spelt, kamut, barley, semolina, durum and rye. You should also avoid oats. Oats don’t contain gluten, but are often contaminated with gluten in the field or during storage or processing.
You don’t have to give up grains altogether. Some gluten-free grains I recommend include amaranth, buckwheat, millet and quinoa.
Also, go natural. Forget the packaged foods altogether and load your plate with the good stuff. Organic fruits and vegetables should make up 85% of your diet. Fill the remaining 15% with wild-caught fish, organic free-range poultry, and grass-fed meats.
When it comes to the symptoms of lactose intolerance, gluten sensitivities and other food reactions, the old saying, “You are what you eat,” is a solid truth.
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