My journey along the path to eating and living more locally started about three years ago when I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS. Millions of people suffer from this condition where certain foods can cause intestinal cramping and discomfort. Though the specific foods that trigger symptoms vary from patient to patient, there are some foods that most sources say you should stay away from:
- Foods high in fat
- Foods with lots of preservatives
- Artificial sweeteners
- Foods that cause higher than normal levels of gas in the intestines (beans, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli)
- Intestinal stimulants (ie caffeine, chocolate, coffee)
The foods that bother me the most are the ones with large amounts of fat, artificial sweeteners or preservatives so no Splenda in my tea, no fast food, and little or no pre-made “freezer food” (TV dinners or other foods meant to last months or years on the shelf or in the freezer). Side story: about a year before my diagnosis, I used two packets of Splenda in a cup of hot tea and spent the afternoon in urgent care doubled over from abdominal pain. Though Splenda is better than most sweeteners, some people, even those without IBS, have trouble digesting this product.
So how does this tie into eating locally?
The answer is that the less distance and time that an item of food has to travel, the fewer preservatives are needed for that food. Nova’s Bakery is the perfect example: their breads are made fresh on-site daily and are meant to be consumed within three to four days. This means their products contain few or no preservatives needed to make them last on a grocery store shelf for weeks. Shopping at farmers markets and choosing to support local organic farmers means your food just has less artificial stuff in it. In addition, eating fresh, whole vegetables increases your dietary fiber intake, a common suggestion for IBS sufferers.
Of course, what started as a way to eat better and minimize my IBS symptoms has turned into a way of life for me. Though I do sneak the occasional French fry or canned soup, keeping to a diet of fresh foods low in fat has done more for my condition than prescription medication. Even if you don’t have IBS or another stomach disorder, there are many health benefits of eating local food.