Go with your gut: Jumping aboard the digestive health train
Let’s get into the four gut products geared towards improving gut health.
This week on the La Española Olive Oil blog, we are passing the mic to our Australian colleague. Felicity manages the La Española brand across Australia, and volunteered to trial a number of products geared towards improving gut health, and gave us her verdict!
Note: If you suffer from IBS, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or other digestive conditions, it is important to consult a medical professional before trying new gut health products.
“This month for the La Española blog, I tried some gut health food products. But before we get into those, a little about me….
I have suffered from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) since I was a teenager, but it became particularly bad when I was in my early 20’s. My older brother has Crohn's disease (chronic inflammatory bowel disease), which is essentially at its worst stage now after 20 years. I don’t have Crohn’s, but we are both the only two members of our family that suffer with bad bowel and gastrointestinal diseases.
I have what’s called “mixed type IBS”. That is, I am generally either constipated for a long time or I have diarrhoea. Sorry for the TMI, but it’s true and it sucks. It’s rare that it’s balanced or “normal”. I get severe bloating and cramps when it’s acting up, and an overall sense of fatigue and being “unwell”. My menstrual cycle is generally linked to times when it’s particularly bad or okay. It’s taken me a long time to really learn what triggers my IBS and what helps calm it. I know what foods or drinks set it off (spicy food is the worst and bland foods are the best), and my IBS is ten times worse when I’m particularly stressed. As a result, I need to try to keep my stress levels in check - which is hard, as I’m a huge worrier. Almost 10 years ago, I had such a bad IBS flare up that I was hospitalised multiple times and lost 30kg from not eating. I felt that if I stopped eating and putting food into my body, my body wouldn’t have anything to freak out over. Not eating actually just made it worse: I’m now a lot better, but I have had to craft a life for myself that involves avoiding stress where I can and monitoring what I eat. My IBS has ruined many events for me in my life. Birthdays, nights out, overseas trips, work commitments. I’ve had to quit jobs when it’s been so bad I could barely function, and it’s hard for those who don’t suffer from gut disorders to understand how all-consuming it is. It’s an embarrassing disease, and not one that’s easy to talk about. But I will say mine is at its most balanced now, from watching what I eat and keeping my stress levels minimal.
Now, let’s get into the four gut products I tried this month - and whether or not they helped!”
Probiotics are all the rage in the world of supplements, and are welcomed by those who need a good bacteria boost. Just one probiotic a day helps to replace bad gut bacteria with good bacteria microbiome, and studies have shown they have the ability to boost your immune system, fight diseases and regulate an upset digestive tract.
The verdict: “I purchased some pretty expensive probiotics to trial them. I did the same a few years ago and did not have a good experience. This time around was worse, and I bought some designed specifically for those with IBS, like myself. Within three days, the worst flatulence I’ve ever had kicked in, which is a common side effect as your gut gets a boost of good bacteria and eradicates the bad. The gas didn’t stop the entire time I took them and caused serious discomfort. I also had severe constipation on and off. I trialled probiotics for 30 days and sadly did not see any positive changes to the condition that has caused me a lot of stress for almost 20 years. It actually felt like my condition was getting worse. When I spoke to a friend with Crohn’s disease about it, she said probiotics are not ideal for people with conditions like ours and she has had similar experiences. But hey - maybe if I tried it for a few months it would have a chance to work better, but I just couldn’t do it. 0/10.”
A fermented dish similar in consistency to yoghurt, kefir is seeing an explosion in popularity. The kefir grain cultured treat is now available in different flavours and styles in your supermarkets yoghurt aisle. Like yoghurt, kefir’s cultures aim to help your gut’s good bacteria levels outweigh the bad.
The verdict: “I’ve tried kefir a couple of times before. It has a totally different taste to yoghurt which takes a bit to get used to. I picked up some berry varieties and they were okay - I prefer yoghurt and find it’s just as good for the gut! Kefir is pretty expensive - one pot is the cost of four four packs of basic yoghurts - so i’d buy it more if it was a bit more affordable! 3/10.”
Lactose free milk and dairy products
Lactose free milk and dairy products were always targeted at those with lactose intolerance, but these days many of us are making the switch. Lactose free products are free of the enzyme found in other dairy products, which many of us have difficulties digesting without even knowing it. Lactose is found to cause bloating, gas, diarrhoea, indigestion and cramps, and going lactose free eliminates these potential side effects while still allowing you to enjoy that milky coffee or bowl of ice cream. Winning!
The verdict: “Honestly, of all products designed to improve gut health, lactose free is the way to go in my opinion. Milk and dairy is probably my biggest food vice and I’ve always just tolerated the side effects I endure to enjoy the foods and drinks I want. A few years ago when I first tried lactose free milk, there were far less brands out there producing it and it was really expensive for a small amount. These days, all kinds of brands are producing their own and it’s far more affordable - barely more than regular milk. Now, I’m trying to solely buy lactose free milk unless it simply isn’t available - most cafes around me don’t stock it. Within a day or two of switching to lactose free milk, I have far less bloating and gas and have more “normal” bowel movement. I honestly believe that lactose is half of my problem, and that my IBS would be almost eliminated if I switched 100% of my time. That’s the plan. 9/10.”
When yellow and firm, bananas are a simple fruit you can enjoy that are good for your gut health. The potassium-rich food is recommended by the gut-health experts behind the FODMAP diet, a lifestyle that aims to help IBS sufferers on the track to a comfortable and healthy gut. Bananas are also a great source of fibre, which will help move things along for those with chronic constipation.
The verdict: “Many studies find that bananas when overripe can worsen IBS symptoms but when they are fresh, they have been a long-term friend of mine. During particularly bad flare ups, it is recommended to eat a very bland diet, which includes bananas, rice and simple, no-fuss things like that. I try to follow the FODMAP diet which is designed for people like me, and firm bananas are low FODMAP and can calm a grouchy tummy and keep you full when you really can handle anything else. 7/10.”
Antioxidant rich olive oil has been proven to be excellent for your digestive health. Switching out butter for a good quality olive oil has been found to moderate your gastrointestinal health. It’s also a healthier alternative, packed with vitamins and nutrients our bodies need to work at their peak.
The verdict: “Before I worked with La Española in Australia, I really just thought olive oil was another pantry item and didn’t think much beyond that. In the last few years, I have learned so much about olive oil that it’s astounding, and can honestly attest to how powerful it is. I have replaced margarine and butter with olive oil in baking or on toast, and it’s really improved my overall gut health. I also use it in the bathroom, to remove wax residue and mixing in with the homemade body scrubs I make leaves my skin impossibly soft.”
La Española Olive Oil is stocked exclusively across Australia by Coles Supermarkets. Browse our range and stock up on Spain’s oldest and most trusted olive oil.