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!

The Truth About Meat!


Processed meat could be bad for asthma

Meat is as bad as sugar

Red meat and burnt meat cause bowel cancer

Horse meat scandal, say no more

Rats in KFC

You get the picture. Talk about bad press on the meat front, whilst the angelic vegetable is singing from the roof tops. And of course all meat has been bagged up together so there seems to be an all or nothing ruling when it comes to what goes with your two veg. And it seems to be working. We are eating 13% less meat than we were 10 years ago and veganism is now one of Britain’s “fastest growing lifestyle movements”.  The reason for this shift certainly appears to be because of the perceived health benefits of a vegan diet, and no wonder really when we hear such scary reports about meat and such positive reports about pant based diets.

However, an average UK resident still eats >84Kg of meat each year. Poultry now accounts for nearly half of all the meat bought in the UK but we are eating more processed meat than 10 years ago and that’s the worry. The sausage roll and meat pie is the affordable and tasty (debatable) way to eat meat  but not necessarily the best choice for our health.

I am always a wearer of rosy coloured spectacles so lets give meat a break and look at the positives! As far as I’m concerned (and in my professional opinion), there is no reason why we should exclude meat from our diet – UNPROCESSED meat does not contribute to cardiovascular disease or diabetes, as part of a healthy, balanced diet. It is the processed, played with meat that is often loaded with salt and saturated fat, the way it is cooked (crispy coated chicken or a sausage rolled in buttery, flaky pastry mmm!) and of course what you eat it with….any guesses?!

To give a balanced view, a vegetarian or vegan diet is not necessarily healthy either. I needn’t tell you that living on cheese and spaghetti on toast is not the best approach! On the plus side, we know that vegetarians have 10% lower rates of cancer, 32% lower rates of high blood pressure and heart disease as well as lower rates of diabetes.

So lets hear it for the benefits from eating what I call ‘real’ meat

Image result for muscles

1. A Better Quality Protein

There are 9 ‘essential‘ amino acids (used to build protein) that our body simply cannot make. Therefore we must get them from our diet. In this regard, animal protein (including eggs) is an excellent source of all the amino acid building blocks that we need. Most plant proteins have a sub optimal amino acid profile as they are often missing in 1 or 2 of the building blocks. My analogy for this is in trying to build a house.

To build a house fit for purpose, you need bricks, cement, tiles, pipes, wires, windows, wood, glass and doors. If you miss just one of these components, you end up with a draught house that leaks or a cold house with not water – you need all 9 components to make the house work.

There is a greater need for vegetarians compared to meat eaters to ensure their diet is sufficiently varied with good plant based protein sources such as:

  • lentils
  • quinoa
  • beans
  • hemp seed
  • buckwheat
  • chia seeds
  • other seeds & nutsImage result for animal protein

2. Loaded with Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in animal products and more so in red vs white meat. Vitamin B-12 deficiency is a potential problem for vegetarians & vegans, making it almost an essential requirement that vitamin B-12–fortified foods are included in your diet. If you only eat a small amount or avoid all animal products, it’s important to have a reliable source of vitamin B12 in your diet in the form of a recommended supplement. Other good sources of vitamin B12 include:

  • Milk, cheese & dairy
  • Eggs
  • Yeast extracts like Marmite
  • Fortified breakfast cereals and fortified soya products

And not only that, meat also contains plenty of other B vitamins including B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and B9 as well as Vit D; vital for energy releasing processes, your immune system, heart health and mood!

Image result for grass fed cows

3. Excellent source of healthy polyunsaturated fats

Dont just think of bad fats when you think of meat. Yes red meat may have more of this saturated fat but did you know it also contains healthy fats too? Unprocessed meat is rich with healthy fats; monounsaturated fats that we get from olive oil  and fish (if a pescatarian) or meat from grass-fed animals are fantastic sources of Omega-3 fats – these are particularly beneficial in helping to maintain a healthy heart and reduce the risk of heart disease when eaten as part of a healthy diet. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids suitable for vegetarians include:

  • flaxseed (linseed) oil
  • rapeseed oil
  • soya-based foods, such as tofu
  • hemp and chia seeds
  • mung beans and kidney beans
  • walnuts
  • egg enriched with omega-3

Some evidence suggests however that vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids may not have the same benefits for reducing the risk of heart disease as those in oily fish.

Related image

4. Packed full of Iron

Red meat is probably one of the best sources of iron but turkey is also up there with these leaders! Vegetarians are more likely to have lower iron stores than meat eaters as the iron from plants is much less absorbable.  If you’re a vegetarian, keep in mind that the absorption rate of the iron from animal-based sources ranges from 15-35 %, compared to just 2-20 % from plants. Vegetarians may need to consume twice as much dietary iron as meat-eaters but that certainly didn’t stop the likes of Carl Lewis, Venus Williams or Mike Tyson!

Sources of iron for vegetarians include:

  • eggs (lacto-ovo vegetarians)
  • pulses (all beans, lentils and chickpeas etc)
  • dried fruit (apricots, raisins and prunes are particularly good)
  • dark-green leafy vegetables
  • wholemeal bread
  • fortified cereals (with added iron)

So my advice is go knock yourself out on a tasty steak if you fancy it BUT the recommended amount is only 70g for red meat and only once per week. Opt for a couple of meat free days each week if you can, or even one as a minimum is a good step if you think you might fade away!