Updated: Jul 10, 2021
Had I known years ago what I know today, perhaps I would have never been diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)/Ulcerative Colitis, an autoimmune condition that once made my life a living hell.
My back story...
Growing up, I was literally OBSESSED by food. My parents tried their best to feed me well but I would love to "snack" on grilled cheese sandwiches and could eat limitless amounts of junk food.
As a teenager, I became more conscious of my appearance and began consuming diet drinks, using artificial sweeteners in my tea and coffee and chewing sugar-free gum (almost constantly) to control my appetite and consume less calories. This continued for many years. Like every teenager alive I thought I knew what I was doing, of course I didn't.
I think I can safely say that I was the poster child for what not to eat!
Fast forward to several years later when my body violently revolted from the years of abuse. I became so sick that eating food terrified me and even a spoonful of bland food had me running to the bathroom for another round of pain and bleeding.
If you don't already know, I was diagnosed almost 20 years ago with the autoimmune disease Ulcerative Colitis, (aka Inflammatory Bowel Disease), a condition that attacks the colon, destroying the lower intestines and bringing with it complete misery and a feeling of utter helplessness.
Things continued in a downward spiral until I was referred to a surgeon who thought my best option was to "simply" remove my colon! It was in this moment of shock that I FINALLY realised a crucial life lesson - I needed to stop feeling like the victim, claim my life back and believe I could heal.
While my transformation has been a combination of a complete mental, physical and spiritual overhaul, today I want to focus on the aspect of certain foods and gut health, because good gut health is arguably the golden ticket to complete wellness.
I truly believe, if I knew then what I know now, I could have avoided years of needless suffering, the regular and painful relapses, the stronger and stronger medications, the courses of horrible steroids, invasive colonoscopies, the endless iron infusions and the hospitalisation from uncontrollable flares.
Regardless of your current state, I know that simple changes can reap great rewards. So if you suffer from poor health, gut issues and/or autoimmune disease, the following steps can help you heal and improve your quality of life.
DITCH THE ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS
IT DESTROYS YOUR DELICATE GUT MICROBIOME
I cringe everytime I think back to how I religiously consumed diet drinks, sugar-free gums and low-cal sweeteners for over a decade thinking I was so clever not consuming sugar or extra calories. I unwittingly created the perfect storm to trigger my IBD because little did I know that with every passing day I was slowly decimating my delicate gut microbiome (the delicate balance of trillions of good and bad (but harmless) bacteria in the colon that protect us from disease causing bacteria).
Aspartame, sucralose, saccharine and acesulfame potassium-k are just some of the popular artificial sweeteners on the market that have been linked to:
Negatively impacting the balance of bacteria in the gut (the home of our immune system)
Triggering IBD (Crohn's and Ulcerative Colitis) in susceptible people
Increasing digestive disturbances (bloating, diarrhea, pain etc.)
Increasing the likelihood of metabolic syndrome - weight gain, heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes/glucose intolerance
Increasing the likelihood of some cancers
Negatively affecting a baby's development (e.g. weight gain, metabolism and gut bacteria) in pregnant women
So ditch, ditch ditch the artificial sweeteners and never look back!
THE GOOD NEWS - THERE ARE ALTERNATIVES
If you're looking for a low-calorie sweetener, Monk Fruit is a natural sweetener and is very popular amongst the Keto set because it doesn't spike insulin and it works well in desserts. Small quantities of Stevia can also be used. These days I stick to organic teas and coffee (one a day max) and enjoy them without any sugar or sweetener added. If you want something fizzy Kombucha is a delicious gut-friendly alternative to diet and soft drinks.
DITCH WHITE FLOUR PRODUCTS
WHITE/WHEAT/REFINED FLOUR SHOULD NOT BE A STAPLE FOOD IN YOUR DIET
White flour products should not be a part of your everyday diet - especially when you have autoimmune or gut issues.
White flour (also known as wheat, plain and all-purpose flour) is wheat refined to within an inch of its life. The goodness is stripped away, basically leaving you with a product that is nutritionally void, acidic and full of empty calories. Common foods with white flour, are white bread, commercially made baked goods including biscuits, cakes and pastries as well as noodles and pasta.
White flour isn't suitable for those with active gut issues and autoimmune (inflammatory) conditions because:
It is highly inflammatory which is a huge no-no when you are trying to heal your body. It is important to understand that there is a prevailing theory that THAT PROLONGED INFLAMMATION IS THE TRIGGER OF ALL DISEASE IN THE BODY
Wheat crops in Australia are generally sprayed with glycophosphates a chemical which has been linked to a slew of serious health problems
White flour feeds the growth of unfriendly bacteria in your gut leading to bloating, cramps, poor digestive function, gut and health issues
Some people are completely gluten intolerant and cannot have any form of wheat (Celiac disease) which is also autoimmune
THE GOOD NEWS
Today we are really lucky that there are so many delicious, amazing and practical alternatives that you can choose from so you can eat, heal and never feel deprived!
Sourdough bread made from a starter culture (not yeast) is great for gut health. I particularly love whole wheat/rye sourdough but I'll eat any! The fermentation process breaks down the gluten structure making it easy to digest and also has probiotics for good gut health
Rye bread is a good source of fibre, vitamins and minerals for those who are not gluten intolerant
Spelt bread is a nutritious option and generally well-tolerated by the gut. It does contain gluten but it is different in structure to traditional white flour
Organic spelt flour for baking. It is an ancient grain and a great substitute for white flour - I love it for my cakes, cookies, scones, slices, muffins etc. and it tastes great!
Coconut flour and almond flour are delicious and can actually improve gut health. They are also popular Keto choices but may be a bit heavy for those with active gut issues
Oats are another great alternative that offer a unique type of fibre (beta-glucan) that nourishes and restores healthy gut bacteria. Porridge, muesli, granola and home made oat based slices or bars are all yummy options but please be weary of added sugars from commercial brands. Make your oats/porridge with delicious coconut or almond milk for a nutritious and tasty dairy-free option!
Konjac noodles are a good alternative for those without active gut issues. It is very low in calories and due to its mild flavor takes on other flavors well. It is commonly used as a noodle substitute in Asian cooking, however it is extremely high in fibre which may aggravate active gut issues
Small amounts of organic whole wheat bread and products may be suitable if you do not have a wheat/gluten intolerance or serious/active digestive issues
Reasonable quantities of potatoes and rice (my favourite is Basmati rice which tastes fantastic and has a low glycemic index, so it does not spike blood sugar unlike other white rice varieties) are generally well tolerated by a sensitive gut. If fibre is not an issue, brown rice and wild rices can also be included.
Pulse pastas made from lentils and chickpeas make great substitutes to regular wheat pasta. You can also also find healthier spelt and buckwheat pasta varieties too. Rice noodles, in reasonable quantities are fine and taste delicious!
A word of caution, if you are dealing with ACTIVE digestive symptoms or a flare, keep all high-fibre (complex) carbs to a minimum because fibre will aggravate an already inflamed/irritated colon. During active symptoms small amounts of plain sourdough, plain white (basmati) rice, rice noodles and potatoes (nothing fried of course) are generally well tolerated. Once your gut is calm you can slowly reintroduce complex carbohydrates into your diet.
Before you freak out at the thought of never eating another cake, doughnut or croissant again here are some words of experience, once you feel well, treat white flour based products as an occasional food in an otherwise nutritious diet and you should be just fine. With all the amazing options we have today, coupled with how good you'll start to feel and now knowing the damage they can do in excess, you will most probably find yourself intuitively moving away from these empty foods that don't make you feel good anyway.
As I mentioned, organic spelt flour has become my new baking best friend! So if you are inspired to try some yummy spelt flour recipes head over to my food blog www.eatinstylebyferitta.com. I also have wheat-free desserts like my amazing Chickpea Chocolate Cake that I highly recommend!
LOSE THE SUGAR
THE BIGGEST ENEMY OF THE GUT
We all know too much refined sugar is bad - but it is particularly damaging to the gut. Sugar is also highly addictive which makes it hard to kick for some people.
We all know junk and processed foods are loaded with sugar and bad fats however major food companies also add sugar to so-called "healthy" foods like (yogurts, soups, etc) and even savory foods, so be sure to check the sugar (carbohydrate) content of what you're eating. As a general guide, if a product has more than 10g of sugar per 100g it is considered high in sugar, but I think the key is to understand and control your portion size.
While the maximum recommended amount of sugar per day is 25g, the average Australian actually consumes closer to 60g per day and those who include sugared beverages, processed foods, cakes, confectionery etc. in their regular diet can easily consume a whopping 190g daily (20 teaspoons). How is your body supposed to cope with that onslaught long term? So many people are unaware of the invisible damage they are doing until it is too late.
But there is more to this sugar equation...
Your body converts any food made from simple carbohydrates like white bread, certain varieties of white rice, pasta, noodles and even potatoes QUICKLY into sugar (energy) causing rapid blood sugar spikes that your pancreas and liver have to try to regulate. Occasionally this is fine, however in today's modern diet and the amounts we consume, it takes its toll on the body.
Here's a simple example, many people start start their day with toast, cereal and/or juice, have a white bread sandwich/roll for lunch followed by a plate of pasta, noodles or rice for dinner. Essentially you've fed your body simple carbohydrates - i.e. sugar for the entire day - and that's without the added sugar in your daily tea, coffee, snacks or dessert!
Over time, this excessive intake of refined sugar/simple carbohydrates can:
Create a strong inflammatory response leading to diseases that can present in many different ways/conditions (from mild conditions like acne to more serious conditions like IBD, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes for example)
Aggravate inflammatory/autoimmune conditions (making it hard to stay in remission and contribute to triggering flares when excessively consumed)
Decrease good gut bacteria which leads to health/gut problems
Cause elevated blood sugar levels. Insulin works with glycogen to regulate blood sugar levels but excessive intake can lead to type 2 diabetes (insulin resistance) and weight gain
When you have active digestive issues or active symptoms from a condition, eliminate refined sugar completely so the gut can calm down and heal and you can reduce inflammation
WHAT CAN I EAT INSTEAD TO SATISFY MY SWEET TOOTH?
I am happy to say, there are so many great alternatives. You can enjoy delicious food and nourish your gut bacteria back to good health! You should also find over time that you develop a taste for less overly sweet foods as you retrain your palate to appreciate real flavours.
Here are a few suggestions to keep you and your gut happy!
Get acquainted with good quality dark chocolate that is at least 70% cocoa as it promotes good gut bacteria, is anti-inflammatory, can protect your DNA and even lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes! I love dark chocolate's beautiful rich flavour.
Berries are delicious, are low-carb, loaded with free-radical scavenging antioxidants and work great in smoothies, breakfast bowls, desserts and baking as well as pair well with dark chocolate
Add some pure pomegranate juice to your diet. It is a wonderful choice that replenishes a very critical gut bacteria called Akkermansia that is essential for good gut health. Studies show that this juice has been shown to both increase a positive response to traditional cancer treatment and help patients use their own immune system to fight back. I like to use a small 130ml shooter glass to get a controlled "dose" so I don't overdo the sugar and carbs
Good quality hot chocolate made with good quality cacao powder is another great option. Sweeten with a little Manuka or raw honey, monk fruit or stevia. Also for a dairy-free version try oat, coconut or nut milks - they are all delicious!
For a creamy dessert Greek yogurt is great. You can add chopped fruits, granola and/or chopped nuts to create your ideal gut-friendly breakfast, snack or dessert or use it as a base for other homemade desserts
Kiwi fruit is delicious, rich in fibre and helps cultivate inflammation lowering bacteria
Nuts and nut butters, with their good fats, are a great choice for curbing sweet cravings and are nutritionally rich (however please be cautious if you have active gut issues as they can be "heavy" to a healing gut)
Bananas are satisfying and usually well tolerated by sensitive tummies or during a flare. They contain inulin, a particular fibre that promotes healthy gut bacteria, a feeling of fullness and reduces bloating. They are also great frozen covered in melted dark chocolate with nuts or coconut
Avocados are a delicious superfood, full of healthy fats that can be used to make a delicious guilt-free chocolate mousse
Good fats from nuts, coconut, olive oil, avocados etc. are your friend and should be eaten daily as they are anti-inflammatory, help control weight and will naturally reduce your sugar cravings
Sorbets without added sugar make a healthy, refreshing snack or dessert
Yacon syrup is a natural sweetener that supports gut health and weight loss (best used in small amounts) it is commonly added to tea and coffee (but it is not suitable for baking)
Small quantities of pure Manuka or raw honey and Maple syrup can add healthy sweetness (avoid raw honey during pregnancy)
Monk Fruit is a natural low-cal sweetener popular in Keto/low-carb diets for baking and desserts
Stevia is a popular low-cal sweetener, which is okay in small amounts
Keto friendly desserts can help you satisfy sweet cravings without huge sugar spikes however please be mindful of the sweetener used - stick to natural
Fruit waters and Kombucha are a great substitute for soft drinks and juices. They are refreshing and will help keep your gut happy and skin glowing
As irritation, pain and symptoms improve you can slowly test foods to see what does and don't work for your body. One of my favorite snacks (in remission) is 70%+ dark chocolate, a few pieces of dried fruit and nuts.
While I do take medication and will always have to careful (from all the years of damage I inflicted) I know that changing my diet has changed my life and I am immensely grateful to God for my healing. It feels like a miracle to be able to do the simple things that once seemed impossible - enjoying a walk in the fresh air, going to the movies, eating a meal in a restaurant or be in a public space without being gripped by panic, fear, pain and urgency.
I truly know what it is like to suffer and that is why sharing what I have learned is so important to me - because no one should needlessly suffer. I know this simply yet valuable information can help you on your wellness journey too.
If you have any questions or would like more info on something specific just drop me a message and I'll be sure to reply. Until next time my friends, and oh, don't forget to show me some love by clicking the heart at the bottom of this post.
P.S. I'd love if you'd show me some love and click the heart at the bottom of this post!
Eat To Beat Disease by Dr William Li