In the second in our new Health Unwrapped series of podcasts, our host, ex Heart Radio presenter and founder of The Fertility Podcast, Natalie Silverman, speaks to Deborah James. Deborah is the inspirational host of podcast You, Me and the Big C, Sun columnist, mum of two and lives with stage 4 bowel cancer, she can be found @bowelbabe on social media networks.
Fascinating and fact-filled, Natalie’s conversation with Deborah looks at gut health and how a healthy gut creates a happy life, with a focus on the practical ways we can help keep our and our family’s guts healthy.
Below is a taster – with Deborah’s top tips. Listen to the full conversation here.
Gut health – how does it affect the body?
“Gut health has been a real education for me, it is so, so important. It really does affect every aspect of your health and for me learning how there is direct link between a happy gut and healthy mind has been vital.
I’ve been a vegetarian since I was about 9 years old. And growing up that used to mean cheese sandwiches but I love the variety available now, I eat a plant based diet predominantly as that is right for me. I have had half my bowel removed and I have to think about food as it is vital for me to eat a high fibre diet. I now recognise the connection between keeping my gut as healthy as possible and controlling my cancer. Boosting my immune system by diet is key.”
Fibre and bowel cancer connection
“Variety is a big one! I eat a huge variety of fruit and veggies. 50% of bowel cancers are lifestyle related and bowel cancer can be caused by a number of different things but a lack of fibre plays a role in around 30% of cases.
The gut is where disease starts so the key question is how can we feed it to be healthy? I tend to treat my gut like a monster and we have to keep it healthy and quiet by feeding it 30 different fruit and vegetables a week.
A massive 9 out of 10 of us do not eat enough fibre. I’ve loved learning about how to get fibre into my diet – I eat a lot of hummus, raspberries, Ryvita and peas – all great sources of fibre!”
What is the microbiome and why is it important?
“Microbiome is essentially the climate of our guts. Western diets create a certain microbiome and bowel cancer is more prevalent in the western world.
The ‘ideal microbiome’ is currently being looked at by Cancer Research for both the prevention and treatment of bowel cancer.”
Mental wellbeing and gut health link
“Serotonin (the hormone that controls depression and anxiety) is made in the gut, having an awareness of the connection is vital and it is important that people don’t dismiss diet, it is good to see it as something they can help to control in a lot of cases.”
Children and gut health
“I used to be a teacher and for me education is key. Any parent has a social responsibility to teach children to embrace and love food but everything in moderation. It is a battle for me with my children, who are 10 and 12 years old but I have a rule – they have to try everything once! My kids love and appreciate lovely food and are now very savvy about fibre – hummus and carrot sticks are staples in our house!
And we talk a lot about poo, smashing the taboo around poo! Every child has to feel comfortable talking about poo. Understanding what a good poo is, is super important.
Being aware, and making your children aware, that gut health is an important thing and it does have an impact on your overall health. And you can make changes but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Making food fun for kids – it isn’t something we need to obsess about.”
“Eating the rainbow is important and that word variety again! Because of my bowel cancer I have to eat a really high fibre diet so I do supplement.
The average person needs 30g per day of fibre and currently, in the UK, we eat around 17g per day. If people are worried about the impact on their bowels, then just remember to slowly increase your fibre intake – this can help your gut get used to the increase over time.
Inulin is a great soluble fibre supplement and it can also work as a healthy sugar or sweetener alternative so great to mix in with your daily drinks!”
Where to go for advice
“Seek out reliable sources, it is all about evidence-based research for me and products built on science. Please always go to reliable and credible brands and sources!”