Top Tip No.3 for a healthy gut: cut down fat and processed food

Cut down on fat and processed meat

The problem with high fat, processed foods is that they cause havoc with our digestion and are very harmful towards our health in terms of cardiovascular disease and cancers.  Lean meat can certainly form part of a healthy meal / diet but too much red meat, fatty foods and processed meats particularly can increase our risk of developing bowel cancer.

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We have all over eaten at some point; I am a sucker for that piece of cheesecake that is calling to me ‘eat me!….eat me!..’ even though I know I will struggle to find room for it;  you must know that ‘ready to burst’ feeling when we need to lie down (or you are desperately trying to release the belt on your trousers without anyone noticing) and those unpleasant sensations are probably worse when you have had a particularly large, rich and fatty meal.   High-fat foods take longer to digest so will stay in our stomach for a longer; a nice oily take-away curry will probably remain in your stomach for up to 6hrs!  During this time, your stomach continues to release hydrochloric acid (needed for digestion of protein) which can bubble up into the oesophagus and cause heartburn or contribute to stomach (and duodenal) ulcers.

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Fatty or greasy foods like processed meats (pies, sausages, and pasties), crisps, cakes, biscuits and rich desserts can all make symptoms worse.

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Overconsumption of processed meats has been linked to various cancers of the digestive system (particularly stomach cancer and bowel cancer) and high fat foods also exacerbate IBS symptoms.

It is recommended in the UK that we eat no more than 70g/day of red or processed meat; unfortunately 4 in 10 men and 1 in 10 women eat more than 90g/day.

What does 70g look like?

Its pretty much what you get in a Big Mac  (my claim to fame being that I have never actually eaten one of these!)

Typical servings we might get when eating out often contain more than the recommended amount: I pinched this from the NHS Choices site (http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/red-meat.aspx)

  • A portion of Sunday roast (three thin-cut slices of roast lamb, beef or pork, each about the size of half a slice of sliced bread): 90g
  • A grilled 8oz beef steak: 163g
  • A cooked breakfast (two standard British sausages – often sold in packs of eight that weigh 1lb or 454g and two thin-cut rashers of bacon): 130g
  • A large doner kebab: 130g
  • A 5oz rump steak: 102g
  • A quarter pounder beefburger: 78g
  • A Peperami: 25g

What is the connection between red meat, processed meat and bowel cancer?

It is the iron content of these foods that has been linked to bowel cancer risk . This is because most dietary iron is not absorbed very well and so remains in the gut, to which the gut wall is exposed.  The iron damages the cells of the gut wall that could lead to cancerous changes taking place.  Meat, especially red and processed meat, is almost exclusively the source of this iron.

According to a report by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (in 2010) It is not yet possible to discern a clear  threshold level of intakes of red or processed meat associated with increased bowel cancer risk because it is actually very hard to consistently categorise and quantify red and processed meat intake.  I am now following the Gut Health and Food Safety Blog http://blogs.ifr.ac.uk/ghfs/2014/04/bowel-cancer-aware-njb/which talks about their interesting work on bowel cancer; they are also looking at other nutrition factors such as folic acid, vitamin D and selenium and bowel cancer, so watch that space.

I should add however that poultry and other white meats are perfectly fine (if we go for the lower fat, lean options still) and that reducing red meat intake to 70g should not increase your risk of becoming iron deficient or anaemic; it will improve your overall health though!

Tip No. 4 on its way tomorrow! 🙂

Top Tip No.2 for a healthy gut: probiotics

Increase your  probiotic intake

Probiotics are bacteria that we can consume to add to the existing populations that naturally live in our bowel.

There is around 1.4kg of bacteria in the human gut; 10 times more bacteria than human cells in our bodies and between 500 – 1,000 different species!

We can benefit from topping up these levels of bacteria, particularly if we have had a bout of food poisoning or gastroenteritis, suffered from travellers diarrhoea  or have been on a course of antibiotics (that wipe out both the bad and good bacteria). Basically a probiotic is the opposite of an antibiotic.

There is growing evidence that a regular intake of probiotics may increase the levels of good bacteria and positively influence our digestive health. We can buy a good quality probiotic supplement (in the form of capsules that are designed to survive the acid of the stomach and therefore reach the bowel) from chemists or decent health food shops (my probiotics contain ~10billion bacteria per gram!)  or we can just try to eat more probiotic containing foods like live yoghurt and some yoghurt drinks (e.g. Yakult, Danone Actimel or Muller Vitality), just watch the sugar content of some of these though.

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 Bifidobacteria are one of the good guys; ideally we want them to be present in the greatest numbers to keep our gut happy . These bacteria are a type of lactic acid bacteria – the most common bacterial probiotic strain that are used in the manufacture of yoghurt and are frequently incorporated into probiotic supplements.  The theory is that taking Bifidobacterium probiotics during antibiotic treatment can  minimize the death of good bacteria , thereby helping to prevent the take-over by bad bacteria. So look for a probiotic with a good amount of bifidobacteria if you can.

Some foods however are naturally rich in probiotics; especially fermented foods:

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cheese

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miso soup

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sauerkraut

Banderillas

pickles

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                            good quality dark chocolate (oh goody!)

Recent research has shown the good bacteria in the gut may break down (ferment) the cocoa in the chocolate (the better the quality of chocolate, the more cocoa), producing an anti-inflammatory effect. In turn this could improve cardiovascular health by reducing the incidence of stroke and heart attacks. Some claims have been made that dark chocolate could even reduce cancer risk but a lot more work needs to be done to prove or disprove that theory.

Having said this, chocolate can exacerbate IBS symptoms through triggering the release of serotonin (the feel good hormone that makes us fall in love with chocolate) which can cause diarrhoea in some individuals.  So as with increasing your fibre intake (see Tip No.1), if you decide to increase your probiotic intake, do it gradually to allow your body to adjust gently.

Tip 3 follows tomorrow…………… 🙂