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How Bitter Foods & Herbs Can Relieve IBS + Heal Your Gut

Besides welcoming spring, April is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Awareness Month. This becomes the perfect time to learn more about IBS along with incorporating Happy Gut strategies to heal this condition.

Running to the bathroom, gastric distress, living in extreme discomfort, and other symptoms shouldn’t be part of your daily routine. These are not normal problems.

Signs of IBS include diarrhea, stomach pain, constipation, and general changes in bowel movements. Emotional and psychological stress often accompanies these and other digestive issues as you, say, panic that you won’t have a bathroom nearby after a big meal.

You’re not alone if you have IBS. In fact, 10 – 15 percent of Americans struggle with this condition. (1) That number could actually be much higher, considering that many people haven’t been officially diagnosed with IBS.

As its name implies, IBS is a syndrome or a cluster of symptoms, and we don’t have a definitive test to diagnose this digestive disorder. Instead, you’ll want to pay close attention to your specific symptoms, diet, and external stress to better understand what triggers or exacerbates IBS.

Several factors can trigger IBS, and they all begin in your gut. Your microbiome is a complex environment of bacteria strains. Ideally, you should maintain a balance of beneficial bacteria to fight off invaders such as fungi, parasites, and other bad bugs. An imbalance between good and bad bacteria can adversely impact your gut.

Numerous things contribute to those imbalances, including:

  • Processed foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates (pasta, cereal, bread, bagels)
  • Medications
  • Emotional stress
  • Environmental toxins

These imbalances can manifest as gut conditions including leaky gut. In fact, the symptoms of leaky gut show up as IBS. (To learn more, check out my blog post on leaky gut syndrome.) Addressing underlying causes of these imbalances can create relief from your IBS.

That’s where Functional Medicine comes in. This approach treats the individual as a system—like a symphony orchestra. Any underlying imbalance in one part will be felt throughout the entire system.

The focus then, becomes identifying and addressing the underlying causes of the problem and bringing them back into harmony.

The first place to restore balance comes from the end of your fork: Food becomes powerful medicine to heal IBS and so much more. In fact, a number of Happy Gut-approved foods can reduce your pain and symptoms to help you live a life free from IBS.  

The Bitter Solution

Bitters make a great but often-overlooked way to alleviate IBS symptoms and heal your gut. Bitter-tasting herbs and foods have been used in many cultures for years to support digestion and alleviate symptoms of IBS. The bitter taste stimulates receptors in your gut that rev up the digestive juices. (2)

Bitters support production of hydrochloric acid, digestive enzymes, and bile flow: All crucial to optimally digest your food and absorb nutrients. Among their benefits, bitters can help normalize bowel movements and improve digestion.

In Chinese medicine, practitioners sometimes use bitters to balance the liver and gallbladder meridians. The liver and gallbladder are associated with agitation and anxiety. (In fact, bilious means “bad-tempered.”)

If you feel irritated, bothered, and anxious, add bitters to your next meal to help balance out your liver/gallbladder Qi meridians. You may find bitters create a calming effect on your internal angst.  

Incorporating Bitters

There are a few ways you can add bitters. One is to take a tincture of bitter herbs before or after meals. You can also incorporate bitter foods as a dish at the dinner table.

Bitter greens make a great side dish or main salad, and they come packed with fiber, magnesium, as well as vitamins A, K, and C. These leafy greens are nutrient powerhouses to help heal your gut and alleviate symptoms of IBS.

Bitters also promote detoxification. Dandelion greens, for instance, are powerful liver-kidney cleansers. You can even drink dried dandelion as a tea.

Visit your local farmers market or grocery store to add bitters to your diet this spring! (3) This list can help you get started:  

  • Arugula
  • Beet Greens
  • Broccoli Rabe
  • Dandelion Greens
  • Escarole
  • Endive
  • Radicchio
  • Radish Greens

Bitter is Better

Many foods in the American diet are what we call hyperpalatable: Loaded with sugar, salt, and unhealthy fat to make us crave more. These foods exacerbate symptoms of gut problems including IBS (especially gluten and sugar) and contribute to weight gain.

If you’re new to bitter foods or herbs, you might not find them pleasant tasting initially. Keep using them: Over time you will become accustomed to the flavor.

Adding more bitter foods can expand your palate and reduce cravings. When you season bitter foods, they make delicious dishes.

If you’re curious to incorporate more into your meals, try my Happy Gut recipe that highlights bitter leafy greens as a delicious dish for your meals. Learn more about this amazing recipe here.

If you’re struggling with IBS or other gut issues, I’d love to give you more support with my Quick Start to a Happy Gut

Citations

1.About Us. (n.d.). Retrieved March 24, 2018, from https://www.aboutibs.org/ibs-awareness-month.html

  1. McMullen, M. K., Whitehouse, J. M., & Towell, A. (2015). Bitters: Time for a New Paradigm. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM, 2015, 670504.

3.Valussi M.Functional foods with digestion-enhancing properties.Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2012 Mar;63 Suppl 1:82-9.

Gut-Healing Slippery Elm Bark Porridge

Slippery Elm Porridge

Slippery Elm Bark Porridge

WF  DF  GF  SF  VEG  VG

Yields 2-3 cups

Slippery elm (Ulmas rubra) is a deciduous tree that is native to North America, growing primarily in the eastern and central United States and eastern Canada. The name “slippery” elm comes from the texture of the herb and its mucilage content within the inner bark. This gives it a demulcent or soothing effect. It began as a traditional remedy among Native Americans. They utilized the mucilaginous inner bark for intestinal complaints, fevers, and as a poultice for wounds and boils. Later in history early colonists began using it as well. Midwives utilized it as a lubricant to ease child-birth, it became a food during times of famine, and was essential in wound dressings during the Revolutionary War.

Slippery elm not only provides a soothing and healing effect on all the tissues that it comes into contact with, but it is also highly nutritious, providing a nutritive tonic to the body. When the body is in a weakened state, this is quite beneficial and aids in healing even further. In the process of healing, slippery elm helps draw out toxins from the body, aids the body in the expulsion of mucus, and calms down inflammation. It’s extensive properties give it a broad array of uses. Taken internally, it can soothe multiple gastrointestinal complaints, such as:

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Colitis
  • Diverticulitis
  • Ulcers (both within the stomach and intestinal tract)
  • Diarrhea
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux (GERD) or indigestion

It can also be used for recurrent urinary tract infections or cystitis, and has been used to ease lung and bronchial conditions, such as laryngitis, bronchitis, and pneumonia.

Ingredients

2 (heaping) tablespoons Slippery elm Powder

200 ml water

1 cup nut milk*

1 scoop plant-based protein  (like the Happy Gut Cleanse Shake)

1 tablespoon collagen powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

3 tablespoons sulfite-free shredded coconut flakes (optional)**

3 oz. berries (of your choice: blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, or raspberries)

Step 1

Combine the slippery elm powder with the water in a small saucepan on medium heat and stir until it reaches a thickened porridge-like consistency.

Step 2

Mix or blend the nut milk with the protein powder until a smooth consistency and then add it to the porridge.

Step 3

Add the collagen powder and cinnamon right after the milk. Gently stir until it is well mixed.

Step 4

Then remove from the heat and scoop into a serving bowl.

Step 5

Add the coconut flakes and berries.

*This recipe was modified from a basic slippery elm porridge so that it incorporates a healthy dose of protein and fat in order to keep you full, making it perfect for breakfast.

Additional Tips:

  • You can add less milk if you would like it to be a thicker consistency.
  • If you don’t want to incorporate the protein powder, you might consider adding more collagen, which will help to heal the gut lining.
  • You can also experiment with the spices, adding more cinnamon or using vanilla bean instead, which would also compliment the malty flavor of the slippery elm. Additionally, vanilla bean can soothe the gastrointestinal tract, enhancing the inflammation reducing properties of the porridge.

Contributed by Team Member: Jamie Kyei-Frimpong, FNP

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Sugar & Dairy Pumpkin Lattes Move Over! A Happy Gut Solution is here!

Cleanse Tea Tumeric Ginger

CLEANSING TURMERIC AND GINGER TEA

Contributed by Lee Holmes, author of Heal Your Gut

MAKES 1 cup

Why should all the pumpkin-latte drinkers have all the fun this Winter?  If you crave a warm, sweet drink without all the harmful effects of sugar and dairy, this healing and cleansing tea is perfect.

Turmeric is not just a sunny bright spice to curry up dishes, it’s also commonly used in Ayurvedic and Unani medicine. You’ll love this cleansing tea with its alkalising and detoxifying properties which provide powerful anti-inflammatory action within your body. Turmeric is a superhero ingredient to help heal and prevent dry skin, slow aging, diminish wrinkles and improve skin’s elasticity. Indian women use turmeric as a facial cleanser and exfoliant.

Want to know more about the harmful effects of lattes on your brain, heart and stomach, with their double the amount of recommended daily sugar? See below the recipe for a chart and an informative article.

Meanwhile, try this, you and your body will love it!

WF  DF  GF  SF  VEG  VG
Servings: 1 cup
Prep time: 5 min

Ingredients

1 cup unsweetened almond or hemp milk

2 teaspoons ground turmeric

1 teaspoon finely grated ginger

6 drops stevia liquid (optional)

1 cinnamon stick (optional)

Step 1:

Add the almond milk to small saucepan and heat gently until it is warm.

Step 2:

Add the turmeric and ginger to a mug.

Step 3:

Pour a small amount of warm milk into the mug and stir to create a liquid paste, ensuring there are no lumps.

Step 4:

Add the remaining milk and sweeten with stevia (or a bit of raw honey) as desired.

Tip: Enjoy as a post-dinner aperitif on cold winter nights. Add a cinnamon stick for its warming, grounding, and soothing effects.

Now about those effects from lattes you are avoiding? Here’s a chart from Yahoo Health and the link to The Guardian article.

Pumpkin Latte

Here’s the article in the Daily Mail, and here’s to your health with this Happy Gut tea alternative!