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DR MEGAN ROSSI: How to retrain a sensitive gut so you can eat veg again

You know plants are good for you, but what if you're one of millions suffering from a

You know plants are good for you, but what if you’re one of millions suffering from a “sensitive” stomach and they really disagree with you?

It’s actually fairly common for up to 30 percent of adults to experience sensitive gut at some point — whether it’s bloating, constipation, full-blown irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or maybe just a short-term stomach upset after an insect or course of antibiotics.

The long-term solution to many gut symptoms is to eat more plants, but often when I suggest this to clients, the standard response is, “I want to, but I just can’t—they’re upsetting my gut.”

Many people associate plant-based foods (especially the fiber) with symptoms like bloating, gas, and heartburn. They say they don’t have a problem with meat, fish and refined carbs, but what if it has more fiber? Forget it.

You know plants are good for you, but what if you're one of millions suffering from a

You know plants are good for you, but what if you’re one of millions suffering from a “sensitive” stomach and they really disagree with you?

Then they avoid those foods – and when they consume them, their bodies aren’t used to them and therefore can’t digest them easily. So their symptoms reappear, confirming their belief that there is no way they can eat that food.

If this sounds like you, the good news is that in my 15 years as a clinical nutritionist I have never met anyone whose gut I can’t retrain.

Fear of fibers can look different for different people. It can be a specific vegetable, fruit, or whole grain, or a larger group such as legumes (e.g., chickpeas and lentils) or cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts).

If you have a condition like irritable bowel syndrome, you may even have been advised to limit a group of fiber-packed carbohydrates called FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) found in many plant-based foods.

But that really should only be for a few weeks to give your stressed gut some rest (and our research team at King’s College London has shown that avoiding these foods for longer can reduce some beneficial anti-inflammatory bacteria like bifidobacteria).

In fact, we all experience gas and bloating from plant-based foods, it’s a natural effect of healthy digestion. When our gut bacteria digest plant fiber along with the myriad of beneficial chemicals, they produce some gas. But two factors can make these symptoms worse.

Did you know?

Alpha Gal Allergy is an allergy to red meat – you are not born with it, but it is most commonly triggered by a tick bite; This programs the immune system to respond to alpha-gal (a sugar molecule) in red meat.

Alpha gal allergy is an allergy to red meat

Alpha gal allergy is an allergy to red meat

Low-fiber foods tend to be digested higher up in the gut, thanks to digestive enzymes that our gut cells produce. But they can’t produce the unique enzymes needed to digest fiber. That’s where those trillions of microbes in our gut come in—they can make these.

But your microbes need to produce enough of the right kind for the type of fiber you’re feeding them. And while your gut microbes are really clever at adapting to what you’re eating — give them a little time and they’ll figure out what enzymes you need — they need an early warning.

So if you suddenly switch from a very low-fiber diet to a plant-rich diet, you’ll probably feel it: gas, bloating, and altered bowel movements are to be expected. Your body will adjust over time, with symptoms easing and disappearing as your microbes adjust.

It’s like avoiding exercise and then suddenly going to the gym and overdoing it: you’re going to be in pain for a few days. It’s far better to walk regularly and increase your weights slowly and steadily. The same goes for your fiber intake.

The goal of any healthy diet is plant diversity. Even if you have been advised to avoid certain foods, I do not recommend cutting them out for life (except, of course, for a diagnosed allergy or celiac disease).

I would suggest introducing anything that triggers your “sensitive gut,” including IBS, but very gradually, consistently, and in small portions – tiny in some cases.

For example, beans and legumes are a common fight.

For the first week, start with half a tablespoon daily; in the second increase to a tablespoon.

You want to feel a little gut activity, it’s a sign your microorganisms are working hard, but if it’s too much, reduce it to a tablespoon every other day.

Slow and steady is winning the race to desensitize your gut. For most of my clients, the process takes about three months — in the long run, that time is worth it, because adding more plants to your daily diet can mean an extra decade of life, according to a study published earlier this year by Bergen University in Norway.

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The second piece of the puzzle is a relaxed stomach. When you’re stressed, it will strangle your gut thanks to the mutual connection between your gut and your brain. Essentially, the millions of nerves connecting the two relay stress to your gut, draining energy (i.e. blood and nutrients) from digesting your food.

In turn, your strained gut becomes less efficient at absorbing gas and other chemicals created during fiber digestion: Normally, the gas is absorbed through your gut wall into your bloodstream and eventually exhaled through your lungs, but due to the reduced blood supply, it can get in Trapped in your gut – cue bloating and cramps.

This helps explain why some days you can do well on a certain high-fiber food, but other, more stressful days, you feel immediate pain.

A relaxed gut requires a relaxed mind—and there are ways to approach mealtime to send calming signals to your digestive system.

Yoga can be a game changer. A 2017 study from the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany showed that two weekly sessions for 12 weeks of abdominal yoga (including positions such as cat-cow, crocodile twist, and happy baby) were just as effective as low-FODMAPs diet reduction of symptoms such as bloating and pain in people with irritable bowel syndrome. (Search for these three steps on YouTube or check out my book Eat Yourself Healthy.)

If that’s not possible, try a minute or two of “box” breathing: inhale through your nose for four seconds, hold for four seconds, then exhale slowly and steadily through your nose for four seconds, hold for four seconds. And repeat.

One final thought: as the microbes in your newly relaxed gut start digesting the increased plants (and fiber), they produce more short-chain fatty acids, nourishing chemicals that strengthen the gut lining and increase the resilience of stressed and sensitive guts.

So, yes, it may take time, but your efforts will pay off with this science-based approach, trust me!

Try this: Green Omelet Bowl

This omelette and frittata mix packs almost 7g of fiber – and it only takes minutes to prepare for a deliciously healthy and easy way to start your day. And if you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), it’s FODMAP-lite (see main section).

serves 1

  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 90 g zucchini, grated
  • 40 g frozen peas
  • 25g feta, crumbled or your choice of cheese
  • 1 slice of seed bread, torn into small pieces
  • 10 g pine nuts
  • ¼ tsp dried or a handful of fresh herbs like cilantro or oregano

Combine the ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for two minutes. Stir the mixture and heat for another minute.

If eggs are still runny, continue heating in 20-second batches until just set; it will cook a little more. Allow to cool for a minute before plugging in.

Ask Megan

Is there any research on the link between Parkinson’s and diet? Can Parkinson’s symptoms be relieved by eating certain foods?

Lucinda Williams.

Although diet cannot cure Parkinson’s disease, it does appear to protect it, with research suggesting that a diet high in vegetables, fruit and fish is associated with a 22 percent lower risk.

Gut problems usually appear in the early stages of Parkinson’s, often years before motor symptoms develop. This has sparked speculation that the gut microbiome may be a trigger. A recent review of studies published in the journal NPJ Parkinson’s Disease confirmed that there are measurable differences in the microbiome in patients with the condition, specifically they had lower levels of the Faecalibacterium group of bacteria associated with anti-inflammatory benefits.

More research is needed to understand if targeting the microbiome might help, but until then, eat a high-fiber diet from a variety of plant sources (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and herbs and spices). extra virgin olive oil (rich in gut-friendly compounds) and oily fish (rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids) are worth considering for symptom management.

Contact dr. Megan Rossi

Email [email protected] or write to Good Health, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT – please include your contact details.

dr Megan Rossi cannot maintain personal correspondence. The answers should be viewed in a general context; Always consult your GP if you have any health concerns.

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