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‘I thought my diet was really healthy until I used a digestive breath tester’

When I was diagnosed with bowel inflammation and peptic ulcers this February, I felt some relief. Months of consistent debilitating symptoms didn’t result in the diagnosis I feared the most – bowel cancer.

But once I found out that the stomach lining at the site of the ulcer could split open, I quickly understood that I needed to make major lifestyle changes.

Fresh out of a colonoscopy, my empty stomach presented me with the perfect opportunity to slowly add foods into my new dietary plan one by one.

Weeks of patience and research turned into a food regime rich in a variety of anti-inflammatory foods, spices and plants. Alcohol, caffeine and ultra-processed foods have become a thing of the past.

For the first time in my life, I could confidently say my diet was healthy, but a week of using a personal digestion device has now changed that opinion.

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Given a digestive breath tester AIRE 2 by Food Marble, I felt positive about putting my colourful, minimally-processed diet to a test.

As I breathed into the small dark blue, plastic mouthpiece, my eyes glued on the accompanying app downloaded on my phone, I didn’t expect to see anything significant.

After all, this was just my first reading on an empty stomach. However, the app quickly revealed a medium result, telling me that something I ate was still fermenting in my gut or that I hadn’t digested it properly.

I thought this was strange since my dinner was a mix of light salad leaves, quinoa, cucumber, beetroot, orange and feta.

I wish I could say the rest of the week didn’t follow the same theme but my weekly report was a sea of orange (for medium fermentation), red (for high fermentation) and only a couple of green shoots (for low fermentation). This left me and my diet packed full of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and fragrant spices confused.

AIRE 2 is designed to help you find the foods that work for your unique digestive system, one fermentation score at a time.

The scores ranging, from low to high, give you a good idea of how much gas is being produced in your gut at the time of your reading. This is based on the level of gasses like hydrogen and methane on your breath.

As I was slightly concerned by the disappointing results my phone kept displaying, I reached out to Dr Claire Shortt from FoodMarble for some clarity.

I felt a bit relieved when she told me that the presence of gas can be normal and healthy as long as I don’t experience accompanying symptoms.

Dr Shortt said: “The key thing for each person is understanding what level of gas they can tolerate without experiencing discomfort.

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“For some of us, we can experience high fermentation and no symptoms, whereas for others, their symptom threshold might be much lower.”

The accompanying app, called FoodMarble, also lets you log in symptoms each time you take a breath test to monitor how you’re reacting to what you’re eating.

After a quick glance, I noticed that I kept struggling with bouts of bloating, fatigue and other stomach issues, confirming my worries that my diet is not working for me as well as it should.

However, Claire Barnes, Registered Nutritionist at Bio-Kult, told me that this isn’t anything unusual for a person with my underlying health problems.

“Certain plant foods high in fermentable fibres may trigger increased digestive discomfort for some individuals,” she said.

Your gut is the home to trillions of bacteria that help to break down any undigested food in a process called fermentation. During this process, hydrogen, methane and other gasses are generated.

However, too much of these gases can trigger digestive symptoms like I experience.

Combine this with the fact that the body can release many different compounds when it’s inflamed and you can be left with a painful cocktail.

Furthermore, inflammation in combination with peptic ulcers can also impair tissue lining in the gut and alter gut microbiome. Therefore, certain carbohydrates called FODMAPs can be particularly hard to digest and trigger uncomfortable symptoms.

Barnes explained that fermentable fibres in the likes of garlic, asparagus, slightly under-ripe bananas, and many more foods, may cause digestive issues for individuals who have an imbalance of their gut bacteria.

Dr Shortt told me that reducing my portion size could help. She explained that if I’m feeling symptomatic on a particular day and notice I have eaten a lot of specific FODMAP, for example fructose, I could reduce my intake to see if it makes any difference.

While I have to keep using the device to figure out whether FODMAPs are what’s really stirring up my digestive problems or whether it’s just my ulcers and inflammation, it doesn’t mean that fermentable fibres are bad in general.

The good bacteria in your gut are able to digest these fibres and use them as a fuel, leading to various health benefits.

Therefore, it’s important to consider your unique digestive tract which is something that AIRE 2 can help with. I might have to rethink my diet again but fibre and plants will still play a significant role.

Barnes added: “It is clear that eating a wide variety of healthy plant-based foods rich in fibre will provide an assortment of different nutrients, help support digestive function and also provide diverse food sources for the different types of friendly gut bacteria.”

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