What’s up with your gut? Find the answers to bloating and diarrhoea in my new book

Gut problems are incredibly common and plague millions of people on a daily basis.Sadly, many people never find a satisfactory explanation or diagnosis for their painful and embarrassing symptoms.

Whether you bloat after eating bread or pasta, suffer cramping pains in your abdomen or experience bouts of watery diarrhoea or suffer  unexplained constipation despite eating lots of fibre – it can be a battle to get to the bottom of  what’s really up with your gut.

With coeliac disease for instance, where the body’s immune system mistakes gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley or rye for a pathogen and mounts an inflammatory response, it can take an average of 13 years to get a diagnosis and in the UK it’s been estimated that 75 per cent of cases go undiagnosed.

It’s the same with a whole host of other gut conditions -including bile acid diarrhoea and non coeliac gluten sensitivity to name just a few.With this in mind, I’ve co-authored a new book with gastroenterologist Professor Julian Walters from  Imperial  Healthcare in London called ‘What’s Up with Your Gut?’ (Hammersmith Press £14.99 on Amazon).

The book discusses possible causes for gut problems and helps you spot key symptoms for different diseases.  These include familiar ones you will heard of including IBS ,coeliac disease and Crohn’s disease but also some lesser known but surprisingly common conditions you might not have come across before, including bile acid diarrhoea, non coeliac gluten sensitivity, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and microscopic colitis. There are also useful sections on spotting the signs of cancer, indigestion  GORD, globus sensation and pretty much every other gut complaint you can think of!

There’s also lots of information about FODMAPs (short chain carbohydrates or sugars) and the foods you should try and cut down on; tips on how to get tested  for lactose intolerance and other food intolerances.

Seven mystery gut problems you probably haven’t heard of

Here’s a taster of seven mystery gut complaints that you can read all about in the book.

  • Bile acid diarrhoea: Up to one million people in the UK could have bile acid diarrhoea (BAD) also known as bile acid malabsorption – according to some estimates. It’s a particularly nasty type of diarrhoea which can produce up to 10 watery bowel movements a day. The good news is that there’s a test and a treatment available for it.
  • Non coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS): It’s estimated between four and seven million people could have NCGS in the UK. Despite NCGS producing symptoms similar to coeliac disease including bloating, diarrhoea, and weight loss and it responding to a gluten-free diet – blood tests and biopsies are negative for coeliac disease.
  • SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth):SIBO is another common cause of watery diarrhoea. It’s caused by too much bacteria growing in the small intestine  and results in fatty stools, weight loss, bloating or even anaemia. Some experts have proposed it is a possible cause of Irritable Bowel syndrome.
  • Microscopic colitis: This can be a cause of severe, watery,persistent diarrhoea, bloating and pain and is caused by inflammation of the colon and estimated to affect one in 1,000 people. The inflammation is only visible under a microscope and can be missed in standard  biopsies.
  • Globus sensation: This is the medical name for feeling that you have a lump in your throat (when no physical lump exists) and accounts for one in 20 referrals to ENT specialists.
  • Pelvic Radiation Disease: PRD can cause 21 different bowel symptoms including bloating and diarrhoea with loose and fatty stools and is caused by radiation treatment for cancer in the pelvic area. Symptoms can develop long after treatment so patients may not realise they are connected to their radiotherapy.
  • Slow transit constipation: Between 15 and 30 per cent of patients with chronic constipation have slow transit where their gut doesn’t move food and waste at the normal rate. Eating more fibre will make it worse – leading to years of discomfort unless the right diagnosis is made.

I’ll be blogging about some of these conditions in more depth shortly but just thought I’d give you the heads up that the book is now available to buy (there’s a Kindle  version too). I really hope the book  helps you find out what is up with your gut – the inspiration for  it came from the very encouraging feedback I’ve had on the blog so thanks to everyone who has commented and read WUWYH. Big thanks go to Professor Julian Walters for his help and guidance with the research  and writing of the book too.

Here’s a link  to an article in the Daily Mail about the book which will tell you more (the fact that it has been shared online 1.5K times means there are clearly a lot of people out there affected by these issues). http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3820080/The-7-mystery-gut-problems-doctor-not-spot-Millions-patients-left-undiagnosed.html

Continue reading What’s up with your gut? Find the answers to bloating and diarrhoea in my new book

5 reasons why we should all be LOVING prunes


Prunes:  yes they’re wrinkly  BUT delicious and good for you too

Prunes have always had a bit of an image problem – often teamed up with the words “wrinkly”, “old” or even “laxative” – they’ve had a bit of a bad press of late.

Classic 1970s school dinners didn’t help much either –  lots of us remember prunes in their own juices (with the stones still in) and being made to eat  up every last one before we left the table.Yuk!

Fact is though, prunes (dried plums with water extracted  if you want to be technical), are just as healthy and delicious as some of their most glamorous superfood cousins such as blueberries and pomegranates – the “It Girls” of soft fruits . I’ve got some prunes on my desk as I write and they make great  healthy snacks, but like most people I wouldn’t  have a clue how to cook with them.

I should really  say ” wouldn’t have had a clue” though, because that all changed when I got an invite to join celebrity chef Rosemary Shrager for a day in the kitchen at her fabulous new Rosemary Shrager’s Cookery School in Tunbridge Wells down in Kent. Turns out none of us really know what to do with prunes. Rosemary, the new brand ambassador for the California Prune Board no less, was on a mission to convince a dozen of us  food and health writers that prunes are the new pomegranates and that we should all  get over our unfair prejudices against them.I’m a great one for the underdog so I decided to  give it a go.

Rosemary Shrager  : Celebrity chef Rosemary Shrager at her new cookery school

Rosemary showed us just how versatile prunes are to cook with, gave us the recipes and ingredients and let us get on with it. An hour or so later we sat down to  a three course prune-themed lunch we’d  cooked ourselves – starting with  wheaten prune bread, followed by a main course of chicken breast stuffed with prunes,  chicken livers and rosemary, wrapped in strips of  pancetta, on a bed of red Camargue rice(with prunes) and then prune and white chocolate Panna cotta for pud. You’re already smirking aren’t you?  But no the food wasn’t horrible (it was absolutely delicious) and there was no queue for the loo afterwards either or any other digestive events later on to report. We health and food writers were collectively impressed . Who knew the humble prune was quite so versatile?

  CAPTION: Below: Chicken breast with prunes, liver and rosemary served on a bed of Carmargue rice  – with  more prunes

chicken  and prunes

Prune pannacotta< CAPTION> Prune and White Chocolate Panna cotta

Some health benefits of prunes

Just three prunes count as one of your 5-a-day fruit and veg – but they have other health benefits too.

  •  They keep you (ahem) “regular”: Indeed, last year the EU allowed the California Prune Board to make a health claim stating that eating 100g a day of prunes (that’s around 8-12 prunes) contributes to “normal bowel function” as a part of a healthy, balanced diet and lifestyle. I think that’s the polite way of saying they help you avoid constipation and keep you regular. A study published in 2011 in the medical journal Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics found that  prunes were a more effective treatment than psyllium (high fibre plant husks used to treat constipation – they work by drawing out water from the gut and making stools softer). The researchers concluded plums were “safe, palatable and more effective than psyllium for the treatment of mild to moderate constipation”.  Obviously don’t overdo it though…. prunes can REALLY get things moving in the bowel if you eat too many of them because as well as fibre they contain sorbitol which also stimulates bowel movements. Start off  gently with a few  prunes a day and  see what effect they have and gradually increase your intake if needed. If you have  a long-term problem with constipation though its best to see your GP for advice.
  • They may help with weight control: Surely not you’re thinking? Most diet sheets tell you to steer clear of dried fruits because of their high sugar content (30g of prunes contains 11.4g of sugar and 69 calories), but new research published by the University of Liverpool found dieters who ate prunes as a snack lost more weight than another group of dieters just given advice about healthy snacks. The more successful dieters said the prunes helped them feel fuller and less hungry. Whilst there’s no magic ingredient in prunes that helps you lose weight, the researchers concluded they certainly didn’t undermine dieting and their fibre content seems to help with satiety. Prunes also taste sweeter when they are cooked so can also be used  as a puree in recipes which are traditionally high in sugar so that the overall sugar content can be reduced.
  • They may be good for bone health: Prunes are a rich source of vitamin K as well as the mineral manganese and both contribute to the maintenance of normal bone health. A study at Florida State University published in 2011 found that post menopausal women who ate prunes had improved bone mass density compared to those who ate dried apple. The researchers thought this could be in part due to the fact that they suppressed the rate of bone turnover.
  • They may be beneficial for blood pressure: This is due to their potassium content which can help maintain normal blood pressure.
  • They may help you feel less tired: Prunes contain vitamin B6 which is important for energy release – so a great snack for between meals.

Need I go on? Anyway, I for one won’t be wrinkling my nose up at prunes anymore… I’ve banished those  school dinner nightmares from memory and I’m actually looking forward  to using them more in  my home cooking – although I probably wouldn’t have them in every  course just because they are incredibly filling and sweet.

Oh, and if you have any healthy or indulgent recipes using prunes  you’ve devised  yourself  you could win a bread making masterclass for two with Rosemary Shrager on 10 May 2015 (including travel and overnight accommodation), plus a chance to have them published in an e-recipe book.Upload your recipes in either category at www.californiaprunerecipes.co.uk or visit the California Prunes Facebook page for details. Ten runners-up will each win a £100 supermarket voucher to spend in a store of their choice.