Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Same Day, Three (Conflicting!) Diets

Today the three newspapers I get decided to duke it out about what you should eat. It's not the first time--conflicting diets, each purporting to pare you or spare you, are a near-daily feature in most publications, because, well, diets sell.

The Wall Street Journal addresses its comments today to the 20% of adults with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), suffering from bloating, gas and discomfort after meals.  A diet developed by Sue Shepherd, a dietitian in Victoria, Australia, bolstered by limited research published in UK journals, admonishes against consuming Fodmaps, if you want to resolve the issue.  Fodmaps, an acronym for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols, all words that must now roll off the tongue before anything else rolls on, are foods we otherwise would consider the epitome of healthful, that can nastily miss absorption in the small intestine, moving on to indelicate results in the large.

Many fruits, like pears, watermelon and apricots; veggies that are not only cruciferous but seemingly beneficial, like mushrooms and garlic; cereals and carbs of most ilk; dairy products including the yogurt we'd formerly lauded as "probiotic;" beans (of course) including soy, and sweeteners including honey, are all verboten.  The Land of Milk and Honey is now only in your dreams.

Of course, those suffering from IBS would gladly forego wheat products (yes, those, too) and apples, asparagus and pasta if they could feel better.  And the program allows adherents to gradually add back restricted foods after six weeks, to determine tolerance.

chart from Wall St. Journal 11-8-11
Acid reflux and heartburn, one might logically deduce, could be related to IBS, but according to today's article in the New York Times, the suggested "strict two-week 'induction' diet with nothing below pH 5" for those ailments doesn't seem to mesh with its Fodmaps counterpart.  Dr. Jamie Koufman, whose new Dropping Acid: The Reflux Diet Cookbook & Cure aims to minimize the enzyme pepsin in both esophagus and stomach, banishes all fruit but melons and bananas, tomatoes, plus a host of reflux-generating non-acidic foods including chocolate, all dairy, cucumbers and alcohol.  It's the pH level she aims for most, however, noting a study where "19 of 20 patients improved on the low acid diet, and 3 became completely asymptomatic," simply by eliminating such culprits as diet sodas, barbecue sauce and strawberries.

But an article in my third newspaper of the day suggests that while you're fighting IBS and reflux, you might be opening yourself up to colds and flu.  USA Today touts Tonia Reinhard (Superfoods) and Joel Fuhrman, MD (Super Immunity)'s "top immunity boosters," most of which happen to be on the no-no lists of the other two diets.

Mushrooms are a major IBS-stimulating Fodmap, though they they "regularly stimulate the immune system by increasing the production and activity of white blood cells, which help you fight off infection," insists USA Today.

Onions are enemies for both Fodmaps and high-pH, but star as immunity-boosters, due to their "health-promoting flavonoid antioxidants such as quercetin, allicin and anthocyanins, which have anti-inflammatory effects that fight infection and bacteria."

Yogurt, too, must be eliminated for IBS and Fodmap, but pumps immunity with "active cultures which are a [sic] friendly bacteria that keep down the population of pathogens in the GI Tract."

And of course beans are the classic flatulencer, prohibited by both the low-acid and Fodmaps regimens yet lauded for their immunity protection:  "Rich in zinc, beans increase the production and aggressiveness of white blood cells fighting infection."

If it's not one thing, it's another.  As you may know, I'm working on a book with the message to trust your body's natural cues to eat when, what and how much.  It certainly seems the experts can't decide.  However, noting how your body reacts to what you consume probably can't hurt, and in the meantime, we can muse with amusement about how little the food gurus really know.


  1. I keep feeling frustrated by trying to be healthy and listening to all sorts of ideas about what it means to be healthy. When you're a kid, you're told simply to eat fruits and veggies and not to have too much candy. When did it stop being that simple?

    On a (somewhat) different note, have you read Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dillema?

  2. (Arg, that would be "Dilemma," not dillema)

  3. Erachet, Just looked up Pollan's book and read several reviews. Looks interesting but of course he, too, has an agenda. And even parents telling kids what's "good" teaches them not to trust what their body says. Health & comfort with eating is even simpler than fruits and veggies and little candy--it's whatever your body tells you!

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