What you need to know about fibre and IBS

What you need to know about fibre and IBS

6 clear jars spilling nuts and seeds onto a white surface, what you need to know about fibre and IBS

What you need to know about fibre and IBS

If you are going to try any sort of supplement, always discuss with your doctor and nutrition professional first. This post is for general information purposes only, is not meant to diagnose or treat, and is in no way a replacement for consulting a medical professional.

What is fibre?

Fibre is present in many plant-based foods. In general, it is the non-digestible portion of our food that ends up in our large intestine and instead is food for our friendly gut bacteria. The gut bacteria partially or completely ferment the fibre, producing gas as well as some important nutrients that your body needs. Understanding how and where to get fibre in your diet is important in general, and definitely necessary when it comes to fibre and IBS.

However, the definition can vary based on regionally specific nutrition guidelines, and in some countries (like here in Belgium), substances that act like fibre in the gut are officially grouped into the category of fibre (i.e., resistant starch).

As said, fibre is found in plant-based foods, namely:

  • Whole grains
  • Lentils and legumes
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

Fibre is an incredibly important part of our diet; it helps keep our bowel movements regular and can add bulk to loose stools, as well as loosen up hard stools (sounds contradictory, but we’ll get into this more soon!). This is an important part of our body’s natural detoxification process, getting rid of toxins out of our system as well as other waste products like excess hormones. It can also have a positive effect on blood sugar levels, and increases satiation from a meal, leading to a lower likelihood of overeating.

The general recommendation (which can vary depending on a country’s nutritional guidelines, is that adults should strive for more than 25g of fibre per day, with some recommendations saying that we should be consuming at least 30g of fibre per day. Studies have shown a positive relationship between consuming 25-29g of fibre per day and a reduction in risk for coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer, and all-cause mortality when compared to people eating less than this amount.

A bowl of salad with many brightly coloured vegetables all around, what you need to know about fibre and IBS

The categories of fibre that you should know about

There are different ways to categorize types of fibre, but the most used and most relevant when it comes to IBS is soluble and insoluble types. Foods usually contain both types of fibre at the same time but can be more dominant in one over the other.

Soluble fibre

This type of fibre will dissolve (is soluble) in liquids. In our gut it forms a gel-like substance (imagine it on a much smaller scale to the gel-like properties of chia seeds when immersed in liquid).

Soluble fibre slows the transit time of our food through our digestive system which can help stabilize blood sugar levels, keep you feeling satiated for longer following a meal, and allow adequate time for your body to absorb nutrients. Because it attracts water, like a sponge, it helps soften stool.

Soluble fibre can be found in:

  • Some vegetables & fruit
  • Oats
  • Lentils & legumes
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

Insoluble fibre

In contrast to soluble fibre, insoluble fibre does not dissolve in liquids. It helps add physical bulk to the stool and speeds up the transit time of our food through our gut.

Insoluble fibre can be found in:

  • Wheat bran
  • Rice bran
  • Fruit & vegetable skins
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Lentils & legumes
  • Whole grains

 

What’s the deal with fibre and IBS?

It was previously thought (and indeed still talked about in many spaces) that a low fibre diet could be a cause behind IBS. Because of this, a lot of health professionals still tend to advise people with IBS to increase their fibre intake. While not eating enough fibre is definitely an issue amongst the general public, it’s not quite so black and white when it comes to IBS.

Fermentability of fibre

Many types of fibre tend to be high fermentable by the bacteria in our gut. In general, this is a good thing as this keeps our gut bacteria healthy and in a good balance. However, when it comes to IBS this is likely a contributing factor to symptoms flaring up. The fibre sources that fall into this category are thus also considered part of the FODMAP-family (but not all FODMAPs are sources of fibre).

Soluble fibre tends to be highly fermentable whereas insoluble fibre tends to be low- or moderately fermentable and therefore better tolerated. It’s not necessarily a hard-and-fast rule, however, so it definitely takes time to discover what works and what doesn’t for your body.

Some examples of good sources of (low-FODMAP) fibre for IBS:

  • Chia seeds (2 tbsp = 8g of fibre)
  • Green kiwi, peeled (2 small kiwis = 6g of fibre)
  • Firm tofu (160g = 6g of fibre)
  • Oats (50g = 5g of fibre)
  • Flaxseeds (1 tbsp = 4g of fibre)
  • Raspberries (60g = 3g of fibre)
An assortment of many brightly coloured vegetables, what you need to know about fibre and IBS

Should you be supplementing with fibre for IBS?

If you are going to try any sort of supplement, always discuss with your doctor and nutrition professional first. This post is for general information purposes only, is not meant to diagnose or treat, and is in no way a replacement for consulting a medical professional.

In general, research has shown that getting sufficient fibre from your diet is more beneficial that fibre from supplementation. This is namely because our foods contain various types of fibre giving a wider range of benefits, whereas supplementation tends to be focused on specific types of fibre in isolation.

However, if you are struggling with fibre intake and experiencing a high amount of IBS symptoms, supplementation could be something to discuss with your health care team. The type of supplementation is going to be unique to the individual and what type of IBS symptoms you tend to have. Currently there is not much convincing results from research studies in order to give proper direction in IBS recommendations. 

Whether you’re starting with supplements, or just looking to increase your fibre intake with real foods, make sure to do so gradually, as a dramatic increase from one day to the next will likely result in significant digestive issues as your system isn’t used to these amounts. In addition, be sure to drink sufficient quantities of water – without proper hydration fibre can end up having the opposite effect of what is intended.

Type of fibre sources/supplements and IBS

Psyllium husk: tends to be well tolerated by people with IBS and research indicates it may be helpful for constipation.

Oats / oat bran: may be helpful for improving constipation, abdominal pain, and bloating but more studies are needed.

Flaxseeds: similar findings as with oats, up to 1 tbsp per day is considered low-FODMAP (flaxseeds are also a great plant-based source of Omega-3!).

Resistant starches: this type of prebiotic fibre tends to ferment slower throughout the entire length of the large intestine. Because of this, it may produce less gas-related symptoms. However, it hasn’t been shown to be helpful in regulating bowel movements.

Partially hydrolysed guar gum: has prebiotic properties and may be well tolerated in IBS for both constipation and diarrhea; however, more studies are needed. 

Sterculia: this non-fermentable source of fibre has gel-forming properties and may help with stool softening for constipation; however, more studies are needed.

Wheat bran: contains a high amount of fructans (a type of FODMAP) and may worsen IBS symptoms.

Wheat dextrin: no studies conducted in regard to IBS.

Inulin: highly fermentable type of fibre and may worsen gas.

Fructo-oligosaccharides & galacto-oligosaccharides (FOS/GOS): a type of highly fermentable fibre (FODMAP) and may worsen IBS symptoms.

 

The bottom line…

It’s not possible to give sweeping recommendations for fibre when it comes to IBS, regardless of the sub-type you may have. It’s always best to work with a health and nutritional professional to identify what foods will work best for you and your body.

Sources:

El-Salhy, M., Ystad, S. O., Mazzawi, T., & Gundersen, D. (2017). Dietary fiber in irritable bowel syndrome (Review). International journal of molecular medicine, 40(3), 607–613. https://doi.org/10.3892/ijmm.2017.3072 

Reynolds, A., Mann, J., Cummings, J., Winter, N., Mete, E., & Te Morenga, L. (2019). Carbohydrate quality and human health: a series of systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Lancet (London, England), 393(10170), 434–445. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31809-9 

https://www.monashfodmap.com/blog/getting-enough-fibre/

https://www.monashfodmap.com/blog/fibre-supplements-ibs/ 

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New Research: Potential Cause of Post-Infectious IBS Identified

New Research: Potential Cause of Post-Infectious IBS Identified

Woman typing on laptop with stethoscope next to it, Research Study identifying possible cause of Post-Infectious IBS

New Research: Potential Cause of Post-Infectious IBS Identified

In January, the results of an exciting research study were posted that looked into possible causes for IBS for people who have the onset of the syndrome after a gastrointestinal infection (a.k.a. post-infectious IBS).

An estimated 17% of people report the onset of their irritable bowel syndrome as being after a GI-infection.

A large portion of our immune system resides in our gut, and it works to balance out the immune response between actual pathogens and the harmless “good gut” bacteria and antigens from our food. This is to limit an immune response, like inflammation, when such a response isn’t needed. In a healthy gut, our immune system isn’t getting trigger by foods that we eat.

What this study showed, is that during a GI-infection, the presence of particular foods in the gut could lead to a sensitivity for that food even after the infection has been cleared.

Table lined with microscopes, Research Study identifying possible cause of Post-Infectious IBS

The study:

The researchers infected mice with a bacterial gastrointestinal infection, while at the same time feeding them a solution containing ovalbumin, a protein that is found in egg whites.

After the infection was cleared, they continued giving the mice ovalbumin challenges and saw that an immune response was provoked. The mast cells in the gut were activated, released histamine, and led to IBS-like symptoms in the mice (diarrhea, reduced GI transit time, increased fecal water content). This didn’t happen in the mice who received ovalbumin but did not have the GI-infection.

Visceral hypersensitivity (VHS) is another key symptom of IBS, essentially meaning that the pain perception in the gut is heightened for people with IBS than those without. In the mice study, overall VHS was heightened for 4 weeks after the GI-infection was cleared. At 5-weeks, VHS was observed when the mice were given the ovalbumin, but was not present when other, similar, antigens were given.

Finally, the researchers tested for this immune response in 12 people with IBS, by injecting food antigens (from gluten, milk, soy, or wheat) into the gut wall. They observe the same immune responses in these people as in the mice for at least one of the food antigens each.

 

What does this mean going forward and for me and my IBS management?

Considering the small number of participants in this study, much more research is still needed, and indeed there are still ongoing studies following up on this topic.

Not everyone with IBS reports its onset as after a GI-infection, so this doesn’t necessary answer all of the questions that are pending about IBS and may not be relevant for everyone. And as we know, there are many other factors often at play when it comes to IBS symptoms being triggered (like stress, poor sleep, etc.).

But if you do have the post-infectious subtype of IBS, this research would be very interesting to discuss with your healthcare providers especially in terms of potential irritable bowel syndrome management options.

And in any case, all research and innovation in this field is extremely exciting, especially considering that potentially up to 20% of the population may struggle with irritable bowel syndrome.

 

Read more about the research:

Aguilera-Lizarraga, J., Florens, M.V., Viola, M.F. et al. Local immune response to food antigens drives meal-induced abdominal pain. Nature (2021).

Click here for the press release about this study from KU Leuven

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Sweet Potato Nachos (low-FODMAP)

Sweet Potato Nachos (low-FODMAP)

A woman outside in workout clothes holding a drawing of a happy gut; find bloating relief and reduce IBS

Sweet Potato Nachos (low-FODMAP)

Often Saturday night is nacho night in our house. This version can easily be made into a low-FODMAP recipe that can work in your specific IBS diet. 

​And while sometimes we just go for the real thing with corn chips and all the toppings, this sweet potato version is a great alternative!

​With a sweet potato base and lots of veggies mixed into the minced meat topping, you can enjoy a comfort food with a good extra serving of veggies.

​The best part is, that the toppings are extremely customizable. Can’t do onion? Leave it out and up the green onion as garnish. Or swap it for the green part of a leek.

Have a bunch of leftovers in the fridge? Throw them on!

​Or maybe sweet potato is tricky? Do ⅓ sweet potato and ⅔ regular potato.

​Ready to make this tonight?

Sweet Potato Nachos

Light version of the classic nachos, made with sweet potato instead of corn chips.
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Total Time 50 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 2 people

Equipment

  • Mandolin

Ingredients
  

  • 500 g sweet potato*
  • 1 cup shredded cheese
  • 200 g mince meat
  • 1 bell pepper diced
  • 1 red onion** diced
  • ¼ zucchini diced
  • 1 medium tomato diced
  • 1 tbsp garlic-infused olive oil
  • salt & pepper to taste

Optional Garnishes

  • green onion green top only for low-FODMAP
  • avocado ⅛ is low-FODMAP
  • sour cream lactose-free for low-FODMAP
  • fresh cilantro

Instructions
 

  • Pre-heat oven to 200C / 390F.
  • Wash and peel sweet potatoes, and slice into 0.5cm (0.2”) thick rounds using a knife or mandolin.
  • Lay sweet potato slices out on a lined baking sheet and bake in oven for 15 minutes until beginning to brown and crisp.
  • In a fry pan over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the onion, bell pepper, and zucchini and cook until just soft (5-8 minutes).
  • Add the minced meat into the frying pan and cook until fully browned, (about 10 minutes). Season with salt and pepper.
  • Remove the sweet potato from the oven. Using the baking sheet from the sweet potatoes, overlap the cooked chips to form your nacho base.
  • Scatter meat and vegetable mixture across the sweet potato base. Top with diced tomatoes and shredded cheese.
  • Return to the oven and bake until cheese ismelted and beginning to turn golden;around 10 minutes.
  • Top with any of the optional garnishes, and enjoy!

Notes

* 75g of sweet potato is considered low-FODMAP, above this can be high in the FODMAP mannitol. If this is a problem for you, you could swap ⅔ of the sweet potato for regular white potato instead.
** If red onion is a problem for you, as it is high in FODMAPs (fructans) then replace this with diced green tops of leeks.
Keyword Gluten Free, Vegetables

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Is Alcohol a Trigger for IBS?

Is Alcohol a Trigger for IBS?

Group of people cheersing with cocktails, Is alcohol a trigger for IBS

Is Alcohol a Trigger for IBS?

With the holiday season upon us, the influence of alcohol in our lives only continues to grow. But does alcohol sit well with your IBS, or is that glass going to send you running to the toilet?

There’s not a whole lot of research done yet on the effect or link between alcohol and irritable bowel syndrome, but anecdotally around 1/3 of IBS-sufferers self-report that they are triggered by it (myself included).

And when I polled my Instagram community, this number was far higher!

However, since alcohol is often served along with food (and often more indulgent dishes) it can be tricky to differentiate any symptoms from your drinks versus your food.

 

The effect of alcohol on your digestion

Alcohol can be an irritant to the gut and can cause inflammation. It can reduce your absorption of vitamins and minerals from your food.

By potentially reducing the frequency and strength of certain muscle contraction in the gut, alcohol can also disrupt the digestion of carbohydrates in the small intestine, resulting in more poorly absorbed carbs coming into the large intestine.

Cue bloating, gas, and change in bowel movements. This is the same effect that FODMAPs can have on your digestion.

It also can mean an increased transit time (a.k.a. the time it takes for your food to move from one end to the other), which can result in diarrhea.

Alcohol can also interfere with the working of some digestive enzymes – one of which is lactase. Lactase is the digestive enzyme that breaks down lactose, the milk sugar.

This means when drinking you could find yourself sensitive to lactose-containing dairy products even if you would normally do OK with some of them.

The pattern of alcohol consumption has been studied in terms of its impact on IBS.

While the study didn’t find an association between light or moderate alcohol consumption and next-day IBS symptoms, it did find an association between binge drinking (4+ drinks on one occasion) and next-day IBS symptoms.

Green cocktail in a martini glass, is alcohol a trigger for IBS

Alcohol and FODMAPs

While alcohol can function similarly to FODMAPs in the digestive system, they aren’t one and the same.

However, some alcohol can also contain FODMAPs (so possibly a double whammy on your gut) and warrant some additional focus. 

According to Monash University, the following are high-FODMAP containing alcohols / alcoholic drinks:

  • Cider
  • Rum
  • Sherry
  • Port
  • Sweet dessert wine

Conversely, the following are considered low-FODMAP:

  • Beer (but watch out for gluten if you’re gluten intolerant)
  • Red, sparkling, sweet, white and dry white wine
  • Gin
  • Vodka
  • Whisky

If you’re consuming a cocktail, don’t forget to take the additional elements into account as well for FODMAP content. (Check out the recipe at the bottom of the post for my favourite, festive cocktail!)

 

Drinking responsibly

In general, any potential benefits from alcohol don’t really outweigh the possible negative consequences. That being said, drinking alcohol is a personal choice, and it’s so interwoven into our social life that it’s understandable if you don’t want to abstain completely!

Just remember to enjoy it responsibly. While your country’s guidelines of alcohol consumption may vary, here in Belgium we recommend (for adults over the age of 18) a maximum of 10 units of alcohol per week, and several days with no alcohol.

One unit of alcohol is equal to:

  • 10g / 12.7mL pure alcohol
  • 250mL standard beer
  • 100mL wine
  • 50mL aperitif alcohol (sherry, port, etc.)
  • 35mL strong liquor (gin, vodka, etc.)

And, of course, remember the general recommendations: avoid alcohol when driving or operating machinery, if you’re pregnant, if you’re under 18 (and/or under the legal age in your country), when doing heavy physical activity, and talk to your doctor if you’re on any medications.

 

Practical tips for alcohol consumption 

  • Watch out for what you are mixing it with (pop, fruit juice, etc. could all contain FODMAPs or other triggers for you)
  • Abstaining might be the best option for you If you notice an increase in symptoms when drinking alcohol
  • Drink plenty of water: alternate each alcoholic drink with at least one glass of water
  • Consume food along with alcohol (but be sure to consider your food triggers)
  • Space out your drinks over a longer time frame
  • Swap in some non-alcoholic mocktails; no one has to know!
  • Avoid binge-drinking
IBS friendly cocktail mocktail, red cocktail in a glass surrounded by fresh cranberries and rosemary

IBS-friendly festive holiday gin & tonic:

Serves one

  • Ice
  • 35mL non-alcoholic gin
  • 35mL cranberry juice (check the ingredients list for any high-FODMAP additives)
  • Tonic water
  • Fresh rosemary and/or cranberries for garnish

Fill your glass with ice. Add in the cocktail ingredients in the order listed. Top off with your garnishes and enjoy!

 

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12 Tips to Achieve IBS Bloating Relief

12 Tips to Achieve IBS Bloating Relief

A woman outside in workout clothes holding a drawing of a happy gut; find bloating relief and reduce IBS

12 Tips to Achieve IBS Bloating Relief

Sick of feeling bloated?

After surveying more than a hundred women, in my private Facebook community, IBSuccess, I found that bloating was one of the IBS symptoms you struggle with the most.

Not knowing when it might happen causes stress and anxiety around the unpredictability of your situation.

You feel uncomfortable in your body and the risk of bloating and distension reduces your confidence and influences your clothing choices.

You want to be able to live your life without IBS holding you back anymore. Stop missing out on special moments and social events or having to duck out early.

 

I’ve been there too. Bloated, frustrated, looking for IBS relief.

Years ago, bloating was a pretty regular occurrence for me.

Multiple times a week (at least) I would feel heavy, bloated, have a distended gut (that 6-months pregnant look – I’m sure you know it!), and have painful cramps and spasms in my colon.

I didn’t know what was going on and had yet to be diagnosed.

I remember one weekend my boyfriend came to town and we went to grab some takeaway for dinner on Friday night.

I felt so gross and uncomfortable in my clothes; definitely not how I wanted to feel when I only got to see him on weekends!

I remember telling him…

“Let’s go get fries… it can’t get any worse than this anyway, I just can’t be bothered.”

Sound familiar? 

Cutting board with green vegetables and a drawing of the small and large intestines; a happy gut without bloating from IBS

It doesn’t have to be this way.

There are many different actions you can take to work on reducing the frequency of bloating and other pesky IBS symptoms from popping up.

But sometimes no matter how careful we are, the avoidable happens and that bloated, distended belly appears.

It can be easy to let your frustration ruin your day.

To just give up and let IBS take over control of your life.

Instead of going down that rabbit hole, I want to help you figure out how you can deal with that bloating, get rid of your bloated belly fast, and be able to move on with everything you want to do!

 

What you need to do to achieve bloating relief:

Everybody is different, so it might take a bit of trial and error to find the best method for you. But luckily, I have plenty of tips and tricks for you to use to make beating the bloat as easy and simple as possible!

So if bloating hits, instead of letting your day crash and burn, consider this your toolbox for finding relief and being able to move on!

Grab the free guide, Bye-Bye IBS Bloat for my top 12 tips on how you can find bloating relief.

 

READY TO FINALLY ACHIEVE IBS BLOATING RELIEF?

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8 Tips for Happy, Healthy Holidays with IBS

8 Tips for Happy, Healthy Holidays with IBS

View of a Christmas tree from above surrounded by presents, how to have a healthy holiday season with IBS

8 Tips for Happy, Healthy Holidays with IBS

The holiday season can be a challenging and stressful time of year – even without taking your irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) into account.

And while this year may look a bit different for you depending on the situation where you live, by keeping some tips in mind you’ll be more prepared than ever to navigate this time of year in a more healthy and less stressful way.

Check out the video below for all my healthy holiday tips!

This is an edited version of the monthly Facebook live of November in my free private community, IBSuccess. (Want to join? Click here!). It was a casual chat, so apologies for the overuse of “um”!

8 Tips for a Healthy Holiday Season:

✨Meal plan & prep ahead on the weekend.

While I go on about meal planning a lot, I don’t necessarily do it every week. But it is KEY for surviving these busy periods!⁠ Not only will you save money on your grocery bill by being as efficient as possible and minimizing take-away and convenience foods, but you’ll also be getting more more nutritious meals that will keep you full and fuelled for longer. Not to mention the precious weeknight time you’ll save on preparing dinner.


✨ Bring a homemade packed lunch.

Not only will you probably save money and cut down on food waste, but you’ll be making sure to get a nutrient-dense lunch in before any evening activities.⁠


✨ Front-load your nutrition. 

Focus on getting lots of veggies & protein in early in the day, since these will likely be lacking if you’re out for dinner.⁠ That way you can roll with whatever comes in the evening, knowing that you got some solid nutrition in already!


✨ Don’t deny yourself some indulgences! 

If you’re out at a party, start off with the “healthier” fare, but definitely still go for those cravings as well. The healthier options will fill you up first, helping to ensure you can still have those indulgences mindfully. This way you’re less likely to go overboard.

Decorative snowmen sitting in a row, how to have a healthy holiday season with IBS

✨ Swap out a couple alcoholic drinks for some non-alcoholic cocktails. 

Keep your alcohol consumption in moderation by, at the least, alternating with a non-alcoholic alternative. There are loads of fancy mocktail possibilities, and I bet most people won’t notice! You’ll definitely thank yourself in the morning when you sleep better and minimize the chance of a hangover.


✨ Prioritize sleep.

Sleep is key for recovering and building resiliency to stress. Not to mention this time of year kicks off cold and flu season, so your immune system could do with the boost. Even if sleep comes at the expense of something like exercise, this is a period of the year where this swap is worth it.⁠


✨ Know your non-negotiables for managing stress.

This will ensure you keep up with some form of self-care.⁠ While you might need to cut down on your self-care time to properly balance your schedule, make sure you’re not cutting it out completely! That time to yourself will help you recharge and have more energy to give to everything else that is going on.


✨ Practise saying no when needed. 

Recognize your limits or propose alternatives when certain requests are just too much.⁠ Everyone is busy at this time of year, so most people will understand if you turn down an invitation. Or think of alternative activities that won’t take all of your energy. Did a friend invite you to a holiday party that you know will be exhausting? Propose meeting for a lunch instead so you still get that time to connect. Or, maybe you want to throw a party of your own to see all your friends in one go, rather than attend a million different functions.

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