Retrain your gut to be Fibre-Fit

In this guest blog post, Dr Megan Rossi, an award-winning gut health scientist, dietitian and founder of The Gut Health Doctor explains how important fibre is in your diet and how to become Fibre-Fit not fibre-fearful.

Hopefully you know by now how important fibre is for you, your gut and your health. The 40 trillion bacteria living in your gut have thousands of responsibilities and are connected to pretty much every organ and function of your body. But they can only look after you if you look after them by feeding them lots of different types of fibre (vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, legumes like beans and pulses, nuts and seeds and herbs and spices). Having a fibre filled diet has been linked with a lower risk of conditions like certain cancers, type 2 diabetes and heart disease, as well as protecting your mental health and optimising your metabolism, energy, immunity, hormones and much more.

Sounds too good to be true? Well that's because it is for some. With a significant increase in fibre can come an increase in gut issues, for example bloating, wind or diarrhoea. The excess gas comes from the bacteria breaking down the undigested fibre in your large intestine. The easiest way to describe it is by imagining going to the gym for the first time in ages and pounding the weights. You're going to feel it the next day, and it's no different for your gut when it comes to fibre, especially for those who are prone to gut sensitivity.

But the solution is not to become fearful of fibre and cut it from your diet (such as veggies and legumes). You'll hear certain carnivore-diet advocates using the lack of gut symptoms as a sign that protein and refined carbs are better tolerated and better for you. The reality is that starving your gut microbes of their favourite nutrients will impact how well they perform for you. In fact researchers at the University of Bergen found that eating across the Super Six (vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, legumes (beans and pulses), nuts and seeds and herbs and spice) can add up to a decade of healthy years to your life.

Cutting out fibre also puts you at risk of a symptom flare-up next time it is introduced. When it comes to training your gut, slow and steady is what counts - exactly like any exercise routine. Try my gentle and science-backed gut retraining programme to get you and your gut Fibre-Fit.

Slow and steady

Going from a low-fibre diet to a plant-rich one is likely to cause unwelcomed bloating, gas and changes to bowel movements. When welcoming more fibre onto your plate it's better to enjoy small amounts at each meal and build up slowly over the course of a few months, instead of an all-or-nothing approach. This gives your microbes time to adapt to the increased nutrient load and figure out which enzymes are needed for the most efficient fibre digestion.

Little by little

If you find a particular plant food triggers your sensitive gut, try re-introducing it gradually and in small portions. Take legumes (beans and pulses) for example: start with half a tablespoon daily for the first week (the tinned legumes are a cheap and convenient option); and then in the second week, increase to one tablespoon. You want to feel a little gut activity - that fizzing and popping sensation is your microbes celebrating this new way of eating - but if there's too much, reduce it to one tablespoon every second day. Continue this process until you're able to enjoy ½ cup a day.

Deep breaths

For a Fibre-Fit gut, we need a relaxed mind. When we are stressed, this message is relayed to our gut and vital energy is moved away from digesting your food, often resulting in trapped gas. That's why on some days you may find that you're fine with a particular higher-fibre food, but on other, stressier days, it's instant pain or bloating!

This explains why a 2017 study by the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany showed that two weekly sessions for 12 weeks of gut-directed yoga (which relaxes the gut:brain connection) were as effective as a diet low in many high fibre foods like legumes for reducing gut symptoms such as bloating.

Another easy option is 'box' breathing. Breathe in through your nose for four seconds, hold for four, then slowly breathe out through your nose for four seconds, and hold for four. Repeat this for a minute or two.

Seek out support

The stress of dealing with a sensitive gut alone can lead to even more stress. Sharing your concerns with others may help, especially if it's someone who can relate, or who understands how the gut works. If you struggle to increase the amount of fibre in your diet, and therefore you're not able to reap the benefits, don't suffer in silence; reach out to your GP or dietitian. At The Gut Health Clinic, we have a team of specialist registered dietitians who can support you on your journey to becoming Fibre-Fit and provide you with a personalised gut retraining programme.

To find out more about how to look after your gut, sign up to The Gut Health Doctor free monthly newsletter and receive lots of gut-loving education and recipes or follow @theguthealthdoctor.

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