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Fibre for IBS

Is Eating Soluble Fibre First Really Worth It?

June 01, 202310 min read

“The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.” - James A. Garfield

At last, you think to yourself; you've found the solution to your IBS struggles. Just eat soluble fibre first!

Before we dive in, let’s quickly look at the journey of food through the gut so you know where I’m coming from – and I’ll keep it simple...

 

The gut is basically a tube (of varying shapes and sizes with lots of different roles) going from your mouth to your bum (to put it bluntly) (1).

You put food in your mouth, chew it, swallow it and it goes into your stomach.

Random info: Your stomach can increase by 10-15 times it’s empty state (depending how big a meal you have) (2). That’s how stretchy the stomach is!

Your stomach is like a J-shaped sack that temporarily stores food, while it churns the food with digestive juices which helps to break it down (3).

This sloppy, thick mixture then goes into the small intestine.

The small intestine is a long, thin tube which also breaks down food but also absorbs nutrients, before it enters the large intestine (4).

The large intestine, also known as the large bowel or colon, absorbs water (and some electrolytes) and forms poo (4), which is stored until it’s ready to be passed into the toilet (or maybe even a bush if you get caught short 😳 ).

  

So, why eat soluble fibre first?

Well, according to an influential person on IBS (who has no relevant formal qualifications and training), they recommend eating soluble fibre first because:

"... it reduces your risk of symptoms with IBS trigger foods."

 

They also say soluble fibre is the single greatest aid to preventing IBS symptoms.

And by the way, they sell soluble fibre supplements!

 

Ok, so you’ve got to eat soluble fibre FIRST, eh...

There’s two main issues with this recommendation.

 

💥 ISSUE 1:

👉 Unless you’re having a soluble fibre SUPPLEMENT, how are you going to separate the soluble fibre out of your meal (or snack)?!

... Because you don’t eat nutrients in isolation!

 

Foods contain a mix of different nutrients and compounds, including soluble fibre and insoluble fibre (- soluble – how well it dissolves in water) (5).

And, fibre has various characteristics beyond simply being soluble or insoluble (6). Because fibre can also be:

  • Fermentable (how easily it can be broken down by bacteria in our gut) and

  • Viscous (which refers its ability to form a gel when mixed with water) (7).

 

These properties affect how fibre works in our gut and what it does in our bodies, such as influencing the amount of nutrients our body can absorb, how quickly food moves through our digestive system, how our poo is formed, and the types of bacteria that thrive in our gut (7).

So, simply focusing on soluble fibre won’t address all potential triggers because certain fermentable fibres like fructans, can trigger symptoms in people with IBS due to the fermentation process.

Think of how they make beer and all the foamy bubbles – it’s a bit like that, but in the large intestine where the bacteria feed on these fibres and produce gas... causing symptoms such as wind, bloating, stomach pains and diarrhoea.

 

💥 ISSUE 2:

When you eat a meal/snack, it all ends up in your stomach TOGETHER!

Suppose you're having breakfast and you’re following this person's advice to base your meal on soluble fibre.

You decide to have porridge with hazelnuts and chopped apple since these foods are deemed good sources of soluble fibre, according to your Google search.

However, you're also aware that you need protein for exercise recovery (8), and because you did some weight training before breakfast, you decide to have a couple of boiled eggs as well.

So, following the order specified, you eat the porridge rich in soluble fibre first, followed by the apple and nuts, and finally, the eggs.

And you wash it all down with a nice mug of coffee and a large glass of orange juice (because you know the importance of good hydration).

Now that you’ve finished your meal, you don’t expect to get any symptoms, right? After all, you've diligently stuck to their advice of eating soluble fibre first...

 

Well, not so fast! Hold your horses before you start celebrating.

 

Because in this little scenario, although you faithfully ate the food in the prescribed order, this has all gone out of the window because everything you’ve just eaten (and drunk) is now in your stomach all being mixed up and churned together.

TOGETHER. Rather than being separated as intended.

 

This raises the question: What was the point of specifically eating that soluble fibre-rich porridge first?!

 

Also, those foods and drinks that you had for breakfast contain components that may trigger your symptoms (9), regardless of what order you ate them in.

And even if you did eat a food rich in soluble fibre on its own, like maybe some pearl barley cooked in water and you had nothing else with it, barley has got components in it that can cause gut symptoms in some people.

 

So what are you meant to do? ... eat single nutrient supplements only?!

And leave several hours between eating soluble fibre and anything else?!

There are other issues regarding their recommendation, such as...

ISSUE 3:

With fibre, it’s not just the TYPE of fibre but also the AMOUNT that needs to be considered (10) – not just thinking in terms of soluble fibre.

This is because if you start eating shedloads of high fibre foods, you can get gut symptoms like wind and bloating, especially if you’re not drinking enough fluids as well (7).

 

ISSUE 4:

Making soluble fibre foods the biggest portion on your plate and eating these first – will you end up too full to eat the other foods on your plate (because high fibre foods are filling (11))?

If you heavily focus on eating soluble fibre, is it going to be at the detriment of other nutrients?

And if you follow this person’s other advice for IBS then you’ll be avoiding foods contain fats. But fat provides the body with energy, essential fatty acids (better known as omega-3 and omega-6), and helps with the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K (12).

I’m not going to go into all the saturated and unsaturated fat stuff here, because that’s a whole topic in itself!

 

ISSUE 5:

Now that the food is in your stomach, getting all mixed up and broken down, it doesn’t stop there. Obviously, it’s got to travel through the rest of your body for you to get the nutrients and remove anything it doesn’t need.

So although you ate that fibre food first, it’s NOT “first in, first out”.

There are lots of different factors that influences what leaves your stomach and when, to go into the small intestine (13).

This is called gastric emptying. "Gast-what?"

Yep, gastric emptying. And it's a crucial factor to consider.

Because gastric emptying refers to the rate at which the stomach releases its contents into the small intestine (14).

The speed at which the stomach empties is influenced by complex neural and hormonal signals produced in response to the food’s composition (2).

Factors include the physical and chemical properties of the food, such as whether it’s in liquid or solid form, the size of its particles, the volume of the meal, and the calorie content (14,15).

For example, fibre slows down stomach emptying (14), and it also affects the movements of the gut and how quickly food moves through the system (7,15).

 

But there are other factors that affect this too, such as certain medications (14), and a condition called “gastroparesis” (pronounced: “gastro-par-ree-sis”).

This is where the stomach doesn’t empty in the normal way – it’s slower, so the food sits in the stomach longer than normal, making you feel fuller sooner and for longer, and can cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and bloating (1,16).

💥 Hopefully you haven’t got that – if you think you have, don’t guess – get properly checked out by your physician.

 

The next thing to consider is after the food leaves the stomach, which now doesn’t look like food (!), is the speed at which it passes through the rest of the gut, as this can cause symptoms too.

As can the state of your gut health along with a load of other factors like stress and anxiety (9).

  

👍 With everything that I've just said, it’s IMPORTANT to remember that fibre in general is very healthful and beneficial (11).

... But it’s a matter of knowing what you’re doing when it comes to what foods to eat that are not only nutritious and beneficial for general health and wellbeing, but also managing your IBS (and meeting your exercise and recovery needs if you regularly train).

 

And I appreciate it's difficult to know what to do, because it seems everyone's an expert with an opinion.

You can avoid the traps that drain your time, money and energy by being able to spot a fake guru from a genuine professional.

👉 So, while the idea of eating soluble fibre FIRST may sound appealing because it supposedly reduces your risk of symptoms with IBS trigger foods, the REALITY is more COMPLEX.

Find out what it REALLY takes to overcome IBS, so you can be firing on all cylinders again and no longer miss out on promotions, opportunities or have to quit on your dreams by booking your confidential call.

   

 


References

1.     Wilkinson, I. B., Raine, T., Wiles, K., Anna, G., Hall, C. & O’Neill, H. (2017). Oxford handbook of clinical medicine. 10th Ed. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

2.     Goyal, R. K., Guo, Y., & Mashimo, H. (2019). Advances in the physiology of gastric emptying. Neurogastroenterology & Motility, 31(4), e13546.

3.     Gandy, J. (Ed.). (2019). Manual of dietetic practice. John Wiley & Sons.

4.     Lomer, M. (Ed.). (2014). Advanced nutrition and dietetics in gastroenterology. John Wiley & Sons.

5.     Sethi, S., Joshi, A., Arora, B., Chauhan, O. P. (2022). Chemical Composition of Foods. In: Chauhan, O.P. (eds) Advances in Food Chemistry. Springer, Singapore.

6.     So, D., Gibson, P. R., Muir, J. G., & Yao, C. K. (2021). Dietary fibres and IBS: Translating functional characteristics to clinical value in the era of personalised medicine. Gut, 70(12), 2383-2394.

7.     Gill, S. K., Rossi, M., Bajka, B., & Whelan, K. (2021). Dietary fibre in gastrointestinal health and disease. Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology, 18(2), 101-116.

8.     Burke, L., Deakin, V., & Minehan, M. (2021). Clinical sports nutrition. 6th Ed. McGraw-Hill, Sydney.

9.     Vasant, D. H., Paine, P. A., Black, C. J., Houghton, L. A., Everitt, H. A., Corsetti, M., ... & Ford, A. C. (2021). British Society of Gastroenterology guidelines on the management of irritable bowel syndrome. Gut, 70(7), 1214-1240.

10.  NICE. (2017). Irritable bowel syndrome in adults: Diagnosis and management. Clinical guideline [CG61]

11.  Barber, T. M., Kabisch, S., Pfeiffer, A. F. H., Weickert, M. O. (2020). The health benefits of dietary fibre. Nutrients, 12(10), 3209.

12.  Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN). Saturated fats and health (2019). The Stationery Office. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/saturated-fats-and-health-sacn-report

13.  Liu, W., Jin, Y., Wilde, P. J., Hou, Y., Wang, Y., & Han, J. (2021). Mechanisms, physiology, and recent research progress of gastric emptying. Critical Reviews In Food Science And Nutrition, 61(16), 2742-2755.

14.  Farrell, M. B. (2019). Gastric emptying scintigraphy. Journal Of Nuclear Medicine Technology, 47(2), 111-119.

15.  Camilleri, M., Kuo, B., Nguyen, L., Vaughn, V. M., Petrey, J., Greer, K., ... & Abell, T. L. (2022). ACG clinical guideline: Gastroparesis. The American Journal of Gastroenterology, 117(8), 1197-1220.

16.  NHS. (2023). Gastroparesis. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/gastroparesis/

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