If you’re experiencing a digestion problem, your immediate reaction may be to overhaul your diet. But before you start filling your fridge, beware of these myths.
If you’re experiencing any kind of digestion problem, your instinct is probably to stock up on foods that could help. So, you max out on fibre, cut out bread, drink a kombucha a day and pop a probiotic supplement, right? Stop. Being mindful of the nutrients you put into your body is a great way to rebalance your gut, but there are a number of myths to be aware of first.
The gut health industry is booming
As society has woken up to the benefits of looking after digestive health, the food and supplements industry has responded by filling shelves with gut-friendly food options.
Unfortunately, this commercialisation of digestive health has also led to the circulation of a misunderstanding about some aspects of gut-friendly foods. As a result, some well-intentioned changes to your diet may actual hinder rather than support your digestive system.
5 gut-friendly food myths
There are a few golden rules that most dieticians agree on when it comes to supplying your gut with the right nutrients to aid the digestion process. Drink plenty of water, cut down on fatty foods, increase fibre and limit or avoid certain types of drinks – carbonated and caffeinated beverages in particular.1
Following these rules, however, isn’t as straightforward as it may seem.
Here are five common myths about foods that help digestion and our nutritionists expert opinion to help:
Myth #1: Gluten is bad for your gut
For people with coeliac disease or non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, wheat-based foods can cause them a whole world of digestive distress. However, for most people, gluten doesn’t warrant the bad reputation it’s gained in recent years.
“People who cut gluten from their diet when they don’t have a diagnosed intolerance or a digestive condition like coeliac disease are unnecessarily restricting the diversity of bacteria in their gut,” says Holland & Barrett nutritionist, Emily Rollason. “For example, they could be needlessly missing out on some of the unique fibre benefits provided by some foods containing whole grains.”
Myth #2: Taking a probiotic will work miracles
The digestion process is complex. Expecting a dose of friendly bacteria to automatically solve all of your tummy troubles is unrealistic. Friendly bacteria, whether sourced naturally from food or through a probiotic supplement could offer some great benefits for your gut.
“The impact of friendly bacteria on reducing bloating and other digestive issues varies significantly depending on an individual’s specific gut microbiome,” Emily says. “Friendly bacteria might work well for some but may not be the most suitable product for someone else.”
Myth #3: More fibre is best
Fibre keeps bowel movements regular and this may help reduce constipation. It’s no surprise that when talking about foods that help digestion, it’s a food group that always comes towards the top of any list. However, what’s less discussed is the effect of consuming too much.
“Most people benefit from a moderate increase in fibre intake, but around 30g per is plenty2” says Emily. “Water is also needed to help fibre to pass through the digestive tract. Increasing fibre and not increasing water can worsen constipation. Certain types of fibre can also aggravate IBS symptoms, particularly for those with IBS – D (diarrhoea prominent IBS).”
Myth #4: Irritable bowel syndrome is all about diet
For many people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), their symptoms tend to get worse following a meal. But food and eating aren’t the sole causes of IBS. And there’s not a single IBS diet that will reduce symptoms for everyone with IBS.
“Food sensitivities and a diet low in fibre, for example, may contribute to IBS symptoms,” says Emily. “But many other things can exacerbate symptoms or be a cause of IBS. For example, sex hormones and psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety.”
Myth #5: It worked for my friend, it will work for me too
Your friend, colleague, or even a family member might find a diet rich in fermented foods a good option that may help with you constipation, but you might get better results from another food source.
“Everyone is different,” says Emily. “Whilst one person can feel a benefit from increasing ‘prebiotic’ foods such as garlic, onions, asparagus, other people might find that a large increase in these foods causes an increase in digestive upset symptoms. It’s essential to find out what works for you.”
Summary: Are there foods that help digestion?
Yes, there’s science and anecdotal evidence galore that suggests increasing certain gut-friendly foods can support good gut health. However, some of the most well-known foods that help digestion might not support your gut in exactly the way you expect. This is down to us all having a unique gut microbiome.
So, if you want to learn what’s best to eat for your gut health, it’s not about following trends and diets, it’s about finding the optimal diet for you.
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Last updated: 15 June 2020
2 As above