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.


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.


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

Cakes,_1963 (2)

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 (

  • 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 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! 🙂


The truth about low fat foods – programme review

Last night I watched Channel 4’s Dispatches Programme on low fat foods (8pm); it took a critical view at the low fat food industry and questioned the general public’s understanding of these foods which we can’t seem to get enough of – we spend £5billion pounds on low fat foods each year!

I get that fat can make food very appealing; it provides a nice smooth feel in the mouth and when combined with sugar, the taste is sweet, delicious and satisfying.  As the programme said, ‘fat is greasy, gooey and we love it!’ On the other hand, it is making our waist lines expand and it is bad for our heart and health.


So is low fat food the answer? Not according to the findings in this programme!

So what exactly is a low fat or reduced fat food? 

They are NOT the same (the majority of people have no idea).

  • A low fat product contains less than 3% fat (<3g fat per 100g)
  • A reduced fat or ‘lighter’ product contains 30% less fat than the standard product – this does NOT necessarily make it low fat.

What is the problem with a low fat food?

When removing fat from a product, it needs to be replaced with something else and there is no limit on how much of the other ingredient is added; often fat is replaced with sugar.  The low fat products often have more sugar in them than the full fat equivalent!

The key advice from the programme was to be very careful when picking your items off the shelf – make no assumption the lower fat product is actually healthier; whether coming from fat or sugar, Calories are Calories, it doesn’t matter where they come from; the excess Calories we are consuming today from processed foods are contributing to obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

How useful are food labels in making healthier choices?

Food labels have improved (and are continuing to improve); the introduction of the traffic light system helps us identify foods at a glance that are low in fat (green) or high in fat (red) but did you know that a reduced fat food can still be high in fat?! (and labelled red).  There have been a number of discussions about the misleading nature of food labels; we get drawn in by the healthy images and nutritional claims (i.e. a food is reduced fat) but how can a food be labelled as such when it has such a high sugar content?  Again, we are being drawn in by these attractive marketing claims but something needs to change if food labels are going to help us make overall healthy choices.


Professor Theresa Marteau, a leading researcher in health behaviour was interviewed and asked how food labels can influence our food choices.  She said ‘if a food is labelled as low fat, we tend to eat much more of it’

This is for 2 reasons:

  1. we underestimate the Calories in the low fat product (as we assume it is entirely healthy and so justify we can eat more)
  2. we have reduced feelings of guilt (so we can justify eating more)

How reliable is the nutritional information anyway?

What surprised me most in the programme was the fact that the nutritional information provided on food labels (and this information dictates which traffic light colour the food is given) is not necessarily accurate!  Apparently there is a 30% margin of error for the amount of a particular nutrient (i.e. fat) stated on the label. This means that some foods on our shelves contain 30-50% more fat than is being claimed on the label.

What then shocked me was that the food companies themselves are responsible for obtaining this nutritional data that supports their own nutritional claims!  I smell a rat here…….When the reporter questioned a member of the Food and Drink Federation about this, he was obviously squirming in his seat and like a politician, tried very hard not to answer directly.  The various food companies that were also questioned about the accuracy of their food data all confirmed their food labels were correct, although one company did admit that perhaps one of the food handlers was a bit generous with the cheese on a pie topping :-/ Hmmm.

So the bottom line is this – be a little cynical when doing your shopping and be careful when making choices about what to put in your trolley.  Low fat foods are not necessarily the answer to your prayers; if you stick to eating things in moderation and watch the sugar and the fat, you should be moving in the right direction.