Plugged up?

It’s not something that is discussed much in circles of friends and colleagues – for obvious reasons – but constipation is common. In the UK, approx.12% of the general population suffer from chronic constipation. Twice as many women than men struggle with it, and the over 65s are most affected: 25% of free living older people experience constipation, but a shocking 80% of the elderly living in nursing homes.

Because bowel habits are not a popular topic of conversation, it is hard to know what is normal and what isn’t. If you can answer ‘yes’ to two or more of the following, you are probably constipated:

  • Do you ‘go’ less than three times per week?
  • Do you often strain (at least 25% of the time)?
  • Are your stools often hard or lumpy (at least 25% of the time)?
  • Do you often feel that you haven’t been able to excrete everything (at least 25% of the time)

A comparison with the Bristol Stool Chart may also help you see where you are.

Man sitting on toilet bowl
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What’s the deal with quinoa?


It’s not new – even outside of South America -, and it has been around for a few years now, but have you tried quinoa (pronounced: keen-wah) yet? Yes, I know it has a bit of a health-nut and trendy reputation now, but if you can get past that you might find that it is a great addition to your larder.

First of all, it’s not a grain, even though it is often listed among the grains, or at least in the ‘starchy carb’ category. Quinoa is a ‘pseudo-cereal’, but really it’s a seed, just like buckwheat.

Couscous with vegetables

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‘Tis the season … for cold and flu

When everything is going to plan, our immune system does a terrific job in protecting us without us even noticing. It fends off harmful agents – such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, pollutants and allergens – all the time, using a variety of different mechanisms.

Young man blowing his nose in his living room
photo: clipdealer

The first line of defence are barriers: the skin, saliva, a mucous lining along the respiratory system and digestive tract as well as stomach acid do a good job keeping invaders out or destroying those we might ingest. A healthy gut also produces universal antibodies, which act like bouncers and check out the contents of the intestine to make sure that only the good stuff is absorbed. Undesirables are denied entry and passed along for excretion.

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Snooze yourself to health

According to a report published by The Sleep Council in March 2013 the number of Britons getting just five to six hours sleep per night has risen dramatically: 40% of us are not getting the six to nine hours recommended by the NHS.

Why is that? In the majority of cases health conditions, such as depression and anxiety or chronic pain are keeping us awake at night. Many are unable to sleep due to worry, but a great many of us are just not going to bed on time to get the rest we need. Some see sleep as a waste of time, which would be better spent working. Others don’t like going to bed early, because the only me-time they can get is in the evenings, when at last they get home after a long and stressful day at work or when the kids are finally tucked up and asleep. Understandable. But is it wise?

The fact that sleep is something our body just demands is a strong clue that we need it and that it is in fact good for something. If we are prevented from sleeping – and remember: sleep deprivation is a form of torture! – we will die. But even without this drastic outcome, sleep deprivation seriously affects our health.

Photo: Ambro,
Photo: Ambro,

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Your most hated veg?

This week, our organic vegetable box finally contained something my husband and I have been eagerly waiting for: a bag of Brussels sprouts! Yes, the season has started, and we have no intention to wait until Christmas before tucking in. If anything, we were a little disappointed about the size of the bag: a bit small.

I have always loved sprouts, but apparently not everyone shares that feeling. Much more so than in my home country, I feel that Brussels sprouts are the most hated and probably most misunderstood vegetable in Britain.*

Fresh Brussel sprouts full frame

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Which sweetener is the best?

Since sugar has been getting such a bad rap – and quite rightly so – new sugar alternatives are popping up all the time. So are they any good?

Artificial Sweeteners

The best known of these is probably aspartame (NutraSweet). 200 times sweeter than sugar, with only 4 kcal/gram, it is very widely used in processed foods and low-calorie fizzy drinks or as a sweetener tablet for hot drinks. Opinions of it range from “It’s safe. All scare stories are exaggerated” (NHS) to “the most dangerous substance of the planet” (Mercola). So, who’s right? A search in Google Scholar brought up 44,000 scientific articles on the subject. I didn’t have time to read them all, sadly, but if you look at the dates, the discussion and research is still ongoing. Just clicking into a few of them showed that the results that are still coming in are not favourable. If you ask me, I’d rather be safe than sorry and give aspartame – along with other artificial sweeteners – a wide berth. It doesn’t taste all that good anyway.

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