Review: The Mediterranean Diet for IBS

So I’ve been trying out the Mediterranean Diet for a few weeks now and want to share with you how I found it as an IBS sufferer.

But first, I want to share with you what I discovered when researching why the Mediterranean Diet is considered such a healthy diet. My ignorance was instantly realised when I had to go back to basics of what even counts as the Mediterranean, not realising that this was all the countries that border the Mediterranean sea (duh!). So this include countries such as Spain, Italy, Greece, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, and many more. It became obvious that the Mediterranean diet is actually quite a loose term, and surely is only super healthy if done in a certain way. Dietitians now tend to understand this diet as the traditional Mediterranean way of eating, characterised by an abundance of fruit and vegetables, whole grain starchy carbs, fish and seafood instead of meat, and lots of healthy fats. While the health benefits of eating lots of fruit and veg are more obvious, there is still ongoing research into the health benefits of choosing certain types of fats over others. The Mediterranean diet is high in polyunsaturated (nuts, seeds and oily fish) and monounsaturated fats (olive oil). Switching out trans and saturated fats for these fats is now understood to lower blood sugar and cholesterol which in turn will reduce risk of heart disease.  Also, sourcing sugar through fructose instead of glucose is a much healthier way of eating, lowering blood sugar and reducing risk of diabetes.

When trying out cooking mediterranean-style I opted for a diet more reminiscent of Greek and Spanish food, instead of the traditional pasta/pizza cuisine of Italy, simply to encourage a lower-carb and also meat free approach to the diet. As you will see, I ate lots of olives and feta, and thoroughly enjoyed doing so!

However, I did experience some issues with the diet. At the start, I was snacking on foods high in healthy fats and having lunch which had no proper carbs in. I found this did not settle so well with my stomach, but that the discomfort eased off once I had some rice. I didn’t find too much online about this but after reading basic IBS diet tips, having a diet higher in carbs and lower in fats was one of them. I already knew that I couldn’t have too much fat in my diet, and I did tend to use less oil than the original recipes I took my meals from. However, I felt that I still could eat a descent amount of fat if I ate them with carbs as well. I admit I do not know the full science behind this, and have struggled to find online research about it. But perhaps it is just too much for the stomach to digest if you are consuming fats and proteins without diluting them or effectively lining your stomach with easily digestible carbs as well. This has now opened my eyes to the fact that many weight loss low-carb diets which are advertised all over the place simply wouldn’t be suitable for IBS sufferers. This is probably just another example though of how these quick weight loss diets are simply just not very good for our bodies.

Apart from this obstacle, the Mediterranean diet was great. It was yummy, filled me up, powered me with lots of energy and goodness from all the vegetables, and was not at all restricting. While many recipes I found online I had to avoid all together due to the core ingredient being beans, I found that it was generally quite easy to find a recipe that only needed a few adjustments.

I would highly recommend the Mediterranean diet for IBS sufferers and would also like to have a moment of appreciation for the friend I never realised was so good to me until now – the carb!

Spag/Courgetti alla Puttanesca – IBS friendly

This recipe is taken and adapted from the Eating Well website: http://www.eatingwell.com/recipe/251029/bucatini-alla-puttanesca

I have taken this Italian dish and given it a little bit of tweaking, not just to make it low FODMAP, but also to add a bit more veg into the mix.

Serves 4 – takes 30 minutes to make – low FODMAP – Gluten Free

Ingredients

4 Anchovy fillets, chopped  –  Olive oil  –  1 tsp Garlic Small handful of chives, chopped  –  2 tins of Cherry tomatoes with their juices  –  Pinch of salt  –  150g Gluten free spaghetti  –  200g Courgette  –  Handful of olives  –  1 tsp Coarsely chopped fresh oregano  –  Feta cheese

Method

Heat up olive oil in a large frying pan or wok. Fry the anchovies and chives for a few minutes. As an option, you could add another type of fish as well, cut into small pieces. Add the tomatoes and salt, and cook for about 20 minutes.

IMG_0607

Spiralise the courgette. Add any left over chunks or shavings to the tomato sauce.

Boil the spaghetti and courgetti together in a large pan for about 10 minutes until cooked.

Add olives and oregano to the sauce. Drain the spaghetti and courgetti and combine it with the sauce. Crumble feta on top to serve.

 

My family loved this dish! Great tasting, easy on the stomach, and made super healthy by replacing half the spaghetti portion with courgetti.

Mediterranean Salad – IBS friendly

Keeping in tune with trying out the mediterranean diet, I decided to create a simple lunchtime salad which incorporated lots of classic foods from this cuisine. I actually rarely eat salads as I find they just don’t fill me up, but packing it full of vegetables and healthy fats medi-style seems to be keeping my energy levels up for much longer.

Serves 1 person; takes 10 minutes to make; 230 calories; can be made vegetarian or vegan; gluten free; low FODMAP

Ingredients

50g Carrots  –  50g Aubergine  –  50g Courgette  –  Lettuce  –  3 Cherry tomatoes  –  Olive oil  –  Handful of olives  –  Feta  –  Smoked salmon  –  Tomato and basil pasatta – Sunflower seeds

Method  

Preheat baking tray in oven, with some olive oil spread around the tray.

Dice carrots, aubergine, courgettes and tomatoes (unless you decide to have the tomatoes raw). Spread them around the baking tray, spray some oil on them, and roast for 10 minutes.

While they cook, shred the lettuce and the smoked salmon. Put them in a mixing bowl and mix in the olives, roasted veg, sunflower seeds, and a small amount of the passata for some extra flavour . Finally, crumble feta into the salad.

Variation Suggestions 

  • Try making it vegetarian by using tofu
  • or go one step further by dumping the feta as well and making it vegan
  • Try varying the fish: maybe tuna or anchovies?
  • Try a mix of different vegetables
  • instead of the passata, try mixing it with vinegar and olive oil, or maybe a pesto

And I’m sure you can think of many many more variations – let me know if you find any great ones!

Quinoa and Mediterranean Vegetable Casserole with Spicy Herb Pesto – IBS friendly

This recipe is inspired by and adapted from the Eating Well website: http://www.eatingwell.com/recipe/258538/tomato-green-bean-casserole-with-spicy-herb-pesto.

Serves 4; takes 30 minutes to make and cook; about 300 calories per portion; vegetarian; gluten free; low FODMAP.

Ingredients 

100g Quinoa  –  100g Green beans, chopped into 2″ pieces  –  100g Red peppers  –  100g Aubergine  –  50g Pistachios Pine Kernels  –  2 Tablespoons chopped jalapeño pepper  –  1/2 Cup of herbs of your choice (I went for parsley, oregano, crushed chillies)  –  Salt  –  Juice of 1 Lime  –  1 Clove of garlic Handful of chives  –  1 Tablespoons of olive oil  –  1 Cup of cherry tomatoes  –  Cheddar Feta  –  a handful of olives 

Method

Put the quinoa on to boil for 20 minutes, and the peppers, aubergine, and green beans on to boil for 6 minutes.

Preheat casserole dish.

In a food processor, combine the herbs, pine kernels, jalapeños, lime juice, chives, salt, and olive oil.

Put the quinoa, boiled vegetables, pesto, tomatoes, and feta into a casserole dish and mix together. Bake in the oven for 6 minutes.

To finish, crumble feta over the dish and sprinkle with some more pine nuts.

 

This dish was easy to make, kept me full for hours, and also tasted really nice. And most importantly… It didn’t make me feel unwell at all! The great thing about this dish is you can really play around with it, and I’m sure you’d be able to make many different variations, while still keeping it super healthy and low calorie.

Let’s try… the Mediterranean Diet for IBS

Regarded by many as one of the healthiest diets in the world, the mediterranean cuisine is largely based on eating lots of fruit and veg, eating and cooking with healthy plant-based fats, eating less white carbs and replacing these with whole grains and cereals, and opting for fish instead of meat. Finished off with plenty of herbs and spices, every meal is packed full of lots of plant-based nutritional goodness.

When researching this cuisine, I found the main issue for us IBS sufferers was their love for beans and high fibre grains. Also, high levels of even plant-based fats can cause indigestion. for some people. But luckily, two of the mediterranean’s most iconic foods (and also two of the best foods in my opinion) are fine to eat: olives and feta – yum! And not to forget their love for wine which I am very happy to drink plenty of.

So wack these together, throw in a load of vegetables, some grainy goodness from brown rice or quinoa, maybe grill up some salmon or other seafood, top it off with a mix of herbs and spices, and there you go – a super healthy and IBS friendly mediterranean dish.

Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to try out some IBS-adapted mediterranean recipes, discuss and research further why people are giving this diet such flourishing health reviews, and monitor how, overall, it makes me feel.

I also hope to be able to spell (without looking it up every time) the word mediterranean by the end of it…

The not-so-super Superfoods

The word superfood is being used over and over again in heath and nutrition articles, giving us long lists of super healthy foods which we must must be eating more of. But what even are they? It doesn’t take much research to realise there is no definitive list of superfoods, and that they are quite simply just foods which are high in antioxidants and other really good vitamins and nutrients. While superfood smoothies have become massively popular, I personally find that I struggle to digest the core ingredient of most smoothies: bananas. And as avocados become the millennial must-have, this source of healthy fat just doesn’t work for me. So here is a lift of superfoods we unfortunately have to say no to. But we will not stand defeated, as there are other places to find their superfoody goodness.

Apples: apples are high in Vitamin C , but so are many other fruits remember! Try oranges, for example.

Avocado: those healthy fats can also be found in foods such as olives, vegetable oils and nuts (almonds are great and low FODMAP).

Bananas: some people can handle it, but if like me and you get bloated from even half a banana, get your fix of potassium from fish and potatoes.

Garlic: an absolute killer for IBS sufferers, found in nearly all pre-made foods and sauces. Garlic has been given the golden tick by nutritionists due to its high levels of the immunity-boosting compound allicin. To replace the great health and also taste benefits, try cooking with chives instead.

Onions: onions are high in phytonutrients, but it turns out all other plant based foods are too, simply by their phyto-(meaning relating to plants)-nature.

Oats: some IBS sufferers can handle oats, but I find that the high levels of fibre doesn’t agree with me. High in beta-glucans, you can also source this from other cereals (except fibre levels and gluten may again be an issue), or also yeast and seaweed.

Beetroot: high in iron and folate, the iron can be found alternatively in meats, seafood, and leafy vegetables. Luckily, dark leafy greens are also high in folate.

Cauliflower: although it feels as if it should be IBS friendly, seeming so closely related to broccoli, cauliflower is unfortunately a no-go. But to get your hit of glucosinolates, try other cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussel sprouts and bok choy.

Asparagus: as well as being high in folate, which has already been talked about, and various vitamins which are easy to find alternative foods for, asparagus is high in chromium, a chemical metal which helps regulate blood sugar. This can also be found in broccoli and eggs.

Other superfoods, already IBS friendly by nature:

Tomatoes – walnuts – brussel sprouts – berries – bok choy – fish – spinach – pumpkin – scallops – collard greens – olives – oysters – kiwi – seeds – dark chocolate (cacao) – tea – watercress – seaweed – kale – quinoa – ginger