A few days after the Anzac Day long weekend - a period in which I ate approximately thirty Anzac biscuits, an entire pizza and more pasta than I care to remember - I decided I needed to clean up my diet. Apart from this bacchanalian weekend, which is not typical for me, I eat pretty well.
I’m an oatmeal-for-brekky, fruit-for-snacks kinda gal. But I also subscribed to the theory that it was always 5 o’clock somewhere, and that chocolate was a necessary part of a busy lady’s day. But after the weekend of gluttony, I knew I needed quite the overhaul. It was time to really put that whole Michael Pollan ‘eat food, not too much, mostly plants’ thing that I’d heard time and time again into practice.
So I started to eat more fruit and veg. Like, way more fruit and veg. Instead of my morning oatmeal, I’d have poached eggs over steamed spinach and roast tomatoes. At 11am, I’d cut up a bowl of fruit and feast away. At lunchtime, I stuck to big, leafy salads with a little protein. In the afternoons, I cut two capsicums into baton-sized sticks and munched away happily. At dinner, I ate a bit of meat and a lot of veg. (In the interests of full disclosure, and not being a total wanker, I should tell you that I still had that chocolate - a lone Lindt ball while watching Grace and Frankie - and I still believed in the wine theory, I just didn’t exercise my right to a glass quite so often).
And it worked: I felt better. It turned out I liked eating big bowls of vegetable soup and stir-fries full of gai larn, I really, really did. I began to change physically, too. My stomach was flatter, and my waist was shrinking, little by little. This was all to be expected: most fruit and vegetables are very low in calories, so by mostly eating them, I would consume fewer kilojoules overall. So far, so normal.
And then I started to notice something… strange.
I could not stop farting.
I once read a study that claimed that the average Australian woman farts seven times a day. Let me tell you, I was eclipsing her by a factor of three. At least.
My own emissions were proof that I was doing my body good - at a cost to my dignity.
It was embarrassing. I was completely grossed out, when I wasn’t laughing at myself. My husband and daughter led the charge, giving me new nicknames I will refrain from repeating here. I couldn’t figure out what was going on: all three of us would eat the same meal at night, and yet I’d be the only one tooting their way to bed. What was up?
In desperation, I finally Googled, “I am farting way too much.” And something amazing happened: amid the hundreds of thousands of results, I found a video called “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” from a prominent scientist, Dr Robert Lustig, in which he annihilates the sugar industry.
An endocrinologist who researches obesity and its causes, Lustig talked about the difference between eating fructose (found in fruits) and sucrose (table sugar). When we eat fructose, we usually also eat the fibre that fruit contains.
Fibre helps us feel full and inhibits absorption of fatty acids, as well as generates the production of short chain fatty acids, which suppress insulin. All good reasons to eat lots and lots of fibre. But I was interested in something else. Buried in the 90-minute speech, in this short passage on fibre, Lustig says, “As far as I'm concerned, in life you've got two choices – it’s either fart or be fat.”
Immediately I thought, “That’s me! I don’t want to be fat, so I’m farting!” I Googled the phrase and found dozens of blogs on the topic (and even one blog named Fart or Be Fat). Amazing! I called nutritionist Jacqueline Alwill for her take - what did Lustig mean by fart or be fat?
“What’s happening is that the bacteria in your colon that produce gas feed on dietary fibre,” she says. “When you eat more fibre, there’s more for the bacteria to feast on, and so, they’re able to be more productive.” Lustig - like every health expert in the world - wants us to eat less processed food and more whole foods that are high in fibre. Ergo - fart, or be fat. My own emissions were proof that I was doing my body good - at a cost to my dignity.
Cooking will break down some of the nutrients and microbes so my own system doesn’t have so much to do.
I nodded with dread as Alwill told me about some especially nasty culprits. Foods like cabbage, broccoli, onions, Brussels sprouts, peas, garlic and leeks, she says, are excellent fuel for one particular bacteria that produces gas - the one that makes gas smell. Ah. These high-fibre veggies contain a heap of sulphites, which react with that particular bacteria (amazingly, only about 60 per cent of us have it, meaning the other 40 per cent don’t produce smelly flatulence) and emit a stink. Ew, right?
Alwill laughs. “You shouldn’t be embarrassed by farting,” she says. “Especially when it’s the natural by-product of simply eating a healthier diet. It’s normal.” Still, I ask her, crossing my fingers, can I look forward to a time when I don’t need to leave the room every time I eat Brussels sprouts? “Over time, your body will get used to the increased fibre,” she assures me, “and things will even out.”
I can up my intake of cooked vegetables to cut down on the problem, says Alwill, as cooking will break down some of the nutrients and microbes so my own system doesn’t have so much to do. And apart from that, Alwill urges me to drink lots of water, to compensate for the increased fibre intake, go for a quick walk - even five minutes - after a big meal, to aid digestion, and sip on peppermint tea between batons of capsicum. She also suggests chewing each mouthful around 20 times so that food is better able to be digested once it reaches the large intestine.
A month later, and Alwill is right. I’m still eating a heap of fresh fruit and veg, but my body is no longer betraying me quite so loudly. I’m relieved - and so is my family.
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