Kefir: Liz Earle discusses gut health benefits on This Morning
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There is an almost incessant focus on eating healthily now and the emphasis is to be welcomed in many respects – the UK has an obesity crisis that urgently needs addressing. However, you can have too much of a good thing and this is causing unexpected health problems. That’s the grim assessment of clinical dietitian Elaine McGowan consultant gastroenterologist and Prof Barbara Ryan – the brains behind The Gut Experts.
They are seeing an unprecedented rise in cases of poor gut health as well-intentioned people stumble into making bad decisions.
According to the experts, around 20 percent of cases fall under this category.
Some of the worst culprits Ms McGowan and Prof Ryan come across include wheat and lactose restrictions, drastically increasing fibre intake and following vegan diets.
Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, the experts cited the case of one young woman they helped who previously had no digestive trouble.
It was when she started working out at the gym more regularly and making “healthy” diet changes that the problems started.
After listening to what her new diet was composed of, they discovered she was eating vast quantities of fructans and fructose; spinach and kale smoothies and prune and date bowls.
“It was actually causing her bloating symptoms because she was eating too much fruit and fibre,” said Prof Ryan.
“We’ve all been told to feed our gut bacteria, which is a great thing to do for your overall health, but if you’re taking loads of fibre, your gut bacteria can be singing but your gut can be screaming,” added Ms McGowan.
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To reap the benefits and mitigate the harms, The Gut Experts tout an approach to increasing fibre that goes low and slow; starting with a a daily intake of 20g.
They also warned about the hidden dangers of strictly following dietary rules.
Prof Ryan explained: “We’re seeing a lot more people eating very rigid diets and yet they are not feeling great. They’re cutting out more and more things because they’re trying to manage their gut symptoms but going about it the wrong way.”
What starts as trying to eat a little more healthily can lead to trying to eliminate sugars and eat less saturated fats.
“That moves on quite quickly to more restrictive diet regimes, such as eliminating dairy and wheat,” Prof Ryan told the Daily Telegraph.
The increasing pivot towards plant-based regimes is part of the problem, said Ms McGowan.
“I think if people want to do the plant-based thing for moral or ethical reasons, then OK, but if it’s for perceived health benefits? We personally don’t believe it’s a more healthy approach.”
Crunching the numbers on what you would need to eat to get your iron and calcium requirements from a purely vegan diet, Ms McGowan said it worked out to be three bowls of kale, 18 tablespoons of lentils and 75 almonds a day.
“You have to really try really hard to meet all your nutritional requirements and that’s difficult to do without eating a lot of bloating foods,” added Prof Ryan.
The Gut Experts advise the following to reset your gut health:
- Slow down your eating: Digestion begins with enzymes in the mouth. It’s important to chew your food. Also eating fast can cause you to swallow air
- Leave the carbonated drinks: These can add gas to the abdominal area and create distention
- Don’t graze: Give your gut a rest between meals. When you fast for four hours or so you get something called the housekeeping wave, when your tummy rumbles from hunger. This migrating motor complex is really important for clearing out bacteria debris and helps our bowels move
- It takes about two to three hours for solid foods to get through your stomach into your gut, and an hour for liquids. Avoid lying down until then.
How do I know if my gut health is suffering?
According to Bupa, poor gut health symptoms could be anything from tummy pain, bloating or a headache.
“Keeping a food and symptom diary is a great tool to help you identify allergies and intolerances to certain foods,” says the health body.
It adds: “It can also help you to understand what makes an existing condition worse, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or migraines.”
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