Food Poisoning and Other Digestive Troubles

Culinary adventures, whether domestic or overseas, are one thing that many of us look forward to when traveling. We want to sample the pho in Vietnam, paella in Spain, the regional specialties around the U.S.

Your digestive tract is probably not familiar with many cuisines that you might eat while traveling abroad, especially various seafood. My advice: Sample unfamiliar cuisines with caution. People rarely get sick when eating food they are accustomed to because their bodies are used to the bacteria. Currently, a Danish-led study is comparing the characteristics of Indian intestinal bacteria with those of Danish subjects in the study. “A Dane’s intestinal bacteria differ greatly from those of an Asian person. This may be due to the difference in diet, or it may be because of differences in our hereditary material,” says project leader Oluf Borbye Pedersen, scientific director of a research center at Copenhagen University.

But even when travelling domestically, gastrointestinal disturbances can occur. Over a decade ago, along the coast of, Maine, shortly after I finished my seafood stew in a restaurant where Martha Stewart had eaten the night before, my stomach ballooned to the size of a bowling ball. Taut and round, this swelling is one of the first signs of food poisoning. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramps, and fever, which may begin within a few hours after eating or can start days or weeks later. Food poisoning can be caused by a bacteria, virus or parasite. Raw and ready-to-eat foods are more susceptible to being contaminated because harmful organisms are not destroyed by the heat of cooking. Some well-known harmful organisms include E. coli, hepatitis A, salmonella, norovirus, shigella, and staphylococ-cus aureus. All of these organisms can lead to serious health complications if not treated.

Outbreaks of any of these food-borne illnesses are closely monitored by the CDC and the World Health Organization. Before you make travel plans, you might want to check the websites of either organization for food poisoning outbreaks.

On a diving trip to Costa Rica in the`90s I was able to head off a digestive problem just in time. Anticipating a dive into 80 feet of water to observe white-tip reef sharks, I realized that I had not had a bowel movement in three days. The brain and gut have an intimate relationship and our digestive system is often influenced by our emotions. A high-fiber diet of local mangos and black beans saved me from constipation for the rest of my trip.

Finding fiber-rich foods when you travel can sometimes be difficult. Foods rich in insoluble fiber can help prevent constipation by speeding up transit time and adding bulk to stools for easier passage. Consider making your own emergency snack kit that includes some of these fiber-rich foods:

Fruit: Choose fruit with skin you can peel off —bananas, orange, mango, papaya, avocado, cantaloupe, grapefruit, pineapple, coconut. Grains: Oatmeal, brown rice, oat bran, barley, wheat bran, quinoa, rice bran.
Beans: lentils, black beans, chickpeas, lima beans, split peas.
Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, pistachios, flax seeds, chia seeds.
Dried fruit: Be aware of the sugar content!

With your next travel destination in mind, one of your best defenses against a gastrointestinal problem is the right choice of Chinese herbs—strong enough to stop diarrhea and combat food poisoning, yet gentle enough to ease constipation. Packing a first aid kit with specific herbs could save you a trip to the local hospital. Ask your practitioner at the Tao of Wellness for advice.