As gut health is often a taboo topic, many people suffer from gut conditions in silence. Who wants to talk about their irritable bowels at the dinner table? In honor of National IBS Awareness Month, we sat down with fellow Massachusetts native and the country’s leading nutrition expert on the Low FODMAP diet, Kate Scarlata, to shed light on this topic. Never heard of FODMAPs? Read on to learn why this diet is frequently recommended as treatment for gut-related conditions.
What is gut health?
Gut health refers to the state of the health of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract which includes the mouth through the large intestine.
Why is gut health so important?
The gut houses about 60-70 percent of the immune system and therefore plays a key role in keeping us healthy. The gastrointestinal tract contains trillions of residential microbes that help us digest food, create vitamins and keep pathogenic (disease causing) microbes from wreaking havoc.
How does someone end up with an unhealthy gut?
A number of factors can impact the health of our gut. A bout of gastroenteritis, for instance, can alter the microbes that reside in the gut and slow the “motility” of the intestine, or the intestine’s ability to process and move food. This can lead to an overgrowth of certain microbes leading to breakdown of the lining of the intestine and potential inflammation, resulting in bloating and digestive distress. Some individuals are more prone to gut inflammation such as those who have celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease. A diet low in fiber and high in sugar can contribute to an unhealthy gut as this style of diet can change the type of microbes that live in the gut or create an imbalance of microbes in the intestine.
What are some ways in which poor gut health can impact our overall health?
Alterations in gut microbes have been associated with heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, diabetes and autoimmune conditions. Some studies have also suggested there might be a potential link to food allergies and food sensitivities. This area of science is evolving but it appears changes in the microbes that reside in the gut, what they are doing and creating may increase inflammation and in some cases, increase the risk of some chronic diseases. The gut and brain are linked by the vagus nerve, and there is interesting science revealing that changes in our gut microbes can impact mental health conditions such as increased risk of depression and anxiety.
How does one heal a gut?
For those who are experiencing gut-related symptoms, it is essential to work with a registered dietitian with digestive health expertise and a gastroenterologist. Self diagnosing gut health related illness is never a good idea! Therapeutic strategies will vary depending on the underlying cause of the symptoms or disorder.
What are FODMAPs?
FODMAPs are certain short chain carbohydrates that are commonly malabsorbed and can instigate GI symptoms in individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
You are an expert in the low-FODMAP diet. When do you recommend this diet to a patient? What’s involved?
The low FODMAP diet is a science based nutritional strategy for those who suffer with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It is a three part nutritional therapy. The first phase involves removing all high FODMAP foods. In the second phase FODMAPs are systematically added back into the diet to help identify which FODMAPs were triggering symptoms and the last phase involves adding tolerable FODMAP foods back into the diet.
For someone who isn’t seeing a nutritionist, how do they know if the low FODMAP diet is right for them?
I would not recommend trialing the low FODMAP diet on your own. The low FODMAP diet should be recommended by a health professional. Before you undergo diet changes, other testing might be ordered. For instance, I encourage my clients to be tested for celiac disease before they embark on the low FODMAP diet.
What are high FODMAP foods?
There are many foods high in FODMAPs, such as wheat, onion, garlic, watermelon, apples, pears, and milk, to name a few. For a list of high and low FODMAP foods, check my site.
Why is the low FODMAP diet so difficult to follow? Do you have any tips for success following the diet?
With good instruction, the low FODMAP diet is not that difficult to do. Dining out on the low FODMAP diet, however, can be tricky as many restaurants use wheat, garlic and onion, three of the biggest sources of FODMAPs. Work with a registered dietitian! Dietitians can drill down the science in understandable terms and help plan low FODMAP meals that taste great and work with your lifestyle.
Do you also follow a low FODMAP diet?
After a major small intestinal surgery, my digestion became a bit compromised, so I do follow a pretty liberal form of the low FODMAP diet currently. I can eat quite a few high FODMAP foods but not at the same meal.
What are some of your favorite low FODMAP foods?
I am a big fan of oats, kale salads, chicken, roasted green beans and dark chocolate dipped pineapple. I love 88 Acres Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt bars when I am traveling or on the go.
In a sentence, how would you explain the most important thing to remember about nutrition?
Eat more plants: plenty of vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds.
Where did you learn to cook?
I am the youngest of nine children and my mom cooked a big meal every day. My mom was a great cook and inspired me in the kitchen.
What five things would we always find in your fridge?
Greek yogurt, kale, baby carrots, strawberries and eggs.
Where do you like to buy your groceries from?
Honestly, I jump from store to store. You can find me at Market Basket, Roche Brothers, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Wegmans.
Do you have any special secret places where you buy certain items?
I love Eataly in Boston.
Kate Scarlata, is a registered dietitian, mom, runner, author and low FODMAP diet educator. After a major intestinal resection, she became not only a health care provider but also a patient. She is on a mission to spread global awareness of the low FODMAP diet for those who suffer with functional gut disorders. Her passion is educating health professionals and digestively challenged patients through individual consultations, RD/RDN one-on-one coaching, and educational digestive health nutrition workshops. As a digestive health expert, she has authored The Complete Idiot's Guide to Eating Well with IBS and co-authored 21 Day Tummy, a New York Times best seller.