Recently, after a couple of hospital stays due to my electrolytes being really screwed up from absorption issues, I took up my GI doc on his offer of a referral to a dietician for a consult. In retrospect, I probably should have gone a lot sooner given that I’ve had Crohn’s for 13 years now, but hey, what can I say? Guess I had my head up my ass.
I’ve always been a pretty healthy eater (everything in moderation kind of thing) as far as eating my fruits and veggies and such, though I will admit that ice cream was my vice and has been for years. I figured that another set of eyes couldn’t hurt to see if there was anything I could be doing differently in my day to day routine.
I had sent the dietician a three day log of my eating prior to the visit at her request, so she would have time to analyze it, and was happy to hear that for the most part, my diet was great and she was happy with my food choices. As we began to talk, she asked me what I hoped to accomplish from the visit, given that I wasn’t trying to lose weight, and I explained my long history of IBD and surgeries to her, focusing specifically on my low potassium and magnesium counts the last few months. I told her that since I know I don’t absorb all of the nutrients that I am eating, I want to “front load” my diet as much as possible with vitamins and minerals.
I came away from that first session with a couple of handy tricks that have helped in the last few months. My first question for her was about a water supplement to help with electrolyte balances; I had been drinking lots of water and was supplementing with coconut water for potassium once a day, but a lot of the coconut water products are caloric and have extra sugar that I didn’t want. I also wanted something portable, that I could throw in my lunch bag for work and add in to water as needed. She recommended Nuun drink supplements for this, which I have a link to on my Resources page. I was lucky enough to find them in my local grocery store, but in case you can’t find them you can order them right from the website. There are several different flavors (the pink lemonade and lemon lime are my favorites) and each tablet is about the size of a quarter and dissolves quickly in water. It fizzes slightly, almost like an Alka-Seltzer, and each tablet contains 10 calories, 360mg of sodium, 100mg of potassium, 25mg of magnesium and 13mg of calcium. There are no artificial sweeteners added, which I also liked. I’ve been adding them to my water bottle at least five times each day, and I’ve definitely seen improvement in my electrolyte balances.
Potassium in particular can be difficult for those with IBD to sustain, as absorption is compromised if the colon is diseased or removed, and a lot of the sources that many mention as being so good for “normal” people are freaking death wishes for many who have Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis. Potato skins? Spinach? Seriously, why don’t I just start driving to the ER while I eat those to save some time??? Bananas are the one potassium-rich food I really enjoy and don’t cause problems for me (quite the opposite, actually. During flares, they are actually one of the few foods I can still eat), but I was already eating one at breakfast every day and unsure how to get more of them into my daily diet. Remember my aforementioned affinity for ice cream? No more. I buy bananas now in quantities that probably resemble those of a premenstrual monkey, let them ripen and freeze them. As a treat a few times a week at night, I throw two chopped up frozen bananas into my Vitamix with a tablespoon or two of natural peanut butter and a little coconut almond milk to make it a bit easier to blend and…that’s it. It comes out the same consistency as ice cream and honestly tastes even better. Most days I eat it plain like that, but some days if my belly is behaving I’ll top it with a few dark chocolate chips or some toasted walnut pieces. So incredibly good, and packed with potassium! #winning
A final piece of valuable information I came away with during that visit was that I needed a daily dose of a quality protein supplement, ideally one that would supply potassium as well. I had already been using a protein powder here and there, mainly when my belly wasn’t agreeable and I would use it as a meal replacement until my flare was under control. For that, I had been relying upon the protein powder from Arbonne, which I like for several reasons. It has no artificial sweeteners, has 20 grams of vegan based protein (I’m not a vegan, but I don’t typically drink milk and I find that in a flare, avoiding dairy and soy products isn’t the worst idea), and tastes pretty great. The only caveat to it was the price; at almost $70 for a one month supply, I wasn’t using it every day. The dietician suggested an alternate protein supplement called Unjury, and gave me a few samples to try. The chocolate flavor was amazing, and while it didn’t have as much potassium as the Arbonne powder, for only $22 it has enough that I can use it as a daily supplement and save the Arbonne powder for times when I need the extra electrolytes and protein, like during a flare. Here’s how they each measure up:
Unjury Chocolate Splendor: $22.00 Arbonne Chocolate Protein Powder: $69.00
100 calories 170 calories
150mg potassium 370mg potassium
85mg sodium 540mg sodium
21g protein 20g protein (vegan)
3g sugars 9g sugars
I’ve been using the protein powder daily now, and really notice a difference in my energy levels and my recovery time while strength training at the gym. Definitely a good idea to consider if you’re having trouble keeping weight on or maintaining a proper diet while in a flare. You can certainly explore other brands to see what you like; these just happen to be my preferences. And try experimenting with them! I add protein powder to my smoothies, my oatmeal, even my muffins and protein bars that I make to keep the nutritional content as impactful as possible. You can also drink these as a meal replacement; typically when I do that I’ll add a banana (of course) and sometimes a little PB2 to the blender to make a smoothie. Give them a try and let me know what you think. And, on that note – have a great weekend!