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Katie: Hello, and welcome to the “Wellness Mama Podcast.” I’m Katie from wellnessmama.com and wellnesse.com. That’s wellness with an “E” on the end. And this episode goes deep on gut health, fiber deficiency, food intolerances, FODMAPs, histamine, and so much more.
I’m here with Dr. Will Bulsiewicz who has written extensively on this topic. He goes by Dr. B on the internet. He’s an award-winning gastroenterologist and internationally recognized gut health expert in the “New York Times Publisher’s Weekly,” “USA Today,” and Indie Bound-bestselling author of the books “Fiber Fueled,” and “The Fiber Fueled Cookbook,” which I will link to in the show notes. He has helped thousands and thousands of people to help reverse their food intolerances and resolve gut issues, and he goes into his process for this extensively in these two books.
In this episode, we talk a lot about food intolerance versus allergies versus aversions, what causes food intolerances, and how to reverse them, the most common allergen foods, why food intolerance doesn’t involve the immune system, and what’s going on instead, how to pinpoint foods that you might be intolerant to, you can do this at home with no extensive testing required, his temporary elimination strategy for accurately pinpointing intolerances and his growth method for figuring out which foods are causing trouble and resolving that.
He talks about what FODMAPs are and why it’s worth avoiding them for a time if you’re having issues, how to retrain your gut, and why the gut can start adapting in as little as one day when you make dietary changes, his framework for timing and reintroducing foods after an elimination diet, the importance of fiber which fuel both of these books, why fiber is food for your gut microbiome and why 19 out of 20 people are deficient right now, and much, much more. So much information in this episode. He has an absolute wealth of knowledge. And without any further wait, let’s join Dr. B. Dr. B., welcome. Thanks for being here.
Dr. Will: Thank you so much, Katie. I’m excited to be here. Excited to talk all about gut health.
Katie: Yes. I have a bunch of questions for you because it seems like from my audience, I’m hearing about a lot of kids especially, seem to have more food intolerance. It seems to be problems that are on the rise. And I know you have written and educated extensively on this and a lot of the subtopics around it that we’re gonna go deep on today.
To start off a little bit broad though, you just wrote a cookbook that I believe is right next to you, if anyone’s watching the video, called “The Fiber Fueled Cookbook,” and… Oh, perfect. And it talks a whole lot about food intolerance. And this is something I have dealt with in the past with a couple of my kids, and I think a lot of parents deal with at some point, either themselves or their children. So, to start broad, what inspired the book, and then we’ll maybe go into a little bit about what causes food intolerances?
Dr. Will: Sure. So, hello, everyone. I’m happy to be here. And this is actually my second book. My first book was called “Fiber Fueled,” and came out in May of 2020. I did not know what was gonna happen. The pandemic was unfolding, my medical practice as a gastroenterologist was effectively closed. It was a very weird time in my life. And the book made “The New York Times” bestseller list, and has sold 200,000 copies.
And with that has come a lot of attention, a lot of feedback, and a lot of people who reach out to me and say, hey, Dr. B., like, I love the book. I want to eat this way, which, basically, just to kind of cut to the chase, we’ll talk about this more, but it basically means increasing the varieties of plants in your diet, no matter where your dietary preference lies, just kind of making sure that you’re increasing the variety.
And so they say to me, “I wanna eat this way, but I’m struggling. I don’t feel well. I’m having, you know, bloating, or gas, or cramping pain, or diarrhea, or constipation when I eat these foods that you’re recommending.” And so, to me, there was unfinished business. And it’s kind of interesting, because I had a contract with my publisher to do a cookbook, because I knew people wanted more recipes, and I decided to take that opportunity and write a cookbook that also is a book.
There are 11 chapters, and you actually don’t get to recipes until the end of Chapter 4, because I decided to really make this about, you know, look, if I wanna help people get over their food intolerances, it has to include a lot of recipes. But I also need to educate them, because this is a nuanced topic. And so, ultimately, it came together into this book that, I kind of see it like, Katie, no matter who you are, no matter what your perspective on diet is, where you come from, I have created a book that I want you to make your own, implement it in your life in a way that brings you great joy, but also I’m hoping to push you closer to better health by empowering your gut microbes.
Katie: Yeah. And I got to check it out. It’s extremely extensive. And I love that you give the education, because I think especially when you have to follow some kind of protocol for a while, it’s really important to understand the why, so that you have that motivation to actually stick with it. And you mentioned getting over food intolerances, which I think might be really exciting words for some people to hear, especially if they’ve got kids who have food intolerances currently. But can you kind of walk us through what exactly are food intolerances, and maybe parse out intolerance versus allergy?
Dr. Will: Yeah. So, and I’ll throw a third one into the mix real quick, because if we’re gonna include children… So, I’m a dad. I have now three kids. We just recently welcomed our third child into the family. And so anyone who’s a parent, we’ve all been there, right? We all are doing our best. And sometimes it’s a struggle, for all of us. That includes me, that includes Katie, and that includes everyone at home. So, we’re all just kind of waking up every day, doing our best.
The third thing I wanna include is aversions. Food aversions are a little bit different. That is a child who’s avoiding specific foods. That’s not a food intolerance, nor is it a food allergy. That is more of a behavioral thing, and that’s not specifically what I’m covering in my book, because my book is really more focused on adults.
But, to separate food intolerance from food allergy… We’ll start with allergy. An allergy is when your immune system is activated in response to something that’s coming into your body from outside your body. And that is not just a food thing. Obviously, we all know seasonal allergies, which could be pollen or could be pet dander or something like that. And we also have things like asthma, which, reactive airway disease can be a response to an allergen.
In this particular case, food is the trigger. And so, when a person has a food allergy, their immune system is being activated in response to food. Now, there are specific foods that are classic for food allergies, and I’m gonna do my best to try to list all of them right now without making a mistake, because there’s quite a few. So, they include soy, wheat, fish, shellfish, dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts. I think I got it. I think I got it. Oh, corn. Corn’s the last one. Okay. And then there’s corn.
So, these are the classic causes of food allergies. The vast majority of food allergies fall into one of these categories. And when a person has a food allergy, if they’re exposed to this food, even in the smallest amount, it can activate their immune system in a very violent, scary way. Food allergies can be life-threatening. And the reason that we can’t have peanuts on airplanes, in many cases, anymore, is because there’s some people that their allergy to peanuts is so intense and severe that they’re not even eating the peanut, but they somehow get exposed to it, and it activates their immune system. And if you’re up in the air, that’s dangerous.
A food allergy is very different than a food intolerance. A food intolerance does not, by definition, involve the immune system. And what happens is when you eat a food and you have a food intolerance, you feel something. And the classic is gonna be digestive symptoms, gas, bloating, cramping pain, diarrhea, constipation, things of this variety. These are food intolerances. You eat something and then this happens.
And so, I just mentioned that it does not involve the immune system. This is a very important point because many people think when they feel discomfort after eating a meal, they’re like, “Oh, I’m having inflammation.” But that is, in fact, not inflammation, because inflammation would have to involve the immune system. So what this is is this is sloppy digestion. Your body is struggling to process and unpack the food.
And in the majority of cases, not all, if we were totally comprehensive, like, my book is more comprehensive than we could possibly be in a one-hour episode, but in the majority of cases, the reason that this happens is actually that there’s been injury to your microbiome. Your microbiome is struggling to process the food for you. And we actually rely on them in order to do that.
Katie: That makes sense. And so the fact that it is not engaging the immune system is what makes them different than food allergies. And also that’s what makes it possible to reverse them, because it’s not an immune system engagement?
Dr. Will: Yeah. And so, also because the microbiome is involved, the exciting thing… So, I’m sure your listeners have heard quite a bit about the microbiome, and I’m happy, just guide me in terms of where I can add to that. But, you know, one of the important points about the microbiome, this community of 38 trillion invisible microorganisms that live inside of us, is that it’s not stuck. It’s not rigid. It is adaptable. It is constantly evolving. And through diet and lifestyle choices, it can be shaped.
And so, if the problem exists within the gut microbes, if that is the source of the issue, then we have the ability to make choices through diet and lifestyle that can remodel the gut microbiome and transform it into what we ultimately want it to be, which is a microbiome that is strong, that is powerful, that has function, and is capable of doing its job. And so, that’s really sort of what the book is about.
Now, going back to food allergies for a moment, again, food allergy is where the immune system is activated, is it possible to overcome food allergies? The answer is a technicality. It’s a yes. But I would never, as a medical doctor, find it within reason to write a book where a person would try to get over food allergies at home just by reading my book. It’s a very complex process. It’s very dangerous. You need to do it with a healthcare provider.
Katie: But food intolerances can be addressed at home. And like you said, there’s much more in your book than we can cover in an hour. We might have to do a round two one day, because we might get a lot of questions on this one. But I would recommend, for you guys listening, check out the book, and there will be a link in the show notes, wellnessmama.fm, to both of the books.
But then, what are the specific causes of food intolerance? I would guess it’s probably multifaceted, and there could be different causes in different people, or maybe not. But what’s causing this rise in food intolerance?
Dr. Will: I think what’s causing the rise in the food intolerance is progressive, I would say, sort of, injury or an alteration of the gut microbiome that’s occurring over generations here in the United States. I think that this is not just a very recent thing. This is actually the buildup of what’s been taking place as our life has transformed during the last 100 years.
You know, kind of, what is it? Let’s think about what life was like for, you know, Katie, you and I are quite similar in age. So, like, this could be our great grandparents, right? What was their life like, when cars didn’t exist, televisions did not exist? Like, phones, you had to, like, do a rotating thing that, like, you and I probably remember from our childhood, but most kids these days do not. You know, you sourced your food from the farmer. You knew this farmer. They didn’t have access to industrial chemicals or pesticides.
You know, it’s just, life has changed. People walked to school. Life has changed so much relative to where we are now today, where now, the average American’s diet is 60% ultra-processed foods, and very low on dietary fiber. We can talk more about that. But in addition to that, it’s not just that in isolation. It’s also the fact that we are not moving our bodies. We’re sitting on the couch, we’re watching television. We’re not sleeping.
We’re using devices at night, like televisions and phones and tablets and laptops, that emit blue light. And they basically are suppressing our sleep hormones and affecting the quality of sleep. So even if you sleep 8 hours, you may not be getting adequate amounts of rest, because the tablet that you’re using at 10:00 at night has completely tossed your melatonin in the trash. You know, the stress. I think social media is very stressful.
The access to information that we have today, like, it’s scary knowing so much of what’s happening in the world. And I think all of these things, when you pull them all together, it’s like so much has shifted in a very short period of time. And our gut microbiome is tied to every single thing that I just mentioned. And as a result of that, the way that it’s being affected is in a negative way. This is not intended to be, by the way, a pessimistic story. I’m very optimistic. It’s really more so that we can’t just be passively floating down the river here. We have to learn how to swim. That’s the point.
Katie: Yeah. I think that’s such an important reframe. And I would guess that people, obviously, can be intolerant to lots of different types of foods. And for some people, they might just be having some of those symptoms you described, bowel pain, or diarrhea, or constipation, or discomfort, and maybe even have trouble kind of pinpointing what specifically is causing it. So I’d love to talk about how can someone figure out accurately what their food intolerances are. Is it testing? Is it an elimination diet? How do you work with people to figure out what the problem is? And then we’ll talk about how to fix it.
Dr. Will: Yeah, totally. So, first of all, when it comes to understanding, like, frankly, your own body, and the strengths and weaknesses of your digestive system or your gut microbiome, it really boils down to old-fashioned strategies. I would love to sit here and say that the testing that’s available, whether it’s stool testing, blood testing, breath testing, we could go down the line. There’s many forms. I don’t think that they’re generally ready for prime time.
And the reason why is because they have to be accurate. Because if they are not, then they’re just confusing you. And if they’re confusing you, then they’re leading you to the wrong place, because you might eliminate foods that you don’t need to eliminate. Or you might continue to eat foods that actually make you feel unwell, but the test said that it’s okay. So instead, what we need is something that we can actually rely on. Something that is dependable.
And what’s dependable is an old-fashioned strategy of temporary elimination. This is not a permanent thing. This is quite simply, in my book, I describe a process that people go through, just to touch on it real quick. It’s called the GROWTH strategy, G-R-O-W-T-H. And the GROWTH strategy is actually the technique that I teach in the book of how to identify the source of your food intolerances, and then ultimately reverse them.
G stands for Genesis. What is the root cause of your problem? We should always start there. We need to understand what we’re treating before we move forward with trying to treat something. Otherwise, what are we doing? We’re just throwing mud up against the wall. Once you get past that though, ROW, this is what you’re asking me about, Katie. ROW stands for the steps that you take to identify the source of your food intolerance, Restrict, Observe, Work it back in.
When you do these three steps, restrict, observe, work it back in, by creating countercurrents, like a light switch, off, on, off, on, you can identify how your body is responding to these specific foods. And when you do that, you have the answer, because the answer is this. If it causes a change in symptoms, right, if elimination, temporary elimination of the food, improves your symptoms, reintroduction brings the symptoms back, you know exactly what that food is doing to your body. And this is the first step towards a process of overcoming these food intolerances, is you have to first understand what you’re even trying to treat. That’s step one.
Katie: Are there common offenders when it comes to food intolerances and/or common safe foods? I’m sure there’s personalization to that as well. And people could probably be intolerant to almost anything, but are there general ones that tend to be big offenders and also general ones that tend to be safer?
Dr. Will: Well, it’s interesting, because many of the foods that we see being vilified in current, sort of, you know, nutritional strategies, these are the foods that tend to cause problems. So, like, there is no question that legumes and whole grains can trigger digestive symptoms. But I think it’s also important for people to understand the full scope of the picture, which is that these foods actually are healthy foods, and they are good for the gut microbiome. They are a rich source of prebiotic compounds, like fiber and resistant starches and polyphenols.
And so we actually want these foods to be on board, but the problem is because they’re so high in fiber, because they’re so high in these prebiotic compounds, if you have a damaged gut, you’re gonna struggle with these foods, because this is where the heavy lifting exists. So, expanding a little beyond that, because you’re asking me, like, what are the things that people need to know about, I would start with FODMAPs. FODMAPs is an acronym, stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. That’s a mouthful. Don’t worry. You don’t need to memorize that.
Basically, all I’m saying is that these are the carbohydrate compounds that you will find in food that can cause bloating and gas, because they’re fermented. And so, legumes are a category that exists within FODMAPs. So are whole grains, as are garlic and onions, as are dairy products, as are certain types of fruit. It’s no coincidence. Like, these are all the things that people are talking about, right? So, FODMAPs is sort of this umbrella that allows us to then drill down and take a closer look at what’s going on with your body, to have a better understanding.
So, like, in my new book, “The Fiber Fueled Cookbook,” there’s an entire protocol built into the book to help people to understand whether or not they have an intolerance of FODMAPs. And the topic can get very complicated, but the solution actually is quite simple. Here are 30 recipes. Eat this way, and tell me how you feel. If you feel better, then we are onto something. And we got this little piece of string that we can start to chase, start to follow, and try to build this into something better that turns into something transformative for you.
Going beyond FODMAPs, there’s this other category, which is also, by the way, a protocol in my book. That’s why I’m including these two protocols. Those are histamines. Histamine is interesting, because all foods contain histamine, but some are higher and some are lower. And histamine is a normal part of our body. It’s not, like, meant to be vilified. When our body is working exactly the way that it’s supposed to, histamine is in there. But like anything else, when it’s out of balance and you have way too much of it, then it becomes problematic. That’s what histamine intolerance is.
When a person is out of balance with their consumption of histamine, then they can manifest symptoms. And the symptoms are kind of interesting with histamine intolerance. The number one symptom is gas and bloating. But outside of that, it can be things that are not just digestive symptoms. It could also include headaches, migraines, rash, hives, runny nose, congestion, sinus issues, sore throat, racing heart rate, lightheadedness, palpitations.
So, it’s kind of interesting because, like, different people will manifest histamine intolerance in different ways. And many times, these are the people, Katie, who have been to their doctor, and they say, you know, I’m not sure what’s happening, because when I eat this food, I get a headache, and a runny nose, and I’m bloated and my stomach, like, locks up on me. And the doctor rolls their eyes and goes, “You’re crazy.” And they’re not crazy. It’s just that the doctor doesn’t understand histamine intolerance.
And so, that’s part of what I’m bringing forward with this book that I feel is very important, is that there are people who are listening to us right now that this is them, and the healthcare system is not adequately supporting them. And through this book, I can give them a resource that they can apply to their life that potentially may transform it, because if you discover that this is the issue, you are an empowered patient now, and you are moving far more powerfully towards a solution.
Katie: Well, you read my mind because I was gonna ask about FODMAPs and histamine. And I love that you brought that up as well at the end, because I’ve said it multiple times on here. At the end of the day, we are each our own primary healthcare provider, and the best outcomes happen when we have an educated patient who understands and is actually invested in their own health, working with a practitioner who knows what they’re doing. That’s when we start to see the real changes and lasting changes in people.
I would love to go a little deeper on the process of… So, we’ve talked about identifying the food intolerance, and the GROWTH strategy for doing that. If someone’s able to pinpoint them, what are the steps like to retrain the gut? Like, how do we start to reverse these intolerances?
Dr. Will: Yeah. So, there’s two last letters in the GROWTH strategy, and that’s, basically, these last two letters allow us to unpack this question. So, first is T. T stands for Train your gut. I mentioned earlier, your gut is adaptable. When I say your gut, I mean the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is adaptable. It can be trained. It is capable of amazing transformations. You know, our body, Katie, is, like… We take this for granted. We don’t even acknowledge how miraculous our body actually is in so many things that we do.
If I start running, I obviously will become a more efficient runner, and run further, with a better time. But this is more than just, like, me having better muscles. Actually, there’s transformation that takes place with my heart. The chambers actually get larger.
They become more efficient with every single squeeze, which, by the way, this is the reason that a person who’s a runner has a low heart rate at rest, because they have very efficient heart chambers. My lungs change. My lungs become more capable of filling up with air, more alveoli, more blood vessels to carry oxygen.
So, what I’m saying is, like, the body is completely adaptable. And the gut microbiome is just that. It is completely adaptable. Our research shows us that the diet that you are consuming today will already start to change your gut microbiome by tomorrow. In less than 24 hours, any dietary change will start to effect a shift in your gut microbes. And they are adapted to you, your diet, your lifestyle.
However you have been living these last three months, your gut microbiome is suited to that. And if you start to change, your gut microbiome will change with you, but it needs an opportunity to adapt and catch up. So, if you go too hard, too fast, I’m talking about, like, a radical dietary change, you know, like the January 1st thing, you cause trouble. Because you’re not gonna feel well, because your body is not giving a chance to actually keep up to this big, massive change. You’re asking it to make a massive shift. Shifts take time.
But on the flip side, if you start low, with the food, and you go slow, meaning that this food that you have struggled with… Let’s just make it black beans, all right? This food that you have struggled with, you can start with two black beans. I am not kidding. It could be that ridiculously low. But you start there, and guess what? You are exposing your gut, you are challenging your gut with this food, and it will rise to the challenge.
And you come back in a couple days, and you do six black beans. And then you come back and you do 12 black beans. And this growth starts to take place, where you are increasingly challenging your gut. And over the course of time, it continues to rise to the challenge. It’s very similar to exercise. It gets stronger. It becomes more capable. It has functionality that it didn’t previously have.
And so, this is the process that we can follow in terms of training our gut, and bringing these foods back on board. If you quite simply reduce the amount, and you slowly introduce it, you actually will feel fine, but you will give your body a chance to adapt and evolve with you as you slowly increase it. Real quick, the last letter in the GROWTH strategy, just so we round it out for everyone who’s curious, the last letter is perhaps my favorite letter, which is H, stands for Holistic healing.
And that is because I think it’s very important for people to understand that, like, their gut is not just a bunch of digestive enzymes coming into contact with carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. You are a far more complicated person. And, like, your gut is in contact with your brain, with your heart, with your liver, with your kidneys, with all these different organs. But it’s also in contact with your emotional perspective.
So, however you feel, if you are in an unhealthy place, where you are unsettled in something in your life, you could do all the things I’m describing. You could eat the perfect diet, you could sleep, you could get exercise, you could meditate. But if there is something that is troubling you, that actually is going to negatively affect your gut, and it will hold you back.
And there’s physiologic ways in which this happens, but the point is this. The most amazing healings that I have witnessed during my career have actually not been people where I’ve increased their fiber intake. The most amazing healings that I’ve witnessed have been the people that never considered the possibility that something that was traumatizing, that occurred to them, or maybe it’s just, like, that bad job that you wish you could leave, those are the things that are really negatively affecting a person’s gut, and when you actually overcome those things, it’s, like, incredible how quickly a person bounces back.
Katie: Yeah. I love that you brought up that point. I actually have, in my personal life a very similar path of that, where I, for years, was eating what would be considered largely a very perfect diet, taking supplements, doing all the checkmarks for health, and saw marginal or no improvements. And when I addressed the trauma side, the health side caught up almost effortlessly. There was no work. It was like my body already had the foundation of that, and when I addressed the emotional side…
And I would say it gives a lot of hope for people who have food intolerances to hear that they can reintroduce these foods and just go slow. Just to get a little more clarity on that, if someone especially has had some of those more severe discomfort symptoms, and they’re going on this more elimination diet, how long should they wait after starting the elimination diet before they start reintroducing foods? And should they reintroduce one at a time? So, with the black beans example, only introduce black beans until they can handle those, and then add another, or how do you recommend that?
Dr. Will: Yeah. This is a very good question, Katie. And, you know, it’s a little bit hard for me to paint with broad strokes for everyone, because one of the things that I’m a little bit cautious about is I don’t want to make people hyper neurotic about their food. I think the food is meant to be very simply a source of joy. We are supposed to enjoy our mealtimes. If you are not enjoying your mealtimes, if you have any fear in those moments, then clearly, you are not where I want you to be.
How do we go about doing this? In some ways, I kind of feel like this is where an intuitive element comes into play, where you have to see how you personally feel. Like, I don’t want people to have a list of 50 different foods, and they’re going one by one by one by one, and they’re, like, writing in their notebook every single thing that happens. Like, that, to me, ultimately is just a little too intense.
I just want people to, like, kind of have a general conceptual framework, and then lean into it and feel how your body is adapting to it. And how fast to go is, there are no rules, but it’s quite simply this. I can give you the framework. When you start low, and you reintroduce these foods, when you push too hard, and you don’t feel well, it just quite simply means you take a little break, and then you lower it even further, and you start a little bit slower. That’s all.
So it’s just quite simply, like, you take your foot off the gas if you need to, and just slow it down. Get control again. I hope that makes sense.
Katie: That does. That’s super helpful. And I know you have written extensively about this. So if you guys have questions, definitely check out the book. And I think another thing we probably should have even addressed at the beginning, your book being named “Fiber Fueled.” We haven’t even yet talked about the importance of fiber, and why this name in particular, and what led you into that.
So I would love for you to explain, because I think, at least in the standard American diet, it’s not really a secret that fiber is much less than it used to be in a lot of other types of diets and a lot of diets around the world, but why the name “Fiber Fueled,” and why the importance of fiber?
Dr. Will: It’s kind of an interesting story, because when I pitched this book in 2018, my first book, I had multiple people tell me that they liked me, but they hated the book title. But I stuck to it, because I believed that this was the title that it needed to be, because what I’m trying to address here is that first of all, let me redefine what fiber is for everyone. Let’s let go of our common conception that fiber is this Metamucil orange drink that grandma stirs so that she can have a robust bowel movement.
Like, let’s let go of that for a moment. Let’s start fresh. And fiber is something that we as humans are not capable of processing, which has made it, like, something that people have dismissed, but that doesn’t mean that our microbes just watch the fiber float on by. Fiber actually is food for our gut microbiome. It is, like, the classic prebiotic, meaning that it feeds and fuels the microbes. But it arrives in the colon, where the microbiome exists, intact. They use their digestive enzymes. They have, by the way, these microbes have literally, in some cases, a single cellular bacteria could have hundreds of enzymes designed to process and break down fiber. They work as a team, and they start to unpack the fiber, and they transform it. The fiber stops being fiber, and it turns into what I would describe as the most healing, most anti-inflammatory molecule that I’ve ever come across.
These are the short-chain fatty acids. The classic one is butyrate. Many people have heard of butyrate. Butyrate, like, the source for butyrate, the way that we are designed to get it, is by the consumption of dietary fiber. And what happens from that point forward is these short-chain fatty acids start having healing effects everywhere that they go.
So, like, literally, right there in the microbiome, they reverse dysbiosis. Some people call it leaky gut. They reverse dysbiosis. They enhance the good microbes, suppress the bad ones, and repair the tight junctions, which basically are what are broken and allowing increased intestinal permeability, or leaky gut. They’re repairing them.
They suppress colon cancer through multiple different mechanisms. They affect our metabolism, including our blood pressure, our cholesterol, our insulin sensitivity, in a number of different ways. It’s not a surprise if you affect blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes, you’re gonna reduce a person’s likelihood of having heart disease, which is one of the things that we see when people consume more fiber.
They affect our immune system. They actually help to optimize and shape the immune system, so that it can be more targeted in the way that it approaches threats. They jump into the bloodstream and they spread throughout the body. They actually go all the way up to the brain, and they affect the brain, and our mood, and our memory, and preventing things like Alzheimer’s.
So, they are powerful. And the way that we get them is by consuming fiber. Now, here’s the rub. Here’s the problem. If you and I go for a walk out there in the United States right now, 19 out of 20 people that we will come into contact with are deficient in fiber. Nineteen out of 20. And it’s not, like, a mild deficiency. It’s an extreme deficiency. The average woman is right now getting about 16 grams of fiber per day, and the recommended amount for a woman is 25.
Men are getting a little more fiber, 18 grams. That’s not something for us to be proud of, because actually we even more deficient than women. The average man is expected to get about 38 grams of fiber, and we’re getting 18. So we’re not even 50% of the way there. And so, this is, to me, the reason that it had to be called “Fiber Fueled” is that I wanted to, number one, share the exciting revolutionary science of the gut microbiome. Number two, show you how your diet, specifically fiber, shapes the microbiome and simultaneously becomes a vehicle for human health. And number three, I feel that this is our most pressing deficiency. Like, of all the conversations that we have from a nutritional perspective, if I can tell you that fiber is going to reduce your risk of heart disease, reduce your risk of cancer, reduce the likelihood of having a stroke, or developing type two diabetes… By the way, everything I just said is completely backed up by data. If that’s true, and 19 out of 20 people are fiber-deficient right now, why is this not on the national news every single night? I don’t understand that.
Katie: And along the lines of redefining fiber as not just Metamucil, or psyllium husk that you’re drinking in a cup, obviously, fiber is in most plant, like, vegetables, fruits, etc., but what are some maybe surprise sources or great sources that you recommend for people to help get that number closer to where it’s supposed to be?
Dr. Will: So, I love mushrooms. Mushrooms technically are not plants. They’re fungi. But I treat them as honorary plants. They have fiber, and they have specific types of fiber like beta-glucans, that have been shown to help shape our immune system in a very powerful, beautiful way. So I love mushrooms.
I love the omega 3 seeds. So, chia, flax, hemp. Chia, flax, and hemp are really cool, because each one of them is unique in their own way. Chia seeds are higher in fiber, flax seeds have these lignans that have hormonal benefits.
And then, finally, hemp seeds. Hemp seeds are actually very high in protein. And so, what I love about the omega 3 seeds, chia, flax, and hemp, is that number one, they’re high in fiber. Number two, they’re high in omega 3s, which, by the way, is one of the other major deficiencies that exists in the United States. And number three, they’re so easy to throw into a smoothie. If you make a smoothie, you could put all three in all at once. That is a beautiful thing.
So these are some of the sources that I love. But, you know, I guess I should mention, Katie, that in my first book, “Fiber Fueled,” I created an acronym to help people remember, like, the foundational foods, and it’s called F GOALS. And I’ll just run through it real quick. Suffice it to say that every single one of these foods that I’m gonna mention, there’s a detailed breakdown of why I believe that they’re beneficial for your health. F GOALS, like fiber goals.
F stands for fruit and fermented. G, greens and whole grains. O, the omega 3 super seeds that I just mentioned, chia, flax, hemp. A, aromatics. Onions, garlic, shallots, leeks. L, legumes. And then finally, S, I kind of lost my mind on S, because I had a lot that I wanted to say. So, shrooms, and also sea vegetables or seaweed, and also sulforaphane. So, sulforaphane is the phytochemical that you will find in broccoli sprouts, and it is a powerful anti-cancer chemical. So, that, you know, I try to work into my diet on a daily basis.
So, F GOALS is one of the approaches that people could take. And, like, these omega 3 super seeds, or shrooms, or sea vegetables, or sulforaphane, these are some of the ones that I would focus on.
Katie: And, in general, are those ones also typically okay in a low FODMAP diet or a low histamine diet, or are there ones that might cross over that people would need to be careful of?
Dr. Will: So, with the histamine diet, histamine is interesting, because the histamine is not implicitly part of the food. It is created by microbes. And there are specific foods that are more prone to this. Like, fish is classic, for those who enjoy eating fish. But fermented foods are classic, because they involve the microbes, fermenting. And from a plant’s perspective, the classic plants are tomatoes, avocados, eggplant, and spinach.
So, these are sort of the things that you would want to look out for, but, like in “The Fiber Fueled Cookbook,” I give you all this, and I put it into a table form, too, to try to make it simple.
Going back to the F GOALS, if you go through these, you know, fruit has fructose. That’s a FODMAP. The legumes have galactans. That’s a FODMAP. The aromatics, like onions and garlic, they have fructans. Those are FODMAPs.
You know, some of these are FODMAP-rich foods. I mentioned this earlier, but I just wanna say it again. FODMAPs are actually good for our gut microbiome. So it’s very easy to vilify them, and say, oh, they’re bad because they cause symptoms. But if you could overcome those symptoms, which is what I wanna teach you how to do, you actually want these foods in your diet because they’re so healthy.
And so, many of these foods that I’ve listed, you know, greens tend to be more gentle and easy. Those are low FODMAP foods. Fermented foods, it kind of varies a little bit. So, each one of these, you’d have to look at on an individual basis.
Katie: Got it. Is there an average or a range that you typically see when someone, for instance, maybe is struggling with FODMAPs and having discomfort, and then they take these steps in order, before they’re able to eat these foods again? Because I was glad you brought that up. Things like onions and garlic have a lot of benefits, but if someone’s temporarily, for instance, having trouble with FODMAPs, what is that length of time typically, or is it completely different in every person?
Dr. Will: Well, I think it varies person to person, right? We’re all coming at this… Like, one of the things that’s very interesting is that there are 8 billion people on the planet right now. And we are convinced, from a scientific perspective, that no two people have the same gut microbiome. And that so powerfully speaks to our bio-individuality.
If you take a person who has Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, they have an intense form of inflammatory bowel disease. These people are going to struggle more with food intolerances because of the intensity of the injury to their gut microbiome. For them, to me, it would take, you know, at least months for them to overcome their food intolerances. And it’s something that you have to be prepared for. You can’t bail after two weeks and say, “Oh, this didn’t work.”
Flipside, people that have, like, mild symptoms, something that maybe doesn’t even show up every single time you eat the food, those people, to me, if they follow the method, they’re gonna be better very quickly. So it really depends on the individual person in terms of how long it takes.
Katie: Got it. That’s helpful to know.
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Are there any supplements that you find are typically helpful when someone’s going through this process? Like, things that can be supportive of that gut healing?
Dr. Will: Yeah. So, I actually am a big believer in prebiotic fiber supplements. Even though I personally consume a high-fiber diet, I actually use them myself. So, some of the examples of what I’m talking about, prebiotic fiber supplements, include acacia powder, wheat dextrin, partially hydrolyzed guar gum, psyllium husk. So, these are some of the things that you could potentially take, and you start very low, you go very gentle on them. But, like, even for me, I use them because I notice a difference in terms of how I feel, even though I’m eating a very high-fiber diet, with a lot of varieties of plants.
Probiotics. Probiotics, this is how I feel. I feel that there’s a lot of marketing hype out there. And it would be very easy for me to just kind of say, “Oh, probiotics don’t work.” That’s not true. Probiotics do work for many different people. But we have to come back to the fact that you have a unique gut microbiome. So there is no, like, one-size-fits-all when it comes to probiotics, because ultimately, the question is going to be, how does this probiotic fit with your specific unique microbiome?
So the way that I recommend that people approach this is you try the probiotic for a month, and you see how you feel. And if you notice a difference, and you’re comfortable with the price, then, like, from my perspective, I’m on board. But if you don’t notice a difference, if you don’t see an improvement, then don’t take it based upon what people say, or, like, the quality of the brand, or anything of that variety. Because if it doesn’t make you feel a difference, it’s just not worth it.
And I guess the last thing I would add is I see a lot of conversation around glutamine. Glutamine, the data that exists for it is pretty limited, unfortunately. Small studies, very sick people. That, to me, is not easy to translate to, like, the average person who’s out there living a normal life. But, that being said, glutamine, taken 5 grams per day, I can’t promise you it’s going to fix your gut health issues. But actually, from a fitness perspective, I use it myself.
And so, let’s pretend that you’re using glutamine to support your fitness activity, to improve your recovery, to build lean muscle mass. Those are the reasons that I use glutamine. If you get a benefit from your gut health perspective, we accept that. We celebrate. I just don’t have a clear study to say that it’s going to really make a big difference. That’s all.
Katie: Got it. Are there any low-FODMAP-compatible prebiotics and glutamine, are there supplements people need to avoid if FODMAPs are their problem, in particular?
Dr. Will: Gosh, that is a very good, detailed question that I don’t know the answer to off the top of my head.
Katie: And I’m sure so much personalization. At the end of the day, it truly is about experimentation and figuring it out within your own body.
Dr. Will: Well, that’s really true. I mean, it really depends on how you feel, right? Because at the end of the day, these are not hard and fast rules. It’s more, like, if you try this and it works, we take it, and we celebrate. And if you try this and it doesn’t work, you either stop, or you back down the dose and see if that makes a difference.
Katie: Got it. That makes sense. We’ve gotten to cover so much in this episode. I love it. And I have a feeling we will get some follow-up questions, only because I hear more from my audience about things, especially FODMAPs being issues, histamine, and food intolerance. These definitely all seem to be on the rise. I also know we, like we said in the beginning, can’t possibly get through as much as you got through in your book. So, I found your book really, really helpful. I would highly recommend it to all of you guys listening, especially if you suspect you have any of these issues.
Although I would guess, maybe even for those of us who don’t suspect food intolerances, is there a benefit to doing kind of like a short gut reset at any point? Do you recommend that, or do you recommend if people are not having an issue, not to avoid any foods?
Dr. Will: Well, so, this is the way that I feel about it. I hope that people are convinced that the gut microbiome is absolutely crucial to their health. It is connected to your digestion, which is access to nutrients, your metabolism, your immune system, your hormones, your mood, your brain health, and even your genetic expression. If it’s that powerful, and simultaneously that adaptable, meaning that our choices ultimately are affecting it, then every single one of us should care, whether we have food intolerances or not.
So, my book is not exclusively for people who have food intolerances. Instead, what it is is this is I believe a toolkit for optimal gut health. And if you’re feeling well, there are tons of principles that are being taught in this book, that you can apply to your life to try to, like, not just kind of stay status quo, but instead, why don’t we make it even better? Because the problem, Katie, I’m sure you can appreciate this, is that when disease manifests, it’s been brewing below the surface without us realizing for a while. And there’s an opportunity that we have to kind of turn the corner before it actually happens. If it never happens, you will never know. You will never know that you dodged a bullet. But the way that we approach this is to try to optimize as much as possible, and it should start today, for every single one of us. It’s the way that I feel about it.
Katie: That’s a great way of putting it. And I’ve been taking notes while you’ve been talking, and so there will be a lot of key takeaways in the show notes at wellnessmama.fm, for you guys listening. Also, of course, check out the book. There’s a lot more information in there. But in the name of respecting your time today, I have just a couple of last quick questions. The first being is if there is a book or number of books that have profoundly influenced your life, and if so, what they are and why?
Dr. Will: Yeah. So, I am going to go with Carol Dweck. Her book was called “Mindset.” Came out in 2006. The word “growth,” which you and I have been talking about this whole time, is actually an important word within my community. Because I mentioned it quite a bit, not in the context of the GROWTH strategy, but the growth mindset, in my first book.
And the backstory to this, real quick, as you’re a mom, Katie, you have six kids, and now I have three, so I’m halfway there. The backstory is that this is actually, it started with the way that my wife and I decided that we wanted to raise our kids, to make it so that it’s not about success and failure, but instead to make it about, like, relishing the challenge and the opportunity to push yourself and become better. And that’s what the growth mindset is. This is what Carol Dweck’s book is about.
And it started in my family, and then it turned into something that I implemented in my own life, without even thinking about it. And then when it came time to write my book, “Fiber Fueled,” I said, I want to bring this to my…like, whoever reads this book, I want you to know this. So, anyway, that’s the masterclass on the growth mindset. Carol Dweck, “Mindset.”
Katie: I’m a big fan as well. I’ll link to that in the show notes as well. And any parting advice for the listeners today that could be related to something we’ve talked about, or entirely unrelated?
Dr. Will: Yeah. So, the one thing that we didn’t touch on that I feel obligated to say, because it’s almost my signature thing, is that I actually don’t want you to count grams of fiber, as much as I’ve talked about grams of fiber during this show. What we have discovered is that every single plant has its own unique types of fiber, and these unique types of fiber feed unique families of microbes, and these microbes are picky eaters. So they don’t all like kale.
And the way that we support a healthy gut microbiome is by feeding as many of them as possible. We want to lift them all up. And the way that we do that is by having diversity within our diet. So, diversity within a plate turns into diversity in your microbiome, and diversity of the microbiome is a measure of a healthy microbiome. So I say to your listeners, stop counting grams of fiber, start counting plants, stop counting calories, start counting plants. I mean, if you’ll allow me, stop looking at macros, start counting plants. Like, these are the approaches that I think are simple, they’re fun, they’re less technical, and frankly, you’re enjoying more food.
Katie: It makes me think of my great-grandmother, actually, who I remember, she died when I was relatively young, but she was a big fan of, she would try to get us to eat the rainbow on every plate, and eat brightly-colored fruits and vegetables.
Dr. Will: Grandma’s always right.
Katie: Yep. What’s old is new again. It’s that age-old wisdom. Well, you are such a wealth of knowledge, and I feel like we got to go deep on so much today. Very, very grateful for the work that you’re doing. I’ll make sure to link to some of your work that’s online, as well as your books, so that people can find more information and keep learning from you. But if someone does wanna find you online, where can they find you? I’ll put links as well to your social media and your website.
Dr. Will: Oh, I love that. Thank you, Katie. So, you can find me online on Instagram and Facebook as The Gut Health MD. You can come to my website, which is theplantfedgut.com. I have a newsletter that people seem to really enjoy, because when new science emerges, like, in the gut health space, I wanna talk about it. And the problem is, like, the character count on Instagram is not going to allow me to talk about it as much as I want to. So I would rather send an email, where I can really unpack stuff.
So, people seem to really enjoy that. I have courses that I teach. Big courses, small courses, many different choices and options for people who are interested in learning more. So…
Katie: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for your time today. I learned a lot. I know our listeners did as well. I’m very grateful for you for being here.
Dr. Will: Thanks, Katie. Thanks for having me.
Katie: And thanks as always to all of you for listening and sharing your most valuable resources, your time, your energy, and your attention with us. We’re both so grateful that you did, and I hope that you’ll join me again on the next episode of “The Wellness Mama Podcast.”
If you’re enjoying these interviews, would you please take two minutes to leave a rating or review on iTunes for me? Doing this helps more people to find the podcast, which means even more moms and families could benefit from the information. I really appreciate your time, and thanks as always for listening.