Hello food friends! It has been pretty quiet on the blog here for the last week or so, but for a good reason! Last weekend I attended the Advances in Nutrition, Gut Health and Microbiome Conference in Toronto hosted by the Canadian Nutrition Society. Not only did I get to listen to some fantastic speakers, I also had the opportunity to share my poster on IBS, nutrition and the low FODMAP diet. I live tweeted the entire conference (@LaurenRenlundRD). Here is my recap of the highlights of the conference (it’s a longer post than usual!)
IBS & Nutrition Poster
I am going to start with my poster on IBS. During my last semester of my Master’s degree, I wanted to learn more about digestive health, but there weren’t any electives available in that area. Luckily my school had directed reading courses, where students get to choose topics they wish to read/research more about and find a supervisor. I am very grateful that Dr Johane Allard, a gastroenterologist and professor, agreed to supervise my course. I wrote a detailed literature about the role of nutrition and dietitians in IBS management and presented to her research lab.
When I heard about the Gut Health and Microbiome conference theme, I knew I had to apply to present a poster on my literature review. Amazingly, my abstract was accepted and I was invited to present my poster!
The title is a bit of a mouthful: “A comparison of traditional dietary recommendations for Irritable Bowel Syndrome vs. the low FODMAP diet, and exploration of the role of dietitians in symptom management”. I can explain exactly what that means.
The Literature Review Behind the Poster
I dove into the research behind both the “traditional dietary recommendations” for IBS (what dietitians have been recommending for a long time) and the low FODMAP diet. I focused on the research behind the low FODMAP diet and critically appraised the studies which have been completed. There have been double blind randomized controlled trials, which is the best type of research study design (awesome!).
There are some concerns about the long-term effects of the low FODMAP diet, particularly if individuals do not complete the reintroduction phase. The diet should be implemented with the help of a dietitian to ensure that as many foods as possible are reintroduced and to decrease the risk of nutrient deficiencies. However, overall most studies have found that the low FODMAP diet is more effective in managing IBS symptoms (helps achieve symptom management for approx. 3 out of 4 people). What are dietitians to do??
It’s simple: use both traditional dietary recommendations and the low FODMAP diet in practice. The role of the dietitian is to assess their clients and help make an individualized plan for symptom management. Every individual is unique, especially when it comes to digestive disorders.
I emphasized that more dietitians are needed to specialize in digestive health and to also utilize novel ways of providing nutrition education (like blogs and phone apps). In Canada, there are so many people suffering with IBS long-term who have not even heard the term ‘FODMAP’ before. I hope to help change that. I had lots of great conversations about digestive health with other conference attendees!
Now, onto the actual conference (finally!!)
One of my favourite presentations was the first: “Why is the gut so important for health?” by Dr. Richard Fedorak. He talked a lot about why there is such an explosion of research in this area now. One reason he said is that we never used to pay attention to the microbiome, and instead looked at the gut from a more physiological viewpoint. It wasn’t until the 80s that we began to learn the importance of the microbiome for health (first from a mice study). Another key point is we now actually have the technology to study and store the data necessary. The gut microbiome contains many more microbes than we have cells in our body. That is an enormous about of data we need to store, and only recently technology has become advanced enough.
Dr. Wendy Dahl presented on the “Role of fibre and prebiotics in relation to GI Health”. Fibre has so many benefits for our body, other than of course helping to keep our bowel movements regular. It can also help lower cholesterol, increase satiety (feeling full) and decrease our risk of many diseases including some cancers. Prebiotics are very important to help feed our microbiome. Fructans and GOS are major sources of prebiotics for many people, but they are also FODMAPs. This emphasizes the importance of the reintroduction phase. If people can eat fructans or GOS without major symptoms, fantastic! We don’t want to be avoiding healthy foods unnecessarily.
Other interesting things I learned:
I also heard a great motivation for healthy eating from Dr. Emma Allen-Vercoe. She emphasized that there is a massive army of microbes in your gut relying on you to eat good food so they can help improve your health! Next time you eat a salad, you can think about how you are feeding your own personal army.
The conferenced was closed nicely by Dr. David Ma saying “Our job to educate others about the importance of nutrition and health to spread the word.” I couldn’t wait to get home and start drafting this post!
Finally, shout out to the Canadian Nutrition Society for having the best gluten-free lunch options I have had at a conference. I ate a yummy roasted vegetable and tofu sandwich with salad AND a gluten-free cookie (forgot to take a picture though). It really sucks if you find out that the only safe food options available are a few fruits and vegetables (has happened to me).
The entire gut health and microbiome conference just made me even more excited about all the amazing research that is happening and feel grateful I am able to work in this fascinating area. I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have!
I will be posting a delicious and healthy snack recipe tomorrow. Have a fantastic weekend!