Foods that help calm the gut.

There is an increasing amount of research supporting what we all already instinctually know: just as there are certain foods that trigger IBS and upset stomach, there are also foods that help calm and rebalance the gut.

Breaking the cycle of IBS is both a mental and physical process. Taking the time to cook can in itself enhance that first cephalic phase where gastric and saliva secretions occur (when appetite is stimulated but before eating actually begins). Everything from the meditative act of chopping to inhaling rich aromas can be relaxing. Also, choosing certain foods such as peppermint leaves and flax seeds may reduce gut spasms. According to a British Medical Journal study peppermint is more effective than IBS drugs at reducing gut spasms. “It works on relaxing calcium channel blockers. Sometimes it can make your gut so relaxed, right between the gut and esophagus, that you get some burping or heartburn, so you have to be careful how much you use. More isn’t always better.”

Gastroenterologist Gerard Mullin notes that many common kitchen staples can be very effective for preventing and relieving gut-related maladies. “Caraway has been well-studied,” Mullin says. “Its oil is a treatment for gastroparesis, so for those with slow motility and problems with their upper GI tract, caraway can promote motility. Fennel, ginger, dill, cumin…all these things can help you on an everyday basis.” Mullen uses the following common herbs to help treat symptoms and issues related to irritable bowel syndrome: ginger (for dyspepsia), peppermint (gut spasms), tannins (diarrhea), ground flaxseed (constipation), and goldenseal (antibacterial, antiparasitic, motility promotion). Foods that relieve gas, bloating, and generally promote gut health include: allspice, anise seed, basil, cabbage, chamomile, caraway, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, ginger, licorice, marjoram, nutmeg, oregano, peppermint, rosemary, sage, saffron, sarsaparilla, spearmint, thyme. From both a taste and nutrient viewpoint, fresh is generally better than dried, though dried is better than nothing. As for amounts, most research suggests moderation as a key, the idea being that it’s the continuous, sustainable addition of herbs and other nutrients that enhance flavour and long-term gut health.