What Does Your Gut Say?
When in Rome: Navigating Italy with IBS.
I will be traveling through Italy next summer and have a history of irritable-bowel symptoms and flare-ups when I eat pasta. How does one navigate Italy with IBS?
When in Rome, or anywhere in Italy for that matter, it’s always good idea to eat the food. However, world travelers are no different than homebodies when it comes to some of the ailments of the gut.
I too have experienced the challenges of IBS and knew that it could make or break my trip to northern Tuscany if I didn’t do some prep work in advance. Upon the decision to explore Italy, I committed to healing my gut eight months in advance, as knowing the discipline would benefit me while in the country known so well for fabulous pastas and home baked bread dipped in hand pressed olive oils. While a foodie’s dream, these kinds of carbs can be a gut-challenged traveler’s nightmare.
You’ve all heard me preach the value of bio-individuality, and that plays a role in gastro-related travel adventures as well. I love to try a taste of anything foreign (except eye-balls, a girl’s gotta draw a line somewhere) when I’m exploring the world, and despite the list of really odd things I’ve eaten, I’ve also paid the price for part of that list, including parasites, food poisoning, and rashes, to name a few. But, for me, that just comes with the territory of travel, and being a considerate and bold, though not wise, guest.
So you may be asking, with a note of sarcasm and indignant righteousness, “What have you learned, specifically about eating weird food in strange lands?” Well, I’ll tell you with equal hints of sarcasm, “Keep at it, there are some really tasty treats in the guise of bugs, feet, and testicles.” Seriously though, what I have learned is to heal your gut before you explore, and you’ll experience a whole different trip.
The results from my practices were divine, because I ate what I wanted in the form of pastas, breads, and overcooked veggies, and only experienced very mild symptoms of IBS (as well as not-too-common cases of borborygmus, and some rare but mighty clear-the-room flatulence).
Here’s what I did to prepare:
1. Took a pro-biotic supplement in the morning and one at night. I spoke with a friend who is a nutritionist and she helped me find a pro-biotic that worked best for me (no excesses bowel movements, less gas and tummy gurgles after eating). I encourage anyone with gut issues to consult a knowledgeable nutritional professional about experimenting with the right pro-biotic.
2. Ate plenty of fermented foods. One of the best ways to increase good gut bugs is to eat foods that have been fermented or pickled. While I’m absolutely not a fan of sauerkraut (an excellent fermented food for promoting gut health), I did find comfort in kefir, kombucha and picked carrots.
3. Decreased caffeine, alcohol, sugar and gluten. All four of those foods have been subjects of studies showing that they can have a certain negative impact on gut health. Again, bio-individuality plays a role in how these foods impact one’s gut. If you have IBS, I encourage you to experiment with decreasing these foods to see if that practice aids in promoting a healthier gut.
4. Walked and moved often prior and during the trip. Exercise and movement are healthy. Whether it promotes gut health is still debated, but I felt healthier, more fit, and doing so helped me lose about eight pounds before leaving for Italy, which was actually a good thing because I promptly gained six back! Italy is also affectionately referred to at EAT-ALY.
5. While in the country, where I did have access to exceptionally fresh and minimally processed food, I made sure to supplement my fresh pasta-infused menu choices with fresh salads, seasonal fruits and roasted vegetables. In the mornings, I hunted down fruit and scrambled eggs instead of the cured meats, cheeses, and breads which make up a typical Italian breakfast.
Despite the fact that I came back with a few extra pounds, I was thrilled that I was able to eat healthier than I expected, which resulted in feeling good for the duration of the trip. But I attribute that to the preparations I engaged in prior to the trip, and I’m convinced those actions made all the difference.
Not going to Italy, but all this talk about Italian food is making your mouth water? Bueno! One thing I love to do while exploring new countries is to either take a cooking class, or learn to make an authentic dish like this one. It will satisfy any gut, so go ahead, mangiare — eat up!
Melon, parmesan and prosciutto salad
Half of one honeydew melon, cubed into 1/2-inch sections.
One medium cantaloupe, cubed into 1/2-inch sections
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2.5 tablespoons of fresh mint, thinly sliced
3/4 cup of fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shaved into wide thin slices
3 ounces of thinly sliced prosciutto, roll up width-wise and slice into thin spirals
1/4 teaspoon of cracked black pepper
Top with whole mint leaves or sprigs.
Combine both melons, lemon juice, mint, and pepper. Shave cheese directly onto top of salad and place the prosciutto spirals over the top, then mix it all up into a bowl or onto a serving platter. Sprinkle whole mint leaves of sprigs on top for garnish. Serves 8-10