Living in France has let me step out of my cultural norm, and taught me valuable lessons about food in France and digestion.
Food in the UK
I was one of those children who, like many, were treated to crisps, chocolate bars and cakes. Not as a once a week thing, but every day. I would have some biscuits and a cake when I got home from school, and a chocolate bar mid evening. I never questioned this. My parents had been rationed during the war, and were giving me some of the lovely things they had not been able to have themselves.
Gradually I began to get food intolerance. I went off sugary sweets and industrial jam and started to feel nauseous often. I felt tired and got tonsillitis and frequent colds, the signs I now recognise as being linked to Candida Albicans. This set the scene for me developing IBS later on.
Friends brought their packed lunches to school. No-one questioned the content of sandwiches made from processed bread and industrial filling, a packet of crisps, maybe a banana or apple, drunk down with some sugary orange squash. This was normal, and no one questioned it.
Food in France and digestion
When I came to France as part of my degree course I was both astonished and frustrated. There were no ready to use sauces, almost no McDonalds or Pizza Hut equivalents, no chocolate bars to speak of, and the only crisps you could get were ready salted or paprika. What a let down!
I had to learn to cook from scratch. And to make vinaigrette dressing as there was no bottled salad dressing either. One of my first jobs in France was marketing branded snack foods from overseas markets onto the French market. I felt in my element, bringing to France what they were missing out on. Today I can see the total irony of that situation.
I had actually stumbled on why IBS was not prevalent in France. The food in France and digestion were of better quality. Firstly, the French do a lot more real cooking from scratch using basic quality ingredients. And many people grow their own fruit and vegetables, or at least a few herbs and tomatoes on their balcony.
If they don’t have any themselves, they have parents or grandparents bringing them round fresh produce straight from their garden. This means that they have solid gut flora and a better immune system as a result.
And you would be amazed how much they spend weekly on good quality food.
Over the last few years, this situation has been changing. The economic crisis means that people are trying to spend less on food, so people are starting to buy industrial sandwiches, instead of fresh ones made by bakers. Fast food has become more popular and processed food has invaded supermarket shelves. And I see many of my children’s friends suffering from digestive problems and food intolerance.
Quality of food and quality of digestion
So what we eat has a real impact on digestion, the quality of our gut bacteria, and a consequence on the strength of our immune system, and this has been confirmed by a number of serious research papers.
IBS is often not just about digestion and has many other behavioural and environmental roots. However, what we eat is one part of IBS, it is a significant one to be aware of and to take seriously.
Making food from scratch from local basic produce as often as you can is one of the best ways of improving digestion. Check out my related article 4 ways to boost digestion this summer.