Here’s a guide to commonly consumed foods to avoid this Thanksgiving and what you can eat instead if you are suffering from IBS.
Those who have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) know that it can be a common yet confusing and unpredictable condition. It is often triggered by certain foods, leading to abdominal pain or discomfort, gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhoea.
Managing IBS, especially during festive holidays, can prove to be challenging. The harvest festival of Thanksgiving is celebrated with a spirit of gratitude for all the blessings received during the year. It is equally known for its lavish feast usually centred around a large roasted turkey. It includes a variety of side dishes including mashed potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce.
Thanksgiving can also be a particularly stressful time, involving travel, family, preparation and more. The digestive system, as we know, is both directly and indirectly connected to the brain via the nervous system and the endocrine and immune systems. Stress can cause changes in intestinal motility resulting in constipation, diarrhoea or both. This is why it is important to keep stress at a minimum to avoid an IBS flare-up. Ensure you get a full night’s sleep the night before. Also, practice mindfulness before, during, and after dinner.
If you are dealing with IBS, do not eat too much at one sitting – namely, the Thanksgiving dinner. It puts enormous strain on the digestive system. Instead, start your day with breakfast, and eat small amounts of food throughout the day.
Don’t feel shy to ask family or friends whether the dishes contain ingredients you need to stay away from.
Try preparing and taking along one side dish that doesn’t contain any of your food triggers or allergies, which your loved ones will enjoy, too.
During your meal, eat slowly and place your fork down completely in between bites. Chew as well as possible since saliva has enzymes that help break down the food and prevent indigestion.
Avoid drinking water or any other fluids while eating as they can dilute the useful saliva enzymes.
Give yourself at least 20 minutes before heading for seconds or dessert. That’s because it takes around that much time for our brain to realise that our stomach is full.
Do remember, Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday that is not all about the food! Be thankful for and enjoy your time with friends and family. For some part of the day, change the focus to other activities enjoyed together such as a walk in the woods, or a brisk outdoor game.
Being mindful and taking things easy on Thanksgiving is the key to enjoying the holiday despite your IBS condition.
Here’s breaking down the feasting dos and don’ts…
What to avoid
FODMAPS (Fermentables, Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols) are foods that are identified as IBS triggers. A group of short-chain carbohydrates, they are poorly absorbed by humans, resulting in gas, bloating and diarrhoea when ingested.
Choose dishes that are onion and garlic-free. French onion dip, for instance, is generally made from instant onion soup mixes which are full of onions. The sour cream in the dip can also contain too much lactose.
Stay away from sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage.
Avoid mashed potatoes that have been mashed with milk, loads of sour cream or garlic.
Since high-fat foods can also be triggering for those with IBS, avoid dishes such as a sweet potato casserole.
When it comes to nuts, skip the cashews and pistachios, which are highest in FODMAPs.
Stay away from bread stuffing that has been mixed with onions and heavy sausage grease.
Also, avoid carbonated beverages during the meal to cut down on bloating and gas afterwards.
Avoid gravy as many recipes contain flour, which is a source of FODMAPs.
It’s better to stay away from pumpkin pie. It is usually made with evaporated milk, which is very high in lactose. The crust is also likely to be high FODMAP.
What to eat
At the Thanksgiving table, you could strike a middle ground by eating very small portions of one or two high-FODMAP treats you know you have tolerated in the past, while keeping your other food choices low in FODMAPs.
Luckily, the star of the table – turkey, is low FODMAP. However, tolerance levels differ from person to person. The trick is to focus on moderation. If you love turkey, it’s okay to have some, but it’s important to choose white meat (such as the breast) and go easy on the gravy.
Also consume other sources of lean protein such as eggs, salmon, and nuts.
Go for a crunchy, leafy harvest salad, roasted green beans, swiss chard, kale or even a colourful quinoa salad. Red, White and Yukon gold potatoes are also low FODMAP and if you would like some bread opt for low FODMAP Spelt Sourdough Bread to dip in some olive oil.
Choose low FODMAP foods, as they help to avoid the discomfort of IBS during the holidays. Fill your plate with low FODMAP foods such as bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, squash, tomato, arugula (rocket lettuce), baby spinach, and collard greens.
If you have a tradition of green beans casserole, you can keep the dish low-FODMAP by skipping the canned soup and onions. Instead, go with simple roasted, steamed, grilled, or sautéed green beans.
Try making your stuffing with real spelt sourdough bread and bake it in a separate dish instead of in the bird. You could also consider a stuffing made with quinoa or rice.
Potatoes are low-FODMAP and to keep them that way, mash them with butter and lactose-free milk, and season with salt and black pepper. You could also garnish with fresh minced chives or sliced scallion greens.
When preparing gravy, look for a recipe that uses cornstarch or sorghum flour as a thickener.
Choose a cranberry sauce made with sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup.
For dips, choose a lower-FODMAP hummus or a spinach dip.
Opt for lower FODMAP peanuts, walnuts, pecans, almonds and macadamia nuts. Nuts should be limited to one small handful.
Choose fruit like banana, blueberry, cantaloupe, and grapes.
Pumpkin pie is best skipped unless it’s made of lactose-free milk. The crust also should be gluten-free. Suitable dessert options could be low-FODMAP pumpkin custard or a slim slice of blueberry or pecan pie.
After the heavy meal, do sip on ginger tea. You can grate up some fresh ginger and add it to hot water with lemon.