The Pre-Dinner Apéritif (aka, “Digestive Primer”)

I’ve always enjoyed the concept of the pre-dinner apéritif.

Perhaps not quite to the same degree as what’s traditionally meant by the word, but more so as a primer for setting the stage for optimal digestion.

By definition, (and there are a few) an apéritif is typically a small alcoholic drink taken before a meal as a means to stimulate digestion and prepare the body for the meal to follow. Often the drink has bitter qualities that helps to awaken the digestive process and perk up the appetite.

Apéritif is a French word derived from the Latin verb aperire, which means “to open”.

And as one French woman puts it, “The Apéritif is to a French meal, what foreplay is to sex. A taste, a tease, to awaken you to know the people you are sharing it with and make you want to engage in the main course.”

That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? ;)

And while there’s a whole culture devoted to this almost ceremonial ritual, what I’m personally extrapolating from it is this…

I consider the apéritif to be a reprieve of sorts between your busy day and your evening meal. The line that separates the two. A “pause”, if you will.

And it doesn’t have to involve alcohol at all.

In fact, I’ll explain some of my favorite non-alcoholic apéritifs that you can make at home in just a moment.

But before I get to the drinks…

You may be familiar with the saying, “Hunger is the Best Sauce”.

Well another way to put this would be to say, “Hunger is the Best Apéritif“. In fact, I’m pretty sure I once read that somewhere as well (likely in a French cookbook, no doubt).

Hunger is the Best Apéritif Click To Tweet

In both cases, I’d have to agree.

Hunger signals our body to begin the process of digestion. Just the sight, smell, and anticipation of eating is enough to trigger the flow of digestive juices, hormones, and saliva that prime our body to digest the food we’re about to enjoy.

Ideally we want to experience the sensation of light hunger before eating, and not just eat at a specific time out of habit.

There’s nothing worse than sitting down to a beautiful plate of food with no appetite because you’ve been snacking on a bunch of almonds (or what have you) an hour before.

And we also know that our emotions heavily influence the digestive process, so it’s important to get into a calm and receptive mode before sitting down at the table.

I personally love doing something active to separate my work day from dinnertime, and for me, this is often the time I get a workout in, or go to a class at the gym. This awakens my appetite even more – plus I prefer to work out on an empty stomach. (In case you haven’t concluded, I take the pleasure of eating pretty seriously, particularly dinner time when it’s a little more relaxed and marks the time to unwind after the day).

Going for a nice long walk is also another great way to stimulate digestion, although at the moment where I live, it’s the dead of winter and negative 15 degrees Celsius, so not as appealing.

Other ways to take a pause before dinner could be taking a bath, doing some reading, or just chilling out with a loved one and conversing about your day.

Now this is where the apéritif, in the traditional sense of the word, comes into play.

Here are a few of my favorite sips before dinner:

 

Apéritifs (sans alcohol)

Mix any of the following with sparkling water. If the carbonation is an issue for you (i.e. causes gas and bloating) you can forgo it for flat water, or do a combo of flat and a little bit of sparkling just for the bubbles and refreshing factor.

1) Herbal Bitters

The bitters that I use typically come from the health food store and contain a variation of bitter herbs and botanicals such as dandelion, artichoke leaf, burdock, gentian, and ginger. A few of my favorite brands are St. Francis Herb Farm: Canadian Bitters, Botanica: Digestive Bitters Compound, and Harmonic Arts: Herbal Bitters – there are many others but it will depend what’s available near you. I also like Dillions Small Batch Distiller’s Bitters found at the LCBO. Here’s a snap I took earlier this year over on Instagram for reference.

2) Lemon/Lime Juice

Mix the juice of half the fruit into your water. Basic and simple!

3) Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV)

Mix 1-2 tbsp. into your water. Be sure to buy an ACV that’s raw and contains the “mother”. A few common brands that I often buy are Filsingers and Bragg’s.

Of course you can also do any of these straight up as a way to stimulate digestion, but that kind of takes away the enjoyment of sipping on something.

 

Apéritifs (with alcohol)

While this definitely isn’t the case every night, this is more likely to happen at the end of the week or perhaps on the weekend.

It goes without saying, if alcohol is an issue for you in any way (or you don’t enjoy it), then clearly avoid it. I find that most people though can have at least 1 serving without any issues (ideally around food) unless your gut is ultra-sensitive or you’re prone to reflux. Also, if you’re in the midst of unpleasant digestive symptoms or a flare-up, it’s best to avoid.

When it comes to alcohol, you can mix any of your favorite spirits with the herbal bitters I mentioned above. If I were to personally mix anything with the first option, it would likely be Gin.

Typically though my (alcoholic) apéritifs of choice would be:

1) A glass of white wine (something on the drier side)

2) A coupe of champagne (or let’s be honest, sparkling wine such as prosecco or cava – I’m definitely not cracking open the Veuve every night ;))

3) Lillet Blanc with a splash of sparkling water (a more recent discovery)

Keep in mind these are just small servings –  enough to stimulate the digestive process and NOT blunt the appetite. Also, don’t confuse the apéritif with “Happy Hour” or getting sloshed before dinner.

There you have it!

Do you have a favorite apéritif or digestive concoction that you enjoy pre-dinner? Or perhaps just a favorite way to separate your work day from your evening meal?

Let me know in the comments below. I always love hearing from you!

xo Elaine

 

The Low FODMAP Diet 101 (what you should know)

If you’ve been hanging around with me for a little while now, either through my blog, email letters, or over on social media, you may have noticed I’ve been dropping the F-word quite a bit.

No, not that F-word. (I’m much classier than that ;))

I’m talking about FODMAPs.

Don’t worry…if you’re not sure what that word means you’re most definitely not alone.

In this post I’m giving you a brief overview of the Low FODMAP Diet, what exactly it is and how it works, and what you should know before you begin one.

But first…

What the heck is a FODMAP?

FODMAP is actually an acronym for a group of short-chained carbohydrates (certain sugars and fibres) that are poorly digested and absorbed in the small intestine, and as a result, lead to unpleasant digestive symptoms in some individuals who have a sensitive gut – typically associated with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and other gut-related conditions, such as Small Intestinal Overgrowth (SIBO).

These poorly absorbed FODMAPS travel to the colon largely intact where they become food for the microbes (healthy or otherwise) that naturally reside there. As a by-product of this “break-down” or fermentation process, these microbes produce gases that can contribute to bloating, abdominal distension, pain, and cramping.

Furthermore, these undigested FODMAPs also have an osmotic effect, meaning they draw water into the intestines – which can contribute to further bloating and distention. And if you’re somebody who already has fast motility to begin with, this can equate to loose stools and diarrhea.

Overall, this lovely little combo of gas and water can lead to altered and unpredictable bowel motility – both constipation and loose stools.

Enter…

The Low FODMAP Diet as a Tool for IBS Sufferers

The Low FODMAP diet is a dietary regimen that was designed by researchers at Monash University in Australia to help minimize the GI (Gastrointestinal) symptoms associated with IBS.

Research has shown that up to 75% of IBS sufferers experience relief when following a low FODMAP diet.

With up to 15% of the world population suffering from this functional gut disorder and its associated symptoms of bloating, abdominal pain, distension, excess gas, and altered bowel motility (constipation and/or diarrhea), the ramifications of these findings is quite significant.

Although each person’s experience of IBS can greatly differ within the known range of symptoms, for many people it’s a debilitating condition that can severely affect their quality of life.

 

FODMAP stands for:

Fermentable (carbohydrates easily broken down by gut bacteria)

Oligosaccharides (Fructans and Galacto-oligosacchardies aka GOS)

Disaccharides (Lactose)

Monosaccharides (excess fructose)

And

Polyols (sugar alcohols such as sorbitol and mannitol)

As you can see it’s quite a mouthful, so let’s just stick with the acronym, shall we?

 

High FODMAP Foods

Here’s a brief sampling of some high FODMAP foods by their respective categories. It’s important to note that foods can contain more than one group of FODMAPs.

Fructans: wheat, barley, rye, onions, garlic, nectarines, dried figs, inulin (added to many packaged goods)

GOS: legumes, cashews, pistachios

Lactose: milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, ice cream

Excess Fructose: apples, pears, mangos, asparagus, honey, agave nectar, high-fructose corn syrup

Polyols: apples, apricots, blackberries, mushrooms, cauliflower, snow peas, sweeteners like xylitol, sorbitol, and mannitol

 

Low FODMAP Foods

This is by no means a complete list, but some of the foods considered to be low FODMAP include:

Grapes, oranges, blueberries, strawberries, bell peppers, bok choy, carrots, eggplant, most leafy greens, cucumbers, brown and white rice, quinoa, polenta, almond milk, goat cheese, feta, cheddar, lactose-free yogurt, chia seeds, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, beef, chicken, eggs, fish, firm tofu, tempeh, butter, olive oil, coconut oil, apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, peanut butter, maple syrup, dark chocolate, stevia (w/out inulin, FOS, or chicory root), most spices (except onion and garlic powder), black, green, and white tea, peppermint tea, coffee.

Keep in mind that FODMAPs are a type of carbohydrate, so if the food contains no carbohydrates, such as the case with many animal proteins and pure fats (i.e. oils), it’s safe to assume that it wouldn’t contain any naturally occurring FODMAPs.

 

Size Matters (BIG TIME)

When following this diet it’s not enough to just eat from a list of low FODMAP foods and avoid lists of high FODMAP foods, because in many cases the portion size matters.

Some foods that are considered low FODMAP can quickly become high FODMAP when eaten in larger quantities, just as some foods that are considered high FODMAP can be considered low FODMAP (and enjoyed) in a smaller portion size (i.e. 1 tbsp. vs ½ a cup).

A great reference guide for portion sizes is the Monash University Low FODMAP Diet app that can be downloaded to your smartphone. I highly recommend it as it’s continually being updated with the latest FODMAP research. (see resources below).

 

How the Diet Works (3 Stages)

1) Elimination Phase. For 2 – 6 weeks all high FODMAP foods are restricted. The point of the elimination period is to get GI symptoms under control and to assess whether or not these foods might be contributing to your symptoms.

2) Reintroduction/Re-challenge Phase. Each group and subgroup of high FODMAP foods are methodically tested one at a time and in varying portion sizes to see which ones might be potential culprits. You may discover that you can handle a small serving size of some foods, but a larger quantity triggers symptoms. And it’s not uncommon to find that only 1 or 2 categories of FODMAPs are problematic for you.

3) Personalization Phase. Based on your findings you can customize your diet to your unique needs and preferences. Once you know which foods trigger your symptoms, you can continue to either limit them or modify the portion size to suit yourself. Since FODMAPs have a cumulative effect, you may be able to eat small amounts of your “trigger foods” as long as your total overall FODMAP load is low.

 

What You Should Know Before You Begin

Before jumping into the diet here are some important considerations to be aware of:

It’s a Temporary Diet. After you complete the Elimination phase of the diet, the goal is to only avoid (or reduce) those foods that trigger your symptoms while adding back in all of the others foods that don’t and that you enjoy. It’s not about eliminating all high FODMAP foods forever.

Don’t Equate FODMAPs with Unhealthy. As you likely noticed from the food lists above, many foods high in FODMAPS are actually quite nutritious and considered part of a sustainable healthy diet. Remember, the idea is to find out which foods trigger your symptoms (and in what quantities) and then introduce them back into your diet in a way that you can enjoy them without suffering and having to police every bite.

(Of course there are some that you can ditch for good if you please. I’m *looking* at you high-fructose corn syrup.)

It’s One Piece of the Digestive Health Puzzle. While some people experience a significant reduction in their symptoms when following this diet, there may still be other factors that need to be considered alongside a low FODMAP diet such as overall diet quality, eating behaviours, hydration, stress, intestinal infections, and other potential non-FODMAP food sensitivities.

It’s NOT the First Place to Start. As you’ve likely gathered by now, this diet can be quite restrictive. While a little sacrifice upfront in the short-term can mean long-term freedom and empowerment if you can pinpoint food culprits, there are still many other factors that should be addressed first (i.e. diet, eating habits) that can potentially provide a significant relief in symptoms without having to be so restrictive from the get-go.

Seek Guidance. If you’re seriously considering following this diet fully (as in ALL in), at the very least download the Monash University app as mentioned above. Better yet though, consider working with a Certified Nutritionist or natural health practitioner who is well-versed with this diet and can guide you through each phase while keeping you accountable. 

 

Final Thoughts: Is a Low FODMAP Diet Right for You?

If you suffer from IBS, or another functional gut disorder, and the associated symptoms of abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea/loose stools, bloating, and/or distention, then it’s definitely worth considering. Although to reiterate the point mentioned above under the list of considerations, it’s definitely not the first place to start.

It also goes without saying that it’s always important to see your medical practitioner first to rule out more serious GI diseases (i.e. Celiac Disease, Inflammatory Bowel Disease) and some gynecological conditions, which can have similar symptoms to IBS.

With that said, individuals with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (i.e. Crohn’s) or Celiac Disease can have IBS-like symptoms occur at the same time, so in conjunction with the standard treatments for these conditions (i.e. a gluten-free diet for Celiac Disease), a low FODMAP diet may provide further relief.

 

Sources/Resources

Monash Low FODMAP Diet app: https://www.monash.edu/medicine/ccs/gastroenterology/fodmap/education/iphone-app

https://aboutibs.org/facts-about-ibs

http://fodmapmonash.blogspot.ca/

 

The 3 Steps to an Effective Elimination Diet (and do you even need to do one?)

These days it seems almost the norm to be eating a “free from” something diet, whether it be dairy, gluten, sugar, or something else.

It seems everywhere you turn someone is promoting their detox program or sugar-free challenge, and while these types of programs definitely have a place, this isn’t quite what I’m talking about here today.

Don’t get me wrong, giving your body a break from less than ideal foods is a great step for igniting new healthy eating habits and patterns, and helps us develop a greater awareness of our food choices – not to mention the side benefits of perhaps feeling lighter, more energized, more clear-headed, and just overall healthier.

Here I’m referring to an Elimination Diet as a therapeutic tool to help you uncover specific food culprits or sensitivities that might be contributing to unpleasant symptoms such as bloating, digestive upset, constipation, loose stools, cramps, IBS, skin problems, and any other imaginable symptom you may be experiencing.

When it comes to food sensitivities it can sometimes be challenging pinpointing exactly what’s causing the issue, because unlike an allergic reaction where the effect is often immediate, sensitivity symptoms can take a bit longer to show up as the culprit travels through the full length of your digestive tract, and only when it reaches a certain point may symptoms appear. This can be highly dependent on your transit time as well, aka how long it takes for food to travel through your digestive tract from chewing it all the way to eliminating it.

An Elimination Diet, in the sense I’m talking about here, is:

  • An opportunity to gather information about foods that might be triggering your symptoms.
  • Short-term: generally anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks depending on the symptoms and the food being eliminated (but it can be shorter or longer).
  • A period to alleviate symptoms and determine food triggers.
  • 3 Steps (discussed in detail below), including a Reintroduction phase and a Personalization Phase, in addition to the Elimination Phase.

But first…

Do You Even Need to Do an Elimination Diet?

It can be really easy to get overly rigid and dogmatic around the idea of elimination diets, and some people take the whole concept a little bit too far.

In fact, just the idea of going on an elimination diet can lead to obsessive thinking about food and feelings of deprivation in some people.

When I work with the women in my programs, the last thing I want to do is impose unnecessary restrictions on their diet. In fact, I want them to be able to enjoy the most varied diet possible while simultaneously being free of nagging and uncomfortable symptoms.

That’s the sweet spot!

But getting to that intersection may require a little short-term restriction in the form of “investigative work” to get to freedom over the long-term.

The good news?

When it comes to food it’s rarely ever so black and white, unless you have a severe food intolerance (i.e. gluten in the case of Celiac Disease) or a severe food allergy that cause reactions in even minute amounts.

What’s Your Starting Point?

For many people, including many of the women that I work with, doing an elimination diet is NOT the first line of defense.

In fact, there are a lot of other changes that can often be made first with respect to diet and eating patterns/habits before taking that route.

For example, when working with women who suffer with IBS, I can help them upgrade their diet significantly and get relief from symptoms without having to go on a full Low-FODMAP diet (which can be quite restrictive).

For many people, it’s a question of quantity and/or quality of the food being eaten.

This can be summarized perfectly by the Bucket Analogy.

For example, if somebody who eats a lot of foods made from wheat (i.e. flour products, bread, cereals) rather than eliminate wheat entirely I may recommend higher quality products such as those made from sourdough or sprouted grain (or even wheat-free options) which can be easier to digest.

Or in the case of somebody who consumes a lot of milk and milk products – perhaps it’s giving up drinking milk as a beverage and instead focusing on quality dairy products like organic kefir, unsweetened yogurt, goat’s cheese, and butter in tolerable amounts.

Believe it or not, some people may even benefit with an elimination period of eliminating foods in general (wrap your head around that one!) because it’s cause for crazy-making and can lead to disordered eating behaviours and obsessive thoughts around food, interfering with other aspects of their life. Obviously this is very individual, but worth mentioning.

Types of Elimination Diets

You might give up one or more of the following, depending on your specific symptoms:

– Foods High in FODMAPs (certain short-chained carbohydrates that are poorly digested/absorbed in the small intestine contributing to IBS symptoms in some people)

– Gluten

– Sugar

– Dairy (Lactose)

– Nightshade Family

– Allergenic Foods (i.e. Seafood, Eggs, Wheat, Cow’s Milk, Soy)

– Gastric Irritants (Coffee, Alcohol)

– Processed Foods/Refined Sugar

Note: The last category is difficult to re-challenge because it can encompass any and all different types of foods. If you eat a lot of wheat, sugar, and dairy, particularly in their processed-form, you’re likely going to notice a significant difference in how you feel if you were to give all of these things up for a period of time – obviously a good enough reason to do it but you won’t necessarily be able to pinpoint the exact culprit (if there’s even one).

It many cases it really is just a question of quantity. The Bucket Analogy (mentioned earlier) is the perfect example of this – when your bucket becomes too full, your symptoms spill out all over place. Lighten your overall load and they start to disappear.

3 Steps to an Effective Elimination Diet

#1 Elimination Phase – After choosing what you’re going to eliminate, you refrain from consuming that food for a set period of time. I usually recommend a period of 2 -6 weeks depending on the food/substance.

Usually we know if there are certain foods or substances that we overconsume in our diets, and we may even suspect a certain food (or food type) is contributing to our symptoms. This is usually a good place to start.

#2 Re-introduction/Re-challenge Phase – This phase can actually be harder than the first step because it requires a bit of strategy. The more foods (or categories of foods) that you gave up, the longer this period will take.

The key here is to be systematic and methodical in your reintroduction.

If you give up a bunch of foods for 30 days and feel great afterwards, but then start reintroducing them all at once, you won’t know which one(s) was causing the issue for you.

You want to test one eliminated food (or family of food) at a time and in varying amounts over a few days to see if you notice any symptoms.

Sidenote: The Low-FODMAP diet is bit trickier in this regard, and I recommend working with a nutritionist who is experienced in this area. Keep in mind though that it’s often not the first place to start for most people.

#3 Personalization Phase  Based on your findings you can customize your diet to your unique needs and preferences. Once you know which foods trigger your symptoms, you can continue to either limit them or modify the portion size to suit yourself. Since food sensitivities usually have a cumulative effect, you may be able to eat small amounts of your “trigger foods” as long as your total overall load is low (i.e. refer back to the Bucket Analogy).

There you have it!

Have any questions?

Put them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them!

Heal Your Gut in 5 Steps (Part 5 of 5)

Note from Elaine: This is the final part of our 5-part series on Gut Health

You can access Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 via the links below.

Part 1: https://www.elainebrisebois.com/healyourgut-part1/

Part 2: https://www.elainebrisebois.com/healyourgut-part2/

Part 3: https://www.elainebrisebois.com/healyourgut-part3/

Part 4: https://www.elainebrisebois.com/healyourgut-part4/

We’ve made it all the way to the final part of the series! If you’re still here with me please know that I humbly salute you for sticking around right until the end.

I realize this is a lot of information to cover, but given how many people I consult with who struggle with digestive problems (not to mention the population at large), I believe this information is critical to understand.

Moving on to step-5 of the protocol…

Step #5: Rebalance

Admittedly, this final step of the series is often the most overlooked in favor for the other parts – namely the diet and supplements aspect.

Truthfully though, you can be following the perfect diet and supplement regime and still have digestive problems if you don’t take into consideration this final point. In other words, don’t discount it for being too easy (it’s not), or something to put off until later.

You might recall from part 3 that our gut is home to our enteric nervous system, commonly referred to as our “second brain” – the part of our nervous system that controls our gastrointestinal tract.

Our brain and gut are connected by an extensive network of neurons (nerve cells) and a “highway” of neurotransmitters and hormones. This highway is known as our “gut-brain-axis” and it continually provides feedback about how hungry we are, whether we’ve eaten something disagreeable, or whether or not we’re feeling anxious or stressed.

Those butterflies you get in your stomach before a big presentation that perhaps have you running for the bathroom? That’s your gut responding to your emotional state!

Re-balance refers to all of those other lifestyle factors that impact our gut health, such as proper stress management, daily physical activity, and getting adequate sleep.

You know, all of those things that you know are important but don’t always happen because “life” gets in the way.

Deep breathing, yoga, meditation, positive affirmations, getting outside in nature, spending time with loved ones, and making time for play can all influence the release of hormones and neurotransmitters that help us to relax and reduce the effects of stress in our lives, positively affecting our gut health and our bodies at large.

I’m not saying that you have to drastically overhaul your lifestyle overnight, but consider the small changes you can create in your daily routine that ensure you’re not neglecting this area.

Perhaps it’s starting with just a few small tweaks such as:

  • Switching your cellphone into airplane mode at 9 pm to ensure a restful sleep
  • Creating a morning routine that allows you to start your day off relaxed rather than frenzied and rushed, and actually makes you excited to get out of bed (yes, it’s possible!)
  • Listening to an inspiring podcast on your morning commute to help alleviate the frustration of traffic or a jammed-packed train or subway car
  • Going for a walk outside on your lunch break or before dinner to decompress from work
  • Scheduling a weekly yoga class or massage
  • Limiting television/Netflix time to the weekend so you free up time
  • Making regular dates to connect with family and friends

Keep in mind: Progress, not perfection.

There you have it! I hope you enjoyed this series on Gut Health. If you ever feel you could use some help or guidance putting all 5 of these steps into practice in your own life, I invite you to consider one of my 1-on-1 nutrition programs.

Much love,

Elaine

 

References:

The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood and Your Long-Term Health, by Justin Sonnenburg and Erica Sonnenburg, PhDs.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4367209/