Bowel salvation on a nutrition label

Bowel distress haunted me. At any time, it would come quickly, unpredictably, and powerfully, forcing me to get to the bathroom before the tsunami ensued.

I blamed advancing age. That seemed the only possibility given that in most every other respect I appeared in fine shape for a 58-year-old man: blood pressure normal, weight and BMI within the recommended guidelines, body parts and vital organs all functioning fine. While I have hypothyroidism, the medication I’ve taken for more than a decade appears to be controlling it fine, and for most of those years, the once daily dose I took caused no bowel irregularities.

So, no, I couldn’t blame levothyroxine for my problem. It had to be old age — maybe a weaker colon or simply an inevitable decline in intestinal fortitude in a most literal sense.

Unless, perhaps, the cause could be even more disturbing: a serious medical condition. Yep, I began to consider that possibility, even took the step to visit a proctologist to solve the mystery, an experience I wrote about previously (see “My $1,830 butt exam”), which, without elaborating, proved to be a monumental mistake, at least in the monetary sense.

That left me frustrated, defeated, and resigned to a life of bowel bewilderment. This, alas, would be my life forevermore.

But then, one day, just by chance, I happened to read the nutritional label on one of my favorite foods and noticed an unfamiliar ingredient:

Roasted chicory root or fiber.

This ingredient, generally praised as promoting good digestive system health, can be found in yogurt, protein bars, and herbal teas — all foods that I love and consume daily.

More specifically, it can be found in Oikos Triple Zero yogurt, including my beloved banana-peanut butter flavor. Roasted chicory fiber also is a primary ingredient in the Oatmega protein bars I used to eat on a daily basis and the Bengal Spice herbal tea that had become an evening ritual for me.

These three foods are generally touted as nutritional powerhouses by registered dietitians and others with such expertise.

Triple Zero yogurts, for example, provide 15 grams of protein and only 5 grams of sugar per serving — a winning ratio from a health perspective.

Oatmega bars receive high marks as well.

In an article she wrote for her website Nutrition Awareness on the healthiest protein bars, registered dietitian Megan Ware rates them №1, writing that “Oatmega made it to the top of the list because each bar has 250 mg of EPA and DHA (healthy fatty acids). They are organic and use New Zealand grass-fed whey with around 200 calories, 5 grams of sugar, 5 grams of fiber, 14 grams of protein and NO fake sweeteners.”

As for the Bengal Spice herbal tea, I thought this was an ideal substitute for the decaf coffee I used to drink every evening, an entirely caffeine-free choice loaded with flavorful and medicinal ingredients such as cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and, yes, roasted chicory.

Could chicory be the culprit?

Truth be told, I was hesitant to seek the answer. The only way to discover definitely whether chicory caused my tsunamis was to eliminate it from my diet entirely.

And that meant giving up — at least for a certain time period — the foods I loved.

Ultimately, though, I concluded the sacrifice was worth potential salvation, and, thus, reluctantly, I went cold turkey. No Triple Zeros. No Oatmega protein bars. No Bengal Spice herbal tea.

It worked — immediately.

Naturally, I was suspicious at first. Maybe, I thought, this might be a classic placebo effect. Maybe deep down I had convinced myself this had to be true and somehow this made my convictions come true.

But as I extended my experience into a second and third week, the results remained the same, the bowel distress had truly disappeared.

And so I made the move. I gave up the foods I Ioved.

Was it hard?


Was it worth the sacrifice?


Going chicory-free worked. The tsunamis are behind me — but only in the good sense.

Writing is what I do. I started as a journalist, working at a daily newspaper in Maine for 20 years, and now I’m an English teacher, specializing in writing.

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