Does Pooping Make You Sad?

Why is pooping such a taboo topic? Every single living being does it. Do you ever wonder how it became such an embarrassing, private endeavor? These are thoughts that keep me awake at night. Seriously. I really need to get more sleep.

Does pooping make you sad?

I will tell you that gastrointestinal (GI) issues are some of the most common reasons patients are referred to see me. Interestingly though, seeing a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) is usually not the first thing people think to do when they have GI issues. I find that weird, because typically food is a major culprit in triggering said issues; so much so that our GI docs will not receive a consult until the patient has met with an RDN at least once. The GI docs’ rationale (rightfully) is that most of the patients who are consulted to them have some uncovered food sensitivities, not some major medical situation. Therefore, if the GI issue(s) can be “fixed” with nutritional interventions, the GI docs can save their time for more complex cases.

Constipation

Probably the most important thing I can say about our guts is that NOBODY has a deficiency in Miralax. Nobody; that’s not a “thing.” If you have to “go on a Miralax regimen,” then you haven’t discovered the root of your GI problems. Miralax is an over-the-counter (OTC) laxative. Sure, it will make you poop; that’s what it does. However, the more important thing is to figure out why you can’t poop. A healthy GI tract is one that has a bowel movement at least once every day that is soft but not loose, formed but not hard, and light to dark brown in color. Your poop should pass easily without strain.

The most common, albeit definitely not the only, cause of constipation is either inadequate fiber, inadequate water, inadequate physical activity, or all of the above. Increasing fiber without increasing water (usually at least 60-80 oz/day of water are needed by most of us) will actually make your constipation worse.

The best way to increase fiber intake is NOT through OTC fiber supplements. If you’re not eating enough fiber-rich foods, you’re also not getting critical nutrients to support your overall health. The best ways to increase fiber are actually through an increase in whole vegetables and whole fruits. You can also get more fiber (and nutrients) by switching white flour grains to 100% whole grains whenever possible; but vegetables and fruits are still the top way to get fiber. Read more about fiber here.

Diarrhea

Interestingly, there is no standard medical definition of diarrhea. Did you know that? Diarrhea is a pretty subjective thing. Some people consider loose stools a form of diarrhea, although they are just annoyingly soft poop. Diarrhea, in any way perceived by the bearer, is a nuisance and sometimes even painful.

            Sudden onset diarrhea

Especially watery and/or explosive diarrhea accompanied by a fever is most likely either foodborne illness or a GI virus. In either case, these are acute conditions for which medical attention is often necessary. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate, and replace electrolytes through sports drinks and/or bone broth. The most current scientific evidence has debunked the requirement for the BRAT (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast) diet for acute GI conditions. It’s not like you can’t have these foods, and odds are they will be the only thing you feel like eating. However, the research shows that resuming a “normal” diet as soon as you’re ready is advised.

            Chronic diarrhea

You’ll know it when you have it. Persistent, often varied consistency stools nowhere close to solid. Chronic diarrhea is not accompanied by a fever. Sometimes chronic diarrhea lasts from weeks to months to years unless interventions are sought by medical professionals. In any case, diarrhea means your guts aren’t doing their vital jobs – absorbing nutrients, absorbing water, majorly assisting with immunity and supporting mental health.

Sometimes inadequate fiber can contribute to diarrhea. The cool thing about fiber is that it can soften poop to help in constipation and it can also solidify poop to help in diarrhea. This is the reason that bananas are incorrectly touted to “constipate you” (read more about that here). Bananas can “bulk up” stool in patients with diarrhea, yet they can also provide much-needed soluble fiber to help you pass hard, constipated stool in the right conditions (like with enough water).

Chronic diarrhea most often means that you have developed food sensitivities and/or an auto-immune disorder somewhere along the line. Despite the fact that you may have consumed gluten your entire life, you can still have genetics + some physiological trigger = celiac disease even in your 40s+. You may test completely negative for celiac disease, yet you may still have a gluten intolerance. You may have consumed dairy your whole life, and suddenly develop diarrhea from dairy. Although red meat tends to be an annoying nutritional scapegoat, it is less possible (but still possible) to cause GI issues. The point is, every single individual GI issue is different, and therefore managed differently. If you have skin issues, migraines, or other health problems, then that should be a clue that you are having food sensitivities.

Most importantly is to not try to handle your GI issues alone. You may eventually figure things out, but an RDN can help you sort through things a little more efficiently and with sound scientific support. Mass amounts of misinformation will come from well-meaning friends, family, and the internet, and some can seem like they are helping while masking what is really going on (i.e. Miralax doping).

Things that won’t independently cure you of your GI issue without other interventions include:

  • Avoiding red meat and dairy
  • Taking a laxative every day
  • Taking OTC fiber supplements
  • Avoiding bananas or cheese
  • Eating more bananas or cheese

Things that could help your GI issue along with other interventions include:

  • Increasing fiber through improving intake of whole foods
  • Increasing water intake to at least 60-80 ounces a day
  • Incorporating fermented foods and/or OTC probiotic supplements into your routine
  • Checking your diligence with food safety practices
  • Checking your refrigerator temperature (you could be chronically consuming spoiled foods)
  • Increasing physical activity (for constipation, not as much for diarrhea!)
  • Trial an avoidance of lactose
  • Trial an avoidance of dairy altogether (could be milk protein sensitivity)
  • Trial of avoidance of gluten (including putting your gluten-free bread in a gluten-crumb-filled toaster)
  • Trial of avoidance of one of the most common food allergens (find them here)
  • Trial of a FODMAP (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) elimination and reintroduction regimen

If you have acute diarrhea, see a doctor. If you have constipation or chronic diarrhea, see a registered dietitian nutritionist as part of your quest for a medical cure. If nutritional interventions do not improve the condition, there could be more going on or you and your RDN haven’t solved the mystery yet. If nutritional interventions do help, there still could be more going on. And finally, even if you’re not sure, nutritional interventions are typically a critical piece of solving the GI mystery no matter the diagnosis.

Cheers to more satisfying poops and better overall health as you heal your guts!

xoxo – Casey

Don’t Put Bacon in Your Ears.

Hi loves, it’s been a little while. I usually get daily inspiration with the weird stuff I hear people say about nutrition. I still do get that inspiration, but I’ve already written about most of it, so I’ve been struggling a bit! Ha.

Recently, an esteemed non-nutrition colleague asked me a question. As I directly answered his question, it became blatantly apparent he didn’t care at all about the answer. I would say that happens regularly – someone asks me a nutrition question and continues to argue when they don’t get the answer they wanted but rather the answer that is supported by science. But that’s another topic for another day…

Anyway, the question was “is bacon good for you?” The real answer was longer than what I’ll say here; but in summary, I will say that bacon can be a very useful food full of nutrients (primarily saturated fat) that helps improve health depending on what is consumed with it.

Is bacon good for you?

Bacon is not independently “good for you.” Bacon is especially harmful when consumed with zero fiber and few nutrients (think white bread and a pile of oil-covered hash browns…or a keto diet). However, when you have bacon along with dark leafy greens, perhaps some tomatoes…well now bacon is helping you absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K. Bacon is also providing some protein and fat to help keep you satisfied longer after that meal.

Vitamin C from the vegetables helps you to use the nitrate found in the cured bacon to produce nitric oxide to open up your blood vessels, which helps your blood pressure and circulation. The potassium in the vegetables helps to balance the sodium content of the bacon so that it doesn’t bother your blood pressure. The fiber in the vegetables helps to reduce absorption of some of the fat so that your body only absorbs what it needs. I could go on, but I’m pretty sure you get the idea.

Good quality matters when it comes to bacon (and all foods). If at all possible, try to get bacon from pasture-raised pigs. Uncured bacon still has nitrates despite claiming to be “nitrate free.” But the nitrate is from celery powder, a natural form of nitrates like spinach and beets; so it’s a better option.

Back to the question of “is ___ food healthy?” No food is independently, absolutely good or bad for you. All foods can contribute something helpful or harmful depending on how they are consumed. The poison is in the dose, right?

As usual, specific health conditions require a more comprehensive discussion. However, there is no such thing as a “cardiac diet” or a “diabetic diet.” It’s not like suddenly we have to change everything we’re eating because we just had a heart attack as penance for our wrongs. It’s that we were supposed to be eating to support heart health since childhood

Speaking of childhood…this morning I told my toddler not to put bacon in her ears. And to keep you safe, put your bacon in your belly with vegetables…not in your ears.

What to Put on the Plates You’re Spinning

How to still eat healthy when you feel like life is drowning you

Hi guys, it’s been a while! Since my last post, I graduated with a Master’s degree and just yesterday I re-joined the military as a Captain in the Army Reserve. That doesn’t sound all that complicated until you throw it on top of the regular stuff: a 40-hour/week regular job, wifehood, motherhood, home maintenance, laundry, and a new doctorate program starting up this month. Because I’ve used the phrase “spinning plates” to capture the status of my life right now, I thought it would be fitting to write up a little ditty about how I keep up with nourishing my family during these chaotic times. (Confession: I don’t always keep up; but I do an “ok” job and so can you.)

First and foremost, I would be sorely remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the tribe of amazing people that make it possible for me to continue to push forward in my career. I have an absolutely amazing husband that somehow knows how I need help before I even ask him (I am starting to think he can literally read my mind). I have the world’s best nanny/friend/sister/other-mom-to-my-kids who does so much to help keep my kids clean, fed, happy, and so much more. There are many more people I’d thank in my figurative Academy Award speech (don’t you guys practice that? Just in case?), and I’m guessing you all know who you are. But despite the amazing load of help and support I get from so many directions, there is still a considerable bucket of responsibility I hold; part of my duties include procuring and preparing rations for my littles, my other half, and myself.

Without further ado, let’s talk food. First of all, if you find yourself wondering when the heck you are going to have time or energy to gather the food you are expected to cook, please look into online grocery ordering. I use King Soopers’ Grocery Pickup (formerly ClickList) almost exclusively for my grocery shopping. I order online, then I pull into one of their designated parking spots to have it delivered right to my car. It is the best thing in the world. Apparently, Walmart does the same thing. You could also pay a little extra and have stuff delivered to your home, which is mind-blowing to me. Anyway, I’ve only used the online order and pick up option, and it is an absolute lifesaver. I’m sure you have your hesitations, but the first few times are often free; so check it out.

Work smarter not harder when it comes to prep. I recently had a day where I had two slow-cookers simmering away simultaneously. One contained a beef chuck roast and carrots and one contained chili. If you can spend a little time on a weekend preparing anywhere from 1-3+ meals at the same time, you have just created homemade TV dinners to help you survive the week. Making spaghetti? Triple your ingredients so you have leftovers intentionally. Remember, when you make several meals at once, you only clean the kitchen once. On a Sunday, I might make a tuna casserole, enchiladas, and a whole roasted chicken. Monday night for dinner we heat up one of the leftovers. Home-cooked goodness ready in about 2 minutes per plate.

If you’re not into leftovers, there are many ways to make a healthy meal that involve minimal prep but a little forethought. One of my absolute favorite easy meals consists of a handful of baby greens (I typically adore arugula), some of that leftover roasted chicken, a handful of blueberries and cottage cheese. My littles are not really “salad people” just yet, so I might give them a little bit of the leftover chicken, cottage cheese, some raw vegetables, fresh fruit, and whole grain crackers. These are just ideas to get you thinking; it’s not like I’m saying you “have to” have chicken or cottage cheese…just examples of what we literally do at my house.

If you’re not confident in your chicken-roasting skills, you can pick up a rotisserie chicken and do the same things I mentioned previously. If you’re not into meat, you could substitute hummus or seasoned beans in all of the above examples. Healthy does not have to be complicated, expensive, or gourmet. Just the other night for dinner, we had tuna sandwiches made with avocado mayo and Dave’s Killer Bread, and a mountain of raw vegetables on the side. You could have hummus, Triscuits, and baby carrots for dinner and it meets the specs of a healthy dinner. I really like my little makeshift caprese salad with (you guessed it) arugula, fresh mozzarella slices, fresh tomato slices, and a little extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar splashed on top. YUM.

Some other tips to take advantage of include the prep that is already done for you. For example, for a slightly higher cost, you can purchase pre-diced peppers and onions in the produce section to have ready for your super-quick egg scramble in the morning. I buy “baby” greens because the leaves are small and I don’t have to cut them up before making my salad. You can grab a vegetable tray like you would for a party for grab-and-go side dishes or snacks. Some grocery stores have salmon that’s already been marinating and stuffed mushrooms ready for the broiler. If you have the means, sometimes these little shortcuts are very useful. If you don’t have the means and/or you don’t want to shell out the extra cash for someone else to prep stuff for you, set up a little DIY factory the same day you get your groceries. Get out all the produce you bought, wash it, and slice or dice RIGHT THEN. Your future self thanks you for doing this, I promise.

Sometimes the meat is the most time-consuming part of cooking. Therefore, I like to do that way ahead of time. I already mentioned cooking up a whole chicken during your batch-prep day. However, sometimes I will also brown a bunch of grass-fed beef or bison and add [homemade] taco seasoning, then freeze it for later use as super-fast taco night. Remember earlier I mentioned the chuck roast in the slow-cooker? Well, that wasn’t meant for dinner that night; rather, I was actually only cooking it in anticipation of making sandwiches and casseroles with that luscious, tender, slow-cooked goodness. Most weeks, if I don’t roast a whole chicken, I will throw several chicken thighs/legs/breasts in a couple pans and let them roast for about an hour and a half during the evening while I am doing homework or watching TV. Once they are done, I let them cool and now I have cooked chicken for salads, sandwiches, quick casseroles, soups, whatever. Simple.

Non-starchy vegetables

A healthy meal consists of mostly non-starchy vegetables (think leafy greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, etc.) and protein-rich foods (eggs, meat, fish, nuts, beans, etc.) with a little healthy fat (avocado, extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, tuna, salmon, butter, etc.) and a little bit of good-quality carbs (100% whole grains, starchy vegetables [potatoes, corn, peas, beans], milk, yogurt, fruit, etc.). Try your best not to overcomplicate things. Eat foods with few ingredients. Speaking of ingredients, that is about the only useful information on the Nutrition Facts label as far as I’m concerned. Get to know what it is you are actually eating. Eat more plants. Eat meats that don’t have so many things done to them. Simplify your meal planning, shopping, and prep, and your sanity will come back to you! Don’t forget to ask for help from others when possible. Odds are that people want to help you. And ordering a pizza once in a while isn’t the worst thing in the world…

xoxo – Casey