How to Eat a More Gut-Friendly Diet

Learn which foods to enjoy and which to avoid if you're following an anti-inflammation diet.

Anti-inflammation diets have become popular for lots of reasons, from helping to reduce disease risk to calming symptoms caused by stress. Because irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is thought to be associated with inflammation in the gut, an anti-inflammation diet may help relieve some symptoms. But which type of anti-inflammation diet is best? With the help of a health care professional, we'll start to sort that out.

IBS doesn't have a crystal-clear cause; it's thought that sporadic intestinal contractions, stress and food intolerances may be triggers. Inflammation in the gut may come before or after the triggers and may be part of an autoimmune response, with symptoms including bloating and intestinal distress. It can be a painful and embarrassing condition that can restrict a person's life to varying degrees.

And that's key. Each person is very individual, so something that's a trigger for one person may not be one for another. Accordingly, one person's anti-inflammation diet may need to be different from another's. This is why it's important to work with a registered dietitian to figure out how to use diet to on a path to recovery.

"The goal of a registered dietitian is to help food again become enjoyable, with the ultimate goal of reducing stress and creating a safe diet you can realistically stick to long-term," says dietitian Emily Kyle, of Emily Kyle Nutrition and author of The 30-Minute Thyroid Cookbook and The Hashimoto's AIP Cookbook. Kyle recommends two anti-inflammatory diets for IBS and other autoimmune conditions: the autoimmune protocol (AIP), also known as the paleo autoimmune protocol, and the Lifestyle, Eating and Performance Therapy (LEAP) test with individual dietary protocol. "While these diets cannot cure an autoimmune condition like IBS," she says, "they can help reduce the severity of symptoms experienced and help in the overall multidisciplinary approach of treatment."

For those on the AIP diet and for some individuals on the LEAP protocol, Kyle recommends enjoying the following foods:

  • Organic and pasture-raised meat — Chicken, turkey, duck, beef, pork, lamb or venison. The organic distinction is important, to avoid potential chemical sensitivities.
  • Wild-caught seafood — Salmon, cod, halibut, haddock, sardines and U.S.-farmed trout. Shellfish — shrimp, clams or mussels.
  • Non-nightshade vegetables — All vegetables (preferably organic) except tomatoes, bell and hot peppers, eggplant and white potatoes
  • High-quality oils — Avocado oil, coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil
  • Fresh or dried herbs — Parsley, thyme, basil, tarragon, rosemary, chives, chervil, marjoram, oregano, fennel, lavender, mint, cilantro, dill
  • Dairy-free fermented foods — Kombucha, kefir and apple cider vinegar or other unpasteurized vinegars
  • Beverages — Herbal tea, homemade bone or vegetable broth
  • Salt — Can be an important electrolyte

The above foods can help nourish the body and begin to repair an inflamed gut. While those with IBS are learning to again appreciate food, Kyle suggests avoiding the following list of foods, which may be inflammation triggers:

  • Dairy foods
  • Grains
  • Eggs
  • Legumes such as beans and peanuts
  • Nightshade vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Added sugar
  • Food additives
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Packaged foods
  • Caffeine and alcohol

This is an extensive list of foods to avoid, and attempting it may be challenging without the help of a dietitian — especially considering that the diet should be followed for 30 to 60 days before foods are systematically added back in. For someone who has been attempting an elimination diet for years without much success, Kyle suggests that it may be time to try the more individualized approach of the LEAP protocol, which includes a blood test that determines the inflammatory response to individual foods. With the help of a LEAP-certified professional, an individual can identify foods to stay away from and, more important, "best" foods to eat.

Serena Ball, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian nutritionist, food writer and recipe developer. She blogs at TeaspoonOfSpice.com and is the author of the best-selling The 30-Minute Mediterranean Diet Cookbook. Follow her @TspCurry on Twitter and Instagram.

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