Love your Guts

I have spent the last 7 days dealing with vomit and diarrhoea (not mine I might add!) combined with a weeks’ worth of lectures I have dedicated to poo talk, wind, bloating and mucous. Just a typical week in the life of a mum and an academic, oh joy!

To add the icing on the cake I thought it only natural to bring you a series of tips on boosting your gut health this month . Coincidentally  April is dedicated to IBS, bowel cancer and stress awareness – as you will find, these 3 things link together very closely!

  • 1 in 4 of us in the UK are affected by poor digestive health
  • Up to 20% are affected by IBS
  • Over 40,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year

Clearly, digestive problems affect many people and for some the symptoms can be exhausting and debilitating.  For many however, just small and simple changes to our diet and lifestyle can make a big difference in terms of our digestion and overall well-being.  So no excuses, stop abusing your guts and start taking care of them – the impact of unhappy guts spreads far beyond your digestive system.

If you are in the no / low carb camp then you need to read this one!

1. Increase fibre intake

Yes, dietary fibre is a type of carbohydrate. WE NEED FIBRE!

Fibre helps to keep our gut moving, keeps you ‘regular’ and reduces the likelihood of becoming constipated.  If  you need more convincing, fibre helps to prevent haemorrhoids (aka piles) and lowers our risk of developing bowel cancer.

Poo talk and bowel habits are such taboo subjects. But we all do it! Even though we lock oursleves away and if other men are anything like my husband, some can spend hours in there (!) we need to get into the habit of talking about it and taking notice. Altered bowel habits can be a sign that something is not right and they can also be a sign of something sinister.

Current dietary advice states we should be eating a variety of fibre containing foods. In the UK most people do not eat enough fibre (the average intake is ~15g/day) which is way off the recommended 30g per day. It’s certainly not impossible (get working on your 10 a -day) but a highly processed (junk food) diet will mean you’re going to fall short.


Ideally we should be having a mixture of soluble and insoluble fibre in our diet. Eating more fruit and vegetables (with the skins on where possible) is a great start.

We don’t have the ability (like cows and other cud chewers) to digest and absorb fibre. But it is precisely this property that confers so many benefits to our bowels.

Soluble fibre

Soluble fibre is broken down by the bacteria that live in our bowel (they ferment it). Soluble fibre becomes jelly-like  (making it easier to pass stools) and is great at holding onto toxins and also cholesterol.  Eating soluble fibre helps us create a nice mutual relationship with our bacteria; we give them food from which they generate energy, and in return they help us out……….

Particularly eating more soluble fibre, will help boost the numbers of ‘good’ bacteria in our gut. In return, they provide us with some nutrients (B & K vitamins)  and they also work to keep any harmful bacteria at bay, in other words they keep our gut happy.  The by-products of fermentation have also be shown to help lower cholesterol levels in addition to stabilising our blood sugar levels (reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes). Pretty clever eh?!

Good sources of soluble fibre include:

  • oats
  • bananas
  • apples
  • carrots
  • potatoes
  • peas
  • beans
  • lentils

Foods that will particularly help increase the numbers of good bacteria in our bowel include onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, and soya beans.


These are known as prebiotic foods; you can buy prebiotic-containing foods otherwise known as functional foods from the supermarket; look for ‘live’ yoghurt and prebiotic yoghurt drinks (like Yakult), some breakfast cereals and cereal bars (but do watch the sugar content of some of these ready-made foods).

Insoluble fibre

Insoluble fibre is very much like a sponge and absorbs lots of water  (about 15 times it’s weight). It is completely indigestible but it is this feature that gives ‘bulk’ to our stools and really gets our guts moving. Insoluble fibre so is often referred to as ‘natures’ broom’

The profound ‘mopping up’ effect also helps to effectively remove waste products, toxins ans potentially carcinogenic substances from the gut so this type of fibre is hugely important in protecting the gut from cancer.

Good sources of insoluble fibre include

  • wholemeal breads
  • whole grain breakfast cereals
  • bran
  • nuts
  • dried fruit
  • brown rice

When you decide to increase your fibre intake it is important you do this gradually. A sudden increase in fibre can make you very windy, leave you feeling bloated and uncomfortable. Too much soluble fibre can also do this and can increase symptoms in those that suffer from IBS.


When upping your fibre intake it is vital you drink plenty of fluids; at least 1.5 litres a day as the fibre will absorb this water which helps ensure a more ‘gentle’ action.  It doesn’t have to be just water; just be sensible about what you are drinking but get those (low sugar) fluids down 🙂



Next up:

  1. Probiotics – do they really work?
  2. Stress and digestion – what really happens when we get all worked up!

Loosing the will and battle to live?

What on Earth is going on with our diet? I’m aware I’m beginning to sound like a stuck record but really, when are things really going to change?

I am actually fed up to my back teeth with cheap offers for junk food. Literally every where I go, fast food, take-aways and chocolate are shoved under my nose.

I drive 1.5 miles from my house and I see this:


I popped into Iceland this morning to pick up some milk and I am presented with an offer of 600g of chocolate for 3 quid (see the headline photo) as soon as I walk in.

I have previously ranted and campaigned about junk food at the checkouts but actually the entrance way is equally challenging. Having to wade past the towers of cakes, biscuits, chocolate eggs and grab bags sets off your shopping trip on completely the wrong foot.

Every weekday morning I see Spiderman with an advertising board (most often in the freezing cold) standing on a round-a-bout promoting a devilish Domino’s pizza deal and it’s not even 10 am. What’s that about?!

Related image

At least 5 days a week I get a flier through my letterbox; Subway, Domino’s, Pizza Hut and a selection from my local Chinese and Indian restaurants land on my mat. And to be honest I don’t even look at 99% of them. They go straight in the bin, what a waste.

The British takeaway market is worth over £5.5bn and has grown massively over the last 4 years. Just Eat and Hungry House have certainly taken the market share but due to consumer demand and the growth of the app market, other companies are starting to muscle in.

I get that convenience food has its place. We can all benefit from a helping hand at times but this hand is starting to linger like a bad smell. In the states, around 6% of the population will be eating takeout at anyone time. The principle of it is great. The problems are that we rely on it way too much and of course the majority of foods are sky high in salt, fat and sugar.

Image result for food take out to delivery

So the icing on the cake this week has been hearing McDonalds might be bringing a home delivery service to Birmingham. The city where there are more McDonald’s restaurants than any other UK city outside of London. Just fantastic.

Where Dudley already has the award for the most unhealthy place to live. Closely followed by Walsall, Wolverhampton and Birmingham. Dudley boasts a staggering 10 McDonald’s restaurants per 100,000 people, with just 3 gyms.

Compare that to Bristol, the healthiest town that has 234 cycle routes 45 sports clubs and just 2 McDonalds per 100,000 people. No wonder we have one of the highest rates of diabetes, heart disease and obesity in the West Midlands.

So my issue is this. How is the general public ever supposed to win? Most food producers and food outlets monopolise our communities. Every week a new gimmicky eatery opens on our high street, like this cereal cafe.

The Government is weak and in my opinion has done too little too late. The financial incentives to  stand up to the food industry are simply not there. How long did it take for the sugar tax to come about? And with it only applicable to soft drinks, surely the impact will be limited. The responsibility deal seems no more, not that is really made much difference because there was always the option to opt out.

Reports show we want healthier food these days. We are learning the importance of the nutritional value of food and links to disease but finding and purchasing the healthier product is often too hard.  Our good intentions and efforts to eat healthily are constantly undermined everywhere we turn.

Image result for give up

So our healthcare service has to carry the burden, there is no comeback whatsoever on the big food giants and they have us hooked. I genuinely feel scared for the future unless somehow we can weaken their stronghold and for that to happen, big decisions and huge action must be taken. We have to limit their influence (the offers at least!!) and control over our food environment. I know it’s complicated and needs an incredible amount of joined up thinking but come on Jeremy Hunt, what’s next?