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How’s that fruit salad going down? Isn’t it just the most refreshing thing and so sweet? But you know that saying, “too much of a good thing”? Well, it could be the case when it comes to your five a day. That’s because what you might not realise, as you nosedive into your pineapple, strawberry and kiwi medley, is that you’re putting your gut under serious pressure. In fact, it’s probably not the bread that’s behind your bloat at all. It’s the amount of fruit and veg your mainlining, and it’s a common side effect.
Regardless of being natural whole foods, fruit contains a lot of fructose and sorbitol (a sugar alcohol) that can both cause inflammation, bloating and unwanted pressure on your digestive system. The way the gut breaks these down is also different to that of your bog standard white sugar (sucrose), which is why you might feel fine after a dairy milk but look like you’ve swallowed a balloon after eating a bag of grapes.
The thing with fruit is that it has a tendency to sit in the gut and start fermenting, and if you’ve been swotting up on your kombucha and sauerkraut skills, you’ll know that once the fermenting process kicks in, what’s crammed in your Kilner jar will start releasing tiny bubbles of gas. The same goes for your gut after you’ve gobbled those grapes. As they begin to ferment, your stomach will start to swell and bloat and cause more gas to whizz around your insides.
Fruit and veg are also full of fibre. Yes, it’s another buzzword on the healthy list, but again, fibre can be hard to digest, despite many experts testifying you need vast amounts of it to get your bowels moving. In fact, many people seeking medical help for more severe IBS symptoms are advised to try a low fibre diet to see if their condition improves. That means that instead of wholemeal, it’s back to white bread and raw veg, and fruits with seeds and pulses are out.
“Human beings cannot digest fibre, but a healthy gut microbiome thrives on fibre and needs it to grow and function well. However, if the bacteria in the gut are not very strong, are in the wrong place (too far up the intestinal tract), or you have the wrong types of bacteria in the gut, then bloating can be a major issue,” explains clinical nutritionist, Stephanie Moore.
What's the plan of action then?
It’s these findings that are behind the low-FODMAP diet that eliminates all the potential bloaters that are lurking in the fruit and veg aisle. That basically means anything containing complex fibres and sugars that can’t break down properly. Apples, mangos, cherries, mushrooms, asparagus, peas and cauliflower are off menu, although most green vegs are okay. There’s an entire guide of things you can and can’t eat, and it’s an intense trial and error process, which is why both the low-fibre and FODMAP diets are only intended as temporary measures while you try and work out your triggers.
There’s also the quick-fix four-day plan you’ll find in Romy Dolle’s Fruit Belly book. A speed de-bloating session that still incorporates fruit and veg in your life but only non-gassy ones, it’s a mix of soups, salads and protein that have been found to reset your insides, so in less than a week, you’ll have a flat belly to flaunt. As with the low fibre and FODMAP, it’s not a food plan for weight loss, and the focus is on helping your insides get rid of excess water retention and trapped wind quickly and effectively.
A good option if you need to smooth your stomach in double-quick time, but in the long run, maybe dial down on the fruit binges, and make sure you cook your veg more. Raw is easy on the prep but not on the digestion.
“Raw veg has a lot of hard-to-break-down cellulose, which is an insoluble fibre that is not very useful for us and can generate a lot of wind,” continues Moore. “Blanching or steaming veg will break these harsh fibre down and limit the problem.”
Maybe think about roasting your carrot crudités next time? Scroll down to see the biggest fruity offenders.
Loaded with fructose, apples are one of the first fruits FODMAP labels off-menu. Try cutting it out, and see if your waistband retracts. And if you can’t resist, just have a few slices. Hold off on the apple juice as well, it can cause similar side effects.
Remember what we said about fruit with pips and stones? It’s nature’s way of telling you they contain fructose and polyols that have a tendency to drag water through the bowel and lead to fermentation. Skins can be tricky to break down, too, which is why ripe, juicy cherries could well be mini bloat bombs waiting to go off.
Sweet, juicy pears are delicious, and they get the thumbs up for lowering cholesterol, but in addition to fructose, they also contain sorbitol, which means you have double the chance of seeing your stomach swell. Sad times.
Pick yourself up off the floor—the precious avo could be behind your bloat. Like cherries (note the stone in the middle), avocados contain sugar polyols, which take longer to travel through the intestine, so they have more time to ferment. Try sticking to eggs only for a week at brekkie, and see what happens.
A concentrated source of sugar and fibre, it doesn’t take a GP to diagnose that if your tummy is tender, munching Medjool dates might not be a good idea. It’s worth applying the same school of thought to those healthy snack bars that tend to use dried fruit as the base.
The Short Story:
Fruit contains a lot of fructose and sorbitol (a sugar alcohol) that can both cause inflammation, bloating and unwanted pressure on your digestive system.
The fruit ferments in the gut releasing tiny bubbles of air.
The fibre in fruit and vegetables is also difficult to digest, so while it may help fill you up, it can contribute to IBS-type symptoms.
The top five culprits are apples, cherries, pears, avocados and dried fruits.