Category Archives: Nutrition

How often do you poop?

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Seriously though. I know people get touchy about this subject, but let’s all be grown ups and have some real talk about the importance of regular bowel movements.

A lecturer recently mentioned that the optimum number is three – once after every meal! Ideally, you should poop at least once a day. Yep. Once a day. I know a lot of people say once every few days is fine, but really, for your body to do what it needs to do, you need to poop once a day at the very minimum.

Why once a day, you ask? Well, healthy bowel movements, far from being an irritation, are a sign that your body is getting rid of what it needs to. Bowel movements are connected to proper detoxification function in the body and mean that your body is excreting excess hormones (i.e. oestrogen, testosterone, thyroid hormone, etc), toxins (i.e. nicotine, xenoestrogens, carcinogens, insecticides, etc), pharmaceutical drugs, alcohol, excess fats and sugars.

For women, this is very important as regular bowel movements are linked to proper estrogen clearance. Improper estrogen clearance can lead to estrogen dominance, mood swings, heavier periods, PMS, weight gain around the middle and fatigue, amongst other symptoms.

So what do healthy bowel movements look like? In clinic, we refer to something called the Bristol Stool Chart, with type 3, 4 and 5 stools as the ideal bowel movements.

Type 1 and 2 can indicate constipation and dehydration and type 6 and 7 can indicate diarrhoea and fat malabsorption. NB: please see a doctor if you ever spot blood or mucus in your stool.

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What if you don’t have healthy, regular bowel movements? If you are not suffering from diarrhoea, there are two immediate fixes I would always suggest:

1. Increase your water intake to around 1.5 – 2L per day.

2. Increase your vegetable intake, ideally green leafy veg, consumed in their whole form, not juiced. Try to have at least 5-7 servings of a wide range of vegetables a day. If that’s not possible, try to have a big salad with lots of leafy greens for either lunch or dinner.

I would also recommend increasing the amount of fermented foods in your diets – foods like sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, natto, miso and kombucha. These foods feed the good bacteria in your gut, support digestion of large carbohydrates and boost your immune system. A happy gut = happy bowels!

Don’t detox, just eat better.

At this time of the year, newspapers and magazines are filled with weight loss, fitness and detox stories. And I’ll admit, I do enjoy reading them and seeing what nutrition & exercise (mis)information is being passed around.

One of my biggest gripes is seeing articles that talk about needing to detox post Christmas, with claims that a 3, 5, 7, 10 (you choose a number of days!) day detox will cure everything that ails you.

The biological reality is that your body is constantly detoxifying itself – that’s what your liver, kidneys, bowels, lungs and skin are for. And the by-products of this perpetual detoxification are stool, urine and sweat (really! they’re not just annoyances!).

The liver is the body’s waste purification plant and it is perpetually in motion, 24 hours a day. The more toxins you put in, the harder the liver has to work to remove them. By toxins, I mean products and by-products of the digestive system (excess sugar, trans-fatty acids and gut dysbiosis), alcohol, smoking by-products, environmental toxins (lead, chlorine, fluorine, insecticides, herbicides, solvents, metals, mould, pollen, algae) and oxidative stress (free radicals).

Your body really doesn’t want toxins to build up. So much so that the liver has a two stage detoxification process to make sure all the waste is removed – anything from alcohol to heavy metals to pesticides to the by-products of medication to hormones like xenoestrogens. The liver is continuously converting these substances to inactive forms for excretion in urine (via the kidneys) or stool.

How do you know whether your body’s detoxification functions are working correctly? Here are some signs and symptoms are suboptimal detoxification:

If your bowels aren’t functioning well, you’re likely to have bloating, fatty stools, constipation, diarrhoea, an intolerance to fatty foods and bad breath.

If your immune system isn’t functioning well, you’re likely to have food allergies, skin issues like eczema and psoriasis, recurring infections and potentially asthma.

If your endocrine system (hormones) isn’t functioning well, you’re like to suffer from high stress, infertility, PMS, mood swings, anxiety and potentially depression.

If your nervous system isn’t functioning well, you’re likely to have headaches, poor sleep, lethargy and poor memory and concentration.

So knowing all this, the real question (which is less of a quick fix and not as sexy a ‘detox’): how can I consistently support my liver, lungs, skin, digestive system, bowels and kidneys?

  1. Drink lots of water throughout the day. Most people are slightly dehydrated and often mistake thirst for hunger, so the bare minimum to aim for is 1.5L of water across the day.
  2. Eat green leafy vegetables. These contain the micronutrients and enzymes that support the first stage of liver detoxification and kickstart the second stage.
  3. Eat more nuts and seeds. Seeds like pumpkin, sesame, sunflower and nuts like almonds, cashews, Brazils and hazelnuts have micronutrients that help your liver work better.
  4. Eat enough protein. Red meat, nuts, eggs and fish are amongst some of the protein sources that contain the amino acids needed for the second stage of liver detoxification.
  5. Don’t drink alcohol every day. Metabolising alcohol puts pressure on the liver and diverts it from its other important functions, such as bile secretion, which is helps the body digest fats.
  6. Support your gut. A good balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut supports your immune and digestive systems and helps improve the quality of your skin.
  7. Get at least 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night. Sleep is when your body has a chance to repair and regenerate and this supports its detoxification systems.
  8. Get sweaty at least 3 times a week. A good excuse for a run, a spin class or a shag!

Just eat more vegetables.

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People like shortcuts. Maybe it’s a symptom of our modern world, where we can get pretty much anything we want at the touch of a button.

Speaking of shortcuts, I’m often asked by friends, family and colleagues about the fastest ways to get healthy / fit / more energy (delete as appropriate).

There are two answers I always give, no matter what their underlying symptoms. Then I ask more questions and give a more detailed, tailored response.

The first answer is always – get more sleep or go to bed earlier.

I’ve talked about the benefits of sleep before – it regulates your metabolism, allows your various organs to repair and heal and allows your brain to process the events of the day. Don’t give into the current masochism around sleep – most people really need at least 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night to be fully functional.

And then my second answer is always – eat more fresh vegetables, especially green leafy ones.

I cannot overstate that vegetables are little nutrition powerhouses! Each vegetable has many individual benefits, with its own mix of macronutrients (protein, good fats and complex carbohydrates) and phytonutrients.

The greater the variety in your vegetable intake, the more benefit to you. When in doubt, just eat the rainbow!

Ideally, everyone would eat at least 5-7 servings of vegetables a day. I know that’s hard, so  you’ll often hear nutritionists,(including me!) say to prioritise cruciferous / brassica vegetables. You know them as broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, kale, brussels sprouts, savoy cabbage, radish, bok choy and watercress.

Not only are they high in antioxidants like vitamins A and C, they are also high in folic acid and vitamin K and have a huge amount of minerals such as magnesium and potassium.

Cruciferous vegetables are also high in phytonutrients like glucosinolates which support your liver in clearing excess hormones, alcohol, xenoestrogens and environmental chemicals.

So, adding a big handful of kale to your morning smoothie after a big night out will help your liver clear the alcohol from your system and make your feel better a bit faster!

In a nutshell, adding more cruciferous vegetables into your diet can help you boost your energy levels, support your liver, balance your hormones, support your immune system and feed the good bacteria in your gut!

There are lots of ways to add cruciferous vegetables to your diet:

Add a big handful of kale to your morning smoothie

Make a big pot of soup with broccoli, cabbage or cauliflower

Make a big a*s salad with loads of different veggies in it

Grate up some cabbage for a coleslaw

Make a big tray of roasted veg

Steam some asparagus and eat them with hummus as a snack

How do you eat your veggies?

Food is food – nutritious, cheap and tasty.

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This week, a prominent doctor in the UK talked about the need to reduce the 5-a-day fruit and vegetable intake recommendation because it was ‘unrealistic’ for low-income families to achieve this. She says that lots of families may struggle to afford the recommended amounts and that “many children are being brought up with a culture of not having any fresh fruits and vegetables at all.”

I was shocked when I read this headline (which was repeated across multiple websites) and decided to dig deeper into the story. What she is actually says, is that “in the consultation with patients, it’s vital that GPs sometimes need to tailor the advice to the family in front of them. That may be starting with one or two portions a day and building up to the five portions a day.”

My frustration with this misleading story (tailored advice is a good thing) reminded me of a quote I recently read in a profile of Jamie Oliver.

“It’s quite British, this association with having any degree of thought or love of food being upper class or middle class or whatever you want to class it up as. That’s not the rest of the world. On my travels, the best food has come from the most economically challenged areas.”

It’s easy to understand why there are such strong class associations with food in the United Kingdom – classism persists across all areas of life. It’s really quite remarkable. Even still, there has been a lot of great work by the likes of Jamie Oliver, Jack Munro and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to make food and food preparation more equalitarian and accessible.

It’s remains true that the more fresh fruit and veg you eat, the better for you.

So here are the million pound questions:

How can we continue to spread the message that eating well needn’t cost a lot?

That it is possible to get your 5 to 7-a-day without breaking the bank?

What role do supermarkets play in this? Schools?

I don’t have all the answers, clearly.

What I know, is that it’s our role as nutritionists and health professionals to present simple, easy to understand messages of food and health to our patients and clients. To teach them tasty and nutritious food can be inexpensive.

This lovely warm chickpea and bacon salad (47p per serving!) is a great example of cheap, tasty and nutritious.

Don’t forget about your gut.

Remember what Hipprocrates said so long ago: All disease begins in the gut.

In our modern world, we’ve forgotten a lot of this and rely on band-aid solutions to get us through whatever ails us.

Our gut and the bacteria within in are so important.  Our gastrointestinal tract has to both absorb nutrients and act as a barrier against foreign organisms and molecules like microbes and allergens, from the day we are born. We need to take care of it!

Did you know?

  • 70% of our immune system is in our digestive tract, so when the gut is unhappy, the rest of the body is unhappy
  • The digestive tract / gut is one long tube that runs from the mouth and runs all the way to the anus
  • Stretched out, the gut would cover a surface of 400 square metres
  • We have over 100 hundred billion bacteria in our gut – more cells than in our body!
  • There are approximately 400 – 500 species of bacteria in the large intestine and 200 species in the oral cavity
  • Bacteria form the basis of our immune system
  • Infants have a special need for stimulation of their gut microbiota because they are born with a sterile intestine – babies that are vaginally born are inoculated with bacteria from their mother’s vagina, whereas c-section babies are inoculated with bacteria from their mother’s skin and the operating room

There are two categories of gut bacteria:

  1. Innate gut bacteria: This is the gut bacteria that we are born with. They help protect us from the time we come out of our mother’s womb. Certain practices such as Caesarean sections, formula feeding and early antibiotic deplete this innate gut bacteria and can lead to some problems in the future, such as frequent illness, skin conditions like eczema and obesity.
  2. Acquired gut bacteria: This is the Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue (GALT) that we start to acquire when we are six months old. GALT is made up of several types of lymphoid tissue that contain immune cells that protect us and are fundamental to our immune system.

Building your child’s gut bacteria with breastfeeding

Breastfeeding and skin to skin contact is the most immediate way of providing your baby with the immune components that help establish and build their gut bacteria, as well as providing protection for their respiratory system and other mucus tissues.

Breastfeeding promotes the growth of beneficial lactic acid bacteria in the baby’s gut flora, which are beneficial to the development of the child’s immune system. The antibodies that are transmitted from the mother through the colostrum have been educated by maternal gut microbes and provide a broad range of immediate protection to the baby.

The friendly bacteria in the gut play multiple roles, including secreting natural antibiotics and competitively inhibiting pathogenic microbes. The more varied the species of bacteria in your gut flora, the more protection you and your baby will receive from them. This protection stays with the baby throughout their life.

If you’re formula feeding, you can give your child’s digestive system an extra boost with probiotic powders or drops, that can be added to their formula. This gives your baby’s gut bacteria the support it needs to develop effectively.

Building your child’s gut bacteria with food 

Once you introduce solid food to your child, it’s important to feed them a nutritious diet, not only to ensure they are receiving the necessary vitamins and minerals to help them grow, but to ensure they continue to be exposed prebiotic and probiotic food that build their gut flora.

Prebiotics are a non-digestible food ingredient that promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the intestines.  Probiotics are the good bacteria that come from food and supplements that can support your immune system.

Building your gut bacteria as an adult

Even if you’ve been on loads of course of antibiotics, were born via caesarean section and have been eating a poor quality diet, you can still rebuild your gut bacteria and get your immune and digestive system back in order.

It will take a lot of effort with high strain probiotics and a good quality diet with lots of prebiotic and probiotic foods, but it can be done. And the benefits will be seen very quickly!

What are good prebiotic and probiotic foods? 

Prebiotics: Onions, garlic, bananas, leeks and asparagus are prebiotic foods that you can add to your diet or give to your child, once you’ve established that they are not allergic to any of them.

Probiotics: Fermented foods & drinks like kimchi, sauerkraut & kombucha, coconut kefir and pickles are good options to add into your family’s diet a few times a week. If you’re using store-bought versions of these food and drinks, make sure to read the labels to check for unnecessary extra ingredients like added sugars and preservatives.

Have you taken probiotics or eaten probiotic foods? Have you seen an effect on your gut?

Clean eating? Healthy eating? What about nutritious eating?

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There’s been a lot of chatter in the media this week about the end of ‘clean eating’, with many disavowing this term, saying that it has led to a rise in disordered eating and anorexia.

The denouement of the majority of these pieces tend to call for moderation and for more healthy eating.

I will always applaud anything that helps people get to grips with what and how they eat.

BUT.

It seems to me as health professionals, that we’re suffering from terrible reductionism when it comes to advocating for better quality eating. On one side, there are those that are demonising whole food groups  (i.e. ‘all wheat/sugar/dairy/etc/etc is bad’) and the other side, proclaiming the answer is to simply eat a healthy, balanced diet. Both extremes are very reductionist and don’t offer the nuance that people need. But nuance doesn’t sell newspapers / magazines / books, doesn’t it?

What if you don’t know what eating healthy actually is and what it means for you? What if you’ve picked up the first Deliciously Ella book because everyone was talking about it and you thought it might teach you a few healthy eating tips and tricks? Are you now a part of the clean eating brigade (how I hate that term)?

I’ve discussed this topic before on the blog. The rise of the concept of clean eating isn’t a bad thing. Becoming more aware of what you put into and onto your body is good – we could all benefit from mindfulness when it comes to the way we eat. And with everything, there will always be individuals who have no brakes and take advice and concepts to their limit.

Equally, there will always be charlatans who peddle bad advice. Rather than blame the clean eating bloggers and instagrammers, surely asking people to take some agency around what they put into their bodies isn’t a big ask? Just as we ask people to educate themselves in other areas of their lives (finance is an area that comes to mind), it is not outrageous to expect people to give themselves a broad education into the benefits and drawbacks of the food they feed themselves and their families and to look at what they see on TV and in newspapers and magazines with a critical eye.

I firmly believe that we need to start thinking about food in terms of how nutritious it is. ‘Healthy’ is such a empty, almost meaningless term. Nutritious – the vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, fats in food – is more meaningful and has tangibles that can be referenced.

And what about flavour? Nutritious and flavourful aren’t mutually exclusive. Just as there’s pleasure in eating rich, indulgent foods, there’s also a lot of pleasure in eating nutritious, flavourful foods. The pleasure of eating these foods should ideally last from the moment of anticipation when you first put it in your mouth through to the lovely feeling of satiety when you’ve finished the meal.

Oh, one last thing. Get rid of the guilt. Enjoy the food you do eat and find pleasure in the making and eating of nutritious, flavourful meals.

Have you tried seed cycling?

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I first heard about seed cycling a couple years ago on a natural health podcast and found it very intriguing.

The basic principle of seed cycling is that it is possible to use the primary micronutrients in a few seeds to help balance female sex hormones.

Infertility, dysmenorrhea, amenorrhea, PMS, acne, fatigue and other problems that have links with the menstrual cycle and female sex hormones are becoming more common.  Some of this is due to lifestyle and diet choices, which for some women can cause sub-clinical deficiencies in zinc, selenium and B vitamins –  some of the key micronutrients that help build female sex hormones.  Adding these micronutrients back in systematically can help restore balance.

What are the female sex hormones and why are they important?

If you think back to your biology classes in high school, there are four phases to a woman’s monthly reproductive cycle. At each phase in her cycle, a woman’s body produces different hormones to support the different activities that are happening in her uterus and ovaries.

  1. Menstrual phase: Follicle Stimulating Hormone
  2. Pre-ovulatory phase: Estrogen and Luteinising Hormone
  3. Ovulation: Luteining Hormone
  4. Post-ovulatory phase: Progesterone

Good, balanced hormone production is important not only for regular menstrual cycles, but only for stress management. Too much estrogen (known as estrogen dominance) and too little estrogen can both be problematic in their own way.

Some doctors will prescribe the OCP as a means of hormone balancing. Before going down that route, there are some natural methods, like seed cycling, to consider.

The nitty gritty of seed cycling

You’ll be using flax, pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds, all of which have different micronutrients that support hormone production at different phases of the menstrual cycle.

Flaxseeds and sesame seeds: Both seeds contain lignans, a polyphenol phytonutrient which can block excess estrogen production in the body.

Pumpkin seeds: The zinc in this seed supports progesterone release, which is important for having normal, low pain periods. Zinc also ensures that excess estrogen doesn’t convert to testosterone, which can be very problematic, particularly in PCOS sufferers.

Sunflower seeds: The selenium in this seed supports phase 1 liver detoxification (where your liver begins to clear excess estrogen from the body).  Selenium also helps produce glutathione peroxidase, a very powerful antioxidant.

How to do it

This can take between 1 and 4 cycles to see an effect, so bear with it. If your cycle is longer or shorter than 28 days, just start the second phase the day you ovulate. Day 1 starts the first day of your period. If you aren’t tracking your cycles already with an app or notebook, I strongly urge you to do so. It’s interesting to look back and see how different events can affect the length and strength of your cycle.

Day 1 – 14 (follicular phase): 1 tbsp flax seeds, 1 tbsp pumpkin seeds – these seeds help your liver clear the extra estrogen that can occur during this time of your cycle and the zinc in pumpkin seeds prevent excess testosterone production.

Day 15 – 28 (luteal phase): 1 tbsp sunflower seeds, 1 tbsp sesame seeds – these seeds are rich in zinc and selenium which help progesterone production during this phase of your cycle. They are also high in essential fatty acids, which help balance progesterone and estrogen and support the cell membrane (outer layer) of your eggs.

Take the seeds in the morning if possible, try to get organic seeds and with the flax, try to grind them fresh because the oils in the seeds can go rancid if they’re ground and kept out for too long.

There are so many different ways to have the seeds in the morning.

  • Add them to a morning smoothie
  • Mix them up with some organic full fat Greek yoghurt
  • Make an omelette and then sprinkle them over the top
  • Mix them into a morning salad
  • Date balls! Try this recipe and add in the relevant seeds for the respective time in your cycle
  • Or simply take them with some water

Have you tried seed cycling? Did it work for you?

Photo by Unsplash