Switching to anti-inflammatory foods with a large amount of plants is a positive experience for most people – you get a lot of energy, you sleep better and, in general, you feel more content about your physical health. However, this doesn’t apply to everyone, and for some people the switch to a more healthy diet can make them feel worse, at least in the beginning, as the body gets used to the new foods. What causes this? And how can we manage this problem so that we don’t lose out on all the goodness in the anti-inflammatory foods?
Fibre can cause reactions
Fruits, vegetables, legumes and other plant foods contain a lot of fibre, which is healthy and important for our bodies, not least for our good gut bacteria. For people with sensitive intestines or an imbalance in the gut flora, too much fibre at once can cause reactions in the stomach and intestines, such as gas, bloating, or a slackness/hardness of the stomach, for example. The solution, however, doesn’t need to be that you completely cut out these healthy ingredients, as there are simple methods we can use to get the body accustomed to the increased fibre intake and help with digestion.
Why do we need fibre?
Fibre is a type of carbohydrate that passes through the digestive system undigested and has several health benefits. For example, a high fibre content lowers the glycaemic index, which means the effect on blood sugar is reduced.
There are also different types of fibre that perform different functions – non-soluble fibres bind liquids, increase the volume of stools, and ensure that the intestines can do their work, while soluble fibres create a gel when they come in contact with water, which can affect cholesterol levels in the blood, among other things. The soluble fibres also function as energy for our vital gut bacteria, and for some specific fibres that are hard to digest, there are just a few strains of bacteria that can metabolise them. If you’re not used to eating fibre, it’s not impossible that these bacteria strains could be missing or at least very few in number.
How to get your body accustomed to fibre
According to Scandinavian nutritional recommendations, we should take in at least 25-35 grams of fibre per day, but unfortunately a lot of us are nowhere near this amount. And some people react to an increased intake of fibre with stomach problems, which can result in an unwillingness towards eating more fibre-rich foods. But you can get the body accustomed to an increased fibre intake – and here are our best tips:
9 tips for people who get stomach pains from fibre
- A little at a time – Start by adding a little fruit and veg to one or two of your daily meals and increase the amount only when it feels right for your body.
- Steam or lightly cook – Sometimes it can be easier for the body to handle vegetables which are cooked lightly, such as by steaming, compared to when they are totally raw. The intake of some nutrients is also improved by heating them – for example, lycopenes in tomatoes.
- Think about how you mix and combine different ingredients – The body can sometimes react if we mix too many different raw vegetables in one meal, so always try to scale down the amount of ingredients per meal to 3 or 4. Also, keep in mind that fruit is broken down twice as quickly as other foods, such as root vegetables, grains and animal products. So, it can be a good idea to eat fruit on an empty stomach, or before your meal.
- Check how you eat – try to eat slowly and chew properly so that your saliva and digestive enzymes can be secreted and start to process the food. This makes the digestive process easier. Read more about mindful eating here.
- Don’t tar all fibres with the same brush – Try adding and subtracting different fibre-rich foods one by one to identify which cause problems – it’s probably fewer than you think! Generally most people have a harder time breaking down non-soluble fibres (grain products), while soluble fibres (fruits and vegetables) are usually more easily digestible.
- Drink more water – Non-soluble fibres bind liquids together and soluble fibres need water to build their healthy gel. So, it’s important to drink plenty of water when you eat a fibre-rich diet. If you increase your daily fibre intake, you should always make sure you drink a bit more water.
- Check for other allergies and sensitivities – Sometimes it’s not the fibres that cause stomach problems but other substances in the plant foods – so double check that you don’t have any allergies. Another factor that can cause problems for some people is what’s known as antinutrients, which are often found in large amounts in legumes. The effect of these antinutrients can be greatly reduced by soaking all of your dried legumes (also nuts and seeds) and making sure they are properly rinsed.
- Check your lifestyle – sleep, stress, and too much sitting can all affect our gut bacteria as well as the function of our gut, and can also have an effect on our general health and quality of life. In other words – get plenty of sleep, find healthy methods for stress management, and be sure to exercise regularly.
- Try a dietary supplement – Sometimes a dietary supplement can be a simple short cut to make the digestive process easier. We suggest trying a synbiotic supplement that strengthens your gut flora and digestive enzymes.
Scandinavian nutritional recommendations
Swedish National Food Administration