Word on Health

Word On Eating Better

Our grateful thanks to the experts who contributed to our on-air report (which you can hear again via our audio player below) and to the NHS and the charity, GUTS UK for the use of the support material below.  

As we reported, pre-pandemic research shows that poor diet, irregular eating and the way we consume our food impacts on our bowel health.   

IBS is the term used to describe a variety of gut symptoms. Symptoms vary from one individual to  another and can be worse for some than others. It is a very common condition with around one in five people affected. Typical symptoms are:

  • Low abdominal pain which may ease after opening your bowels
  • Diarrhoea and/or constipation
  • Bloating and wind (flatulence and burping)
  • Passing mucus
  • Feeling the need to open your bowels even after having just been to the toilet
  • A feeling of urgency to open your bowels 

It is not normal to pass blood in poo or lose weight  unintentionally. So, consult your doctor if this happens (if you or any member of your family have been invited to participate in the NHS Bowel Health Screening Programme - click here to find out why this is so important).

It is important to have a diagnosis of IBS confirmed and other conditions such as coeliac disease and inflammatory bowel disease ruled out. Talk to your GP about having a test to rule out coeliac disease prior to making any changes to your diet.

As symptoms usually occur after eating it is not  surprising that food is often blamed. True food allergies are rare and are unlikely to cause IBS symptoms. However, they could be caused by food intolerance. There are many tests available commercially claiming that they can diagnose food intolerance e.g. IgG blood test, kinesiology, electrodermal (Vega) testing or hair analysis. There is no convincing evidence to support any of  these tests. The only reliable way to identify the problem foods is by eliminating and reintroducing foods. This should be done under the supervision of a dietitian, so if you feel your symptoms are due to food intolerance, ask your doctor to refer you to a dietitian.

What steps can you take?

  • Eat three regular meals a day
  • Try not to skip any meals or eat late at night. Smaller meal sizes may ease symptoms
  • Limit alcohol intake to no more than two units per day  and have at least two alcohol free days a week
  • Cut down on rich or fatty foods such as chips, fast foods, pies, batter, cheese, pizza, creamy sauces, crisps, chocolate, cake, biscuits, spreads and cooking oils and fatty meats such as burgers and sausages
  • Reduce your intake of manufactured foods and cook from fresh ingredients whenever possible

Helpful hints

  • Keep a food and symptoms diary whilst you are making changes so you can see what has helped
  • Take time to eat meals - chew your food well
  • Take regular exercise such as walking, jogging, cycling or swimming
  • Take time to relax - relaxation tapes, yoga,aromatherapy or massage may help
  • Make one change at a time so that you can see what has helped

If symptoms include bloating & wind

  • Limit fruit juice to one small glass per serving
  • Limit intake of gas producing foods e.g. beans and pulses, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage,  cauliflower, and also sugar-free mints/chewing gum
  • Lactose can sometimes cause wind and bloating and IBS-type symptoms. Trial using lactose free cows milk, yoghurts, cream and cheeses instead of ordinary versions for two to four weeks. Using these products will help maintain your calcium intake. If it makes no difference, then return to using ordinary milk and dairy products

If symptoms include constipation 

  • Ensure a good fluid intake – about eight glasses/mugs (two litres) a day
  • Increase your fibre intake gradually - any sudden  increase may make symptoms worse. Choose whole grains and eat more fruit and vegetables. Oats and linseeds are good sources of fibre and will help to soften poo and make it easier to pass
  • Try adding one tablespoon per day of brown or  golden linseeds (whole or ground) to breakfast  cereal, yoghurt, soup or on salad. Have around a small glass/teacup (150ml) of fluid with each tablespoon of linseeds taken.
  • Avoid eating extra wheat bran
Probiotics. You may wish to try ‘probiotic’ supplements, yoghurts or fermented milk drinks. Take them daily for at least four weeks to see if they improve symptoms.

Good Eating For All - A balanced diet Most people in the UK eat and drink too many calories, too much saturated fat, sugar and salt, and not enough fruit, vegetables, oily fish or fibre. Also, as we reported, too many of us don't take or make time to eat properly. 

There are five different food groups;

  • starchy foods (bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, cereals)
  • protein foods (meat, fish eggs, beans)
  • dairy foods (milk, cheese and yogurt)
  • fruits and vegetables
  • oils and spreads

One single food group cannot provide everything needed for good health, choosing a variety of foods from each group can help achieve a healthy balanced diet.

It is recommended that starchy foods, vegetables and fruit should make up the bulk of meals. All of those contain the most fibre, which is an important part of a healthy diet. Fibre is not just important for good gut health and functioning: it is also associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer.

Starchy foods should be eaten regularly and you should aim to include one portion with each meal. Where possible higher-fibre starchy foods, such as wholegrain versions of bread, rice, other grains (barley, oats, buckwheat, bulgur, etc.), and breakfast cereals, should be consumed.

Beans and pulses, seeds and nuts are also good sources of fibre and can help increase the amount, as well as the variety, of fibre we consume. The recommendation is to eat 30 grams of fibre a day but most people only eat an average of 18 grams a day.

It is advisable to increase the amount of fibre consumed gradually and to drink plenty of fluids.There are different types of fibre and each type behaves differently in your gut. Some types of fibre help make your stool bigger and easier to pass, which might help avoid constipation. Other types of fibre are digested (broken down) by your gut bacteria, producing substances that can be beneficial to your gut health. They might also produce gases, which can cause bloating. People respond differently to different types of fibre and it is worth noting that many foods contain more than one type of fibre.

High-fibre foods are also beneficial because they have a lower glycaemic index - a measure of the rate at which certain foods cause blood sugar to rise after they have been eaten. High glycaemic index food such as sweets and white (refined) starchy foods release a lot of sugar quickly, which your body has to use up or else it gets stored as fat.

A certain amount of protein is needed and can be obtained from many different sources including beans, pulses, fish, eggs and meat. Protein should be eaten in moderation. To avoid excess fat choose lean meat or remove excess fat and remove the skin from chicken. Milk and dairy foods are a rich source of calcium. Calcium is needed for healthy bones and teeth and it is recommended to have three servings a day from this food group. Only a small proportion of foods should be made up of fatty and sugary foods.To maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle, in addition to eating the correct foods, it is also important to be aware of other factors. These include:

  • Maintaining a fluid intake at around two litres per day.
  • Monitoring portion sizes. It can be easy to get in the habit of large portion sizes. A rule of thumb for a meal is a fist-sized portion of carbohydrate and palm-sized portion of protein.
  • Minimising fizzy or sugary drinks, including fruit juice. Choose dilutable sugar-free squash, tea, coffee or water.
  • Limiting alcohol intake to 14 weekly units for men and women.
  • Avoiding or reducing intake of certain foods such as sweets, cakes, crisps, chocolate, processed meats. • Aim for less than six grams of salt per day and try to avoid adding salt to food.
  • Eating at least five portions of fruit and/or vegetables per day.
  • Eating at least two portions of fish per week, one of which should be oily (eg mackerel, trout, sardines, kippers or fresh tuna).
  • Replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated or mono-unsaturated fat.

5 a day.  According to NHS Direct, Fruit and vegetables are a good source of vitamins and minerals and fibre, and should make up just over a third of the food you eat each day.

It's recommended that you eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. They can be fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced.

There's evidence that people who eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers.

A portion is:

  1. 80g of fresh, canned or frozen fruit and vegetables
  2. 30g of dried fruit – which should be kept to mealtimes
  3. 150ml glass of fruit juice or smoothie – but do not have more than 1 portion a day as these drinks are sugary and can damage teeth
  4. Just 1 apple, banana, pear or similar-sized fruit is 1 portion each.
  5. A slice of pineapple or melon is also 1 portion, and 3 heaped tablespoons of vegetables is another portion.

Adding a tablespoon of dried fruit, such as raisins, to your morning cereal is an easy way to get 1 portion.

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All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.