Industry expert: Dietitian Shannon Smith advises on how to beat stress-related digestive problems

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      Self-described food nerd and registered dietitian Shannon Smith interned with Vancouver Coastal Health, worked for four years with Choices Markets, and is now based at Mainland Medical Clinic in Yaletown. There she offers private counselling on everything from weight loss to helping people achieve their nutritional goals.

      “The North American lifestyle is very prone to having stress-related digestive problems: irritable bowel syndrome, bloating, or uncomfortable types of bowel movements, whether it’s too frequent or not frequent enough,” Smith told the Georgia Straight by phone.

      As a dietitian, she works with clients to identify foods that trigger these problems and find ways to replace them with healthier alternatives.

      “Oftentimes, they’re finding the other options and expanding their food horizons,” she says.

      For the Straight’s Best of Vancouver issue, Smith shared some of her “bests”, which you can read below.

      Best way to avoid gastrointestinal problems

      “By choosing lowly processed whole real foods, clients can start to identify what specific foods—rather than food additives—may be contributing to symptoms. For many, this can be the first step to feeling better more often. As an example, sugar-free products like gums, cough candies, and mints are often sweetened with sugar alcohols like sorbitol and mannitol. Sugar alcohols are absorbed through pores—or small holes—through the small intestine rather than by specific transporters, as with regular sugars like glucose. This makes these sugar alcohols less efficiently absorbed and thus more likely to cause digestive upset. They are so likely to cause digestive upset, in fact, that Health Canada calls for laxative warnings on products that use sugar alcohols.”

      Best fruit

      “Raspberries, because they are versatile. Fruit needs to be an easy addition [to meals] so frozen is often your best option, especially as we’re going into the winter in B.C. If you’re buying fresh fruit in the winter in B.C., it’s going to be really expensive and it’s likely going to be coming from halfway around the world. If it’s grown closer to home, it’s going to have the opportunity to grow to its peak of ripeness, so it will actually retain all of those nutrients. And stirred raspberries break up so much that they really integrate into the flavour and the sweetness of whatever you’re putting them into.”

      Best root vegetable

      “I don’t know if this would typically be a root vegetable, but turmeric. It’s a root but it isn’t a root vegetable. It’s more of a rhizome, but I’m choosing it as my best root vegetable because it has such potent health benefits. It’s one of the most potent anti-inflammatory foods that we can consume. Some digestive upset really can be attributed to low-level systemic inflammation. Turmeric is a really easy addition to so many different types of meals. You can add the fresh turmeric root—it looks like ginger—to smoothies. It’s one of the main ingredients in curries.”

      Best green vegetable

      “I would say avocado. That’s based on what’s my favourite right now. I found that smoothies through the summer have been one of the ways to eat well in a hurry. So it’s actually my midday meal because that’s the busiest time for my schedule. A quarter of an avocado in those smoothies really adds that sustenance. It increases the amount of fibre—the healthy monounsaturated fats. And it emulsifies your smoothie so if it’s actually sitting in the fridge from evening to midday, it stays mixed and it doesn’t separate and look unappealing.”

      Best advice for people eating in a hurry

      “I like smoothies as one option. Not everybody likes smoothies, of course. The other part would be to prep like a chef even if you don’t have the cooking skills. Just doing a little bit of extra cutting or making bigger batches…to reduce the amount of time that you’re putting into your meals every day.”

      Best advice for parents making school lunches for children

      “Get your kid involved as much as possible. That’s going to vary, depending on the age. But what I see really frequently is parents putting all this time into meal prep for the lunches and food coming home uneaten. So by involving the child, they have that sense of pride of what they’ve actually prepared. You’re more likely to confirm that they’re going to like what they’re going to eat because they’re choosing. So you can put out a span of different options or discuss it with them. ‘What of these three things would you like tomorrow? And can you help me with this element of it?’ Even to six-year-olds; I’ve seen some incredible six-year-old cooks.”