Have you ever been given nutrition advice that seemed a bit off? You'd be surprised by what we've heard.
In a digital world with conflicting health and wellness advice, it’s hard to know what’s right from what’s bulls**t (BS). Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a particularly confusing gut condition. Not only does IBS vary from one person to the next, but even the same person will experience very different gut symptoms from one day to the next. If you google ‘IBS relief’, you’ll see a long list of wellness coaches and influencers recommending their ‘quick fixes’ and ‘home remedies’. But this advice will often do more harm than good.
In celebration of IBS awareness month, I enlisted the help of gut health expert Aine Coleman (RNutr) to help me take the BS out of IBS. We asked our followers, friends, and family for questionable nutrition advice they’ve heard or received in the past. Here’s what they said, and where it sits on Aine and Caitlin’s BS-o-meter.
Colon cleanses help ‘reset’ the gut
BS-o-meter rating: 10
We’ve recently seen a huge rise in commercial colon cleanses. For context, colon cleanses come in many different forms, including capsules, laxatives, and enemas. What we’re focusing on here is colonic irrigation, where large amounts of water are flushed through your large intestine. On several private clinic websites, you’ll read that colon cleanses help to reset or detoxify the gut, resolve gut health issues, reduce bloating, and help lose weight.
Firstly, there is no scientific evidence to show that colon cleanses can achieve any of the above benefits. Secondly, many private clinics administering colonics are not regulated, which means that the quality, safety, and hygienic conditions will vary a lot. In some cases, they may exacerbate gut health issues – like abdominal pain, bloating, infections, and dehydration. It’s also likely that your gut microbiota will be ‘flushed’ out along the way, which might reduce the health and diversity of this delicate ecosystem.
Our advice is to ditch the detoxes and cleanses, and leave that work to the liver and kidneys. If you experience a lot of bloating, gas and stomach pain, we highly recommend talking to a nutrition or healthcare professional who will be able to address the root cause underlying your symptoms.
A gluten free diet is best for IBS
BS-o-meter rating: 7
It's true that some people with IBS might be sensitive to foods containing gluten, particularly wheat. Wheat products are often high in FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols). While some people might need to restrict or limit the amount of these specific FODMAPs in their diet, they don’t need to adhere to a strict gluten-free diet to achieve this. Gluten-free products often have less fibre and nutrients than their gluten-containing counterparts, so unnecessarily removing all forms of gluten may cause more long-term harm than good.
A very important consideration for people experiencing diarrhoea, fatigue, and abdominal pain is to get tested for Coeliac disease. Coeliac disease is a life-long medical condition which requires a strict, 100% gluten free diet. Ruling out Coeliac disease is important before exploring your tolerance of gluten-containing FODMAP foods.
Don’t swallow seeds as our bodies can’t digest them
BS-o-meter rating: 5
This is kind of an interesting one as some of this advice is correct. Yes, we shouldn’t be swallowing any food without thoroughly chewing it (chewing is a critical part of the mechanical digestion process). And yes, it’s true that seeds are not fully digested by the human body. But that’s exactly the point!
The fibre component found in seeds, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and grains are not digested by the human body. Instead, they pass through to the large intestine where they provide food for our gut microbiota. Our microbiota ferment fibre to produce anti-inflammatory substances called Short-Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs). SCFAs help promote a healthy gut lining, enhance nutrient absorption, prevent harmful pathogens, and reduce inflammation.
So yes, consume a variety of seeds and nuts, chew them thoroughly, and let our gut microbes do the hard work.
Never eat fruit and vegetables together
BS-o-meter rating: 10
This is another silly one with no evidence to back it up. In fact, there's many examples where combining fruits and vegetables is beneficial to health:
- Combining fruits high in vitamin C (like kiwis and lemon) with leafy green vegetables can maximise the absorption of iron (super important for vegetarians and vegans)
- A cold potato salad with watermelon or apple is a great way to reduce the overall blood sugar response – helping to balance energy levels and appetite.
Our bodies are well-equipped to deal with different types of foods together – whether it's fruit, vegetables, meat or grains. And more importantly, who has the time or mental energy to eat foods separately anyway?
Only shop the perimeter of the supermarket
BS-o-meter rating: 5
Aine hadn’t heard of this one (not sure if it’s big in Ireland), but this one is something I’ve been taught from a young age. At the heart of this message, it’s saying that if you shop the perimeter of the supermarket, you’ll only be purchasing fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, and seafood while avoiding highly-processed foods. While this is partly true, the middle isles also have a whole lot of good stuff too!
Canned lentils, beans, wholegrain wraps, pasta, tomato passata, herbs, and spices to name a few. Don’t restrict yourself to the outside because someone has told you the middle isles are exclusively full of artificial, processed foods.
Sugar causes leaky gut
BS-o-meter rating: 10
Firstly, leaky gut syndrome is not a valid diagnosis. A more accepted term for this is called ‘intestinal permeability’ which refers to the cells of the gut lining becoming slightly more permeable and ‘leaky’ in response to a number of diet or environmental factors (e.g., alcohol, antibiotics, Coeliac disease, or stress). It's not a permanent state or disease. And there is no evidence to show that sugar causes a leaky gut!
If you suspect you have increased intestinal permeability, talk with your GP who can help rule out more serious conditions like Coeliac disease or Inflammatory Bowel Disease. If it’s IBS, you can start to work through a number of different dietary, environmental, or lifestyle factors that might be causing your symptoms.
Drink your fruit and vegetables
BS-o-meter rating: 9
If you enjoy fresh juices and smoothies, go for it! However, know that this will probably not help your IBS symptoms and could even exacerbate bloating, gas, and pain (especially if using a straw).
Juicing also strips the fibre from fruit and vegetables (aka., removing the pulp). Taking away the fibre removes all of the beneficial effects on gut health, as well as resulting in rapid rises in blood sugar levels. This will leave you feeling lousy, fatigued, and hungry soon after your juice.
Sick of the BS? So are we.
At myota, we’ve done almost a decade of research to create high-quality fibres mixes that both relieve IBS symptoms and restore long-term gut health. Find out about our products here. For 50% off your first order, use COLEMAN50 at the checkout.
See the full interview between Caitlin and Aine at @myotaguthealth.
Written by Caitlin Hall (APD, PhD)
Chief Dietitian at myota
Accredited Practising Dietitian
PhD in Gut-Brain Axis