What’s causing my stomach problem?

stomach

Growing up you ate all kinds of things and never thought much about your stomach unless you were sick. Now, all of a sudden, you are starting to have stomach issues and you don’t know why.  Maybe you have stomach pain, heartburn, gas, diarrhea or constipation. Or maybe a combination of all!

The stomach and intestines are very complex so I’ll try to make this simple for you. What makes them work is a delicate balance of bacteria, acids and enzymes that help you break down and use your food.  As you get older your body’s ability to maintain this balance becomes more difficult. You can suddenly become imbalanced through body stress. Physically you may have had a car accident, surgery or a severe viral infection. Mental stress will also manifest itself physically. You could have lost your job, gone through a divorce, or even positive stress like getting married or moving to a new home. Your body chemistry may change, including a reduction of your valuable bacteria used for digestion. How well you handle your stress will determine how quickly, or if you return back to normal.

One of the most common side effects of stress is a degrading immune system which causes the body to react strongly to things you may have never responded to before. I had an incident I’ll share as an example.  I just moved to a new state, bought a new house and started a new job. I love mushrooms and ate them all the time. I loved grilled Portobello sandwiches. One day I ordered stir fry with mushrooms and it didn’t stay with me for long. I assumed I had a bad batch of mushrooms until I had the same experience a few weeks later at another restaurant with a wild mushroom and pasta dish. A few months later I tried again with a dish of beef with broccoli. For some reason my body was completely rejecting mushrooms. I tested for allergies and found a fungus sensitivity I never had before!

If your stomach issues are causing severe weight loss, weakness, dizziness or you find blood in your stool, seek medical attention. Otherwise, if you haven’t been able to identify why you are having issues, the first thing you need to do is learn how to manage your stress. Exercise, meditate or talk to people, even a professional if necessary.  If you aren’t seeing improvement, there are certain foods that the body will react to more than others.  Here is a list in order of what I consider the worst offenders:

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Sugar
  • Milk/Dairy
  • Gluten
  • Acidic foods
  • Nuts (for some people)

To test which one of these may be causing you problems, remove the foods one at a time from your diet, starting with the one at the top and working your way down. Wait for two weeks between removing each item. It can take that long for some foods to fully leave your system. When you find the culprit, stop eating it. If you completed the list and still have issues, have an allergy test done to see what specifically you may be allergic to. Doctors may also be able to test you for certain diseases that cause these types of symptoms.

I have good news. I can eat mushrooms again with no problem and my stomach issues subsided. I stopped eating most everything on the list above for a number of months and eventually was able to tolerate small amounts of mushrooms again. The idea is to give your immune system a break. When you build your immune system back up, your body can handle a better variety of food with no problems.  Another way to boost your immune system and add back some of the natural bacterial flora is to focus on probiotics. You can purchase supplements, but I prefer it in its natural form in such things as yogurt, sauerkraut, miso soup and honey.

I hope this gives you a start in solving your dilemma. It’s amazing how the body digests food and a miracle we don’t get out of balance more often! Especially with the way most Americans eat! Be patient with your stomach and be gentle with it. Eat a well-balanced, produce rich diet and better days will be on the way!

 

Sodium not bad for you?

Salt

You’ve always heard to avoid salt from the health community.  “It’s bad for you and your heart!” they said. Over the last year, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies reveals large reductions of sodium in the diet are only important for those with diseases related to sodium intake.

The average American takes in 3400 mg of sodium per day while the maximum intake recommended from the American Heart Association was 1500 mg.  With a new report that came out last year, many professional health organizations are now recommending the maximum to be 2300 mg. Of course there are exceptions. If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, Meniere’s or other diseases related to sodium intake, (unfortunately almost half of America!) you still need to work toward 1500 mg. The other exceptions include African Americans and anyone over 51 years of age. They are more susceptible to hypertension.

Why the change? Research of past scientific studies showed a lack of supporting data showing a benefit for healthy people limiting sodium to 1500 mg. In fact, some obscure studies from other countries showed very low sodium resulted in changes in the nervous system, triglyceride levels and insulin sensitivity that could also cause heart problems.  Another factor to consider is that table salt is our main source of iodine which is important for thyroid function. Sea salt also contains a number of beneficial minerals.

Keep in mind that 2300 mg of sodium is still only 1 teaspoon of salt, and there is still sodium in processed and prepared foods, including restaurant food. Also keep in mind every person is different. Some people can handle more sodium than others. Many diseases are hereditary and can be a clue if you should continue to strive for 1500 mg a day.

There are ways to counteract the negative effects of sodium. Being active and taking in a healthy amount of potassium will actually reduce blood pressure. The recommended amount of potassium is 4700 mg a day and can be easily done if you eat a lot of fruits and vegetables.  Good sources of potassium include bananas, potatoes and beans.

It seems the health community is finding out more and more that extreme diet restrictions not related to a specific disease are not always in everyone’s best interest. This goes back to what I’ve always said……..eat what you want, just eat it in moderation! A variety of food is the best way to get a well-balanced, nutritious diet without overwhelming your body with anything potentially harmful.

Look for the latest recommendations on the Center for Disease Control website.

The Healthy, Exotic Pineapple

Pineapple

Maybe it’s just me but when I see a pineapple in the store I think “exotic”. There is a very good reason for this. It wasn’t until mass air transit that the United States actually had fresh pineapple in your neighborhood grocery store, and even now it’s only for a limited time. Pineapple, unlike oranges, does not travel well and until produce was shipped in mass via planes, we only found pineapple in cans!

In 1493 Columbus found pineapples in Guadeloupe which came from Brazil where they grew wild. There, they called it “nana” which means ‘perfumed’. When the Spanish found it in 1589 they thought it looked like a pine cone so added the word “pina” eventually leading to the word “pineapple”. Since pineapple didn’t travel well, not many were impressed with the fruit unless they tried it in its native land. It spoiled by the time it took a slow boat to get to North America or Europe.  We really take it for granted all the fresh produce we can get these days.

Hawaii and South America are the leaders in growing pineapple. In reality, a pineapple is actually a collection of berry like fruits. Each cell of the fused together fruit is considered a berry. The top of the pineapple is actually a plant that it can grow on. If you cut the top off and put it in soil, it can grow roots and create a whole new plant. The pineapple fruit is a result of a flower that grows on the top of the plant.

Not only is the pineapple a tasty luxury, it is also good for your health! Benefits include increased immunity, decreased inflammation and improved digestion. Pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain, hence the pineapple’s name bromeliad. This enzyme is said to be able to digest high amounts of protein which is one of the most difficult foods for people to digest. This may be the start of the rumor that pineapple can help you lose weight. This is why its juice is used in fad cleansing diets today. Although the weight loss has never been scientifically proven, pineapple is low in calories (75 calories per cup), fat and a great source of fiber which are important factors in weight loss. Pineapple also contains vitamin A and C, calcium, potassium, phosphorus and manganese which is very important for bone health.

You can pick a good pineapple by finding one that smells sweet and fresh. The more yellow the fruit is the sweeter it is, but the closer it is to spoiling. Watch out for soft spots on the fruit and mold on the bottom core. If you store your pineapple in room temperature, the fruit will become softer and juicer. If it’s already ripe enough, keep it in the refrigerator to keep it from spoiling.

Prepare your pineapple by first cutting off the top and bottom, then peeling off the skin with a knife. Cut the pineapple lengthwise into quarters, slicing off the hard inner core. Finally, cut each strip into bite size pieces, like you would a melon. Most pineapples have picture instructions on the tags. Sliced pineapple can be stored for a few days in airtight containers in the refrigerator, although it usually disappears faster in my house!

Enjoy!