Having some trouble negotiating with your #2’s?

So…..constipation. Charming word, Charming problem.

Few people will casually bring up constipation as a conversational topic over coffee or at a social dinner party – unless of course you happen to have someone like myself present who doesn’t mind talking crap. Then it’s all out there about not being able to get it outta there.

So, lets pause and just clarify – constipation is a condition (which can either be acute or chronic) where you move your number 2’s less often than ‘usual’ and/or when these stools are hard, dry, pebbly and often painful and tricky to get out. There are so many reasons why you can become constipated including drugs, supplements, medications or dehydration. Other common factors include ignoring the urge to go or a sudden change in diet or even in timezone – an especially problematic combination during travel!

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Trouble is that what is ‘usual’ for somebody is unusual for somebody else, so it’s difficult to put a timeframe in this definition – but on average it’s when your number twos are taking more than 2-3 days to get out (or 3-4 for kids) – then you are perhaps constipated. Being very constipated can make you feel very blergh – including being nauseous, loss of appetite, abdominal pain and it is linked to increased risk of urinary tract infection.

Acute, severe constipation can be serious – so please don’t ignore it. If left untreated it can result in hernia, bowel obstruction or septicaemia – all of which can be very detrimental to your health. If you have blood in your stools or acute, severe pain in the abdomen – seek immediate medical attention.

Chronic constipation which does not respond to improvements in your diet – primarily including plenty of water and fibre (naturally from fruit, vegetables, legumes and wholegrains – not relying on fibre supplements or laxatives) and despite being reasonably active may be indicative of further health issues. These could include colorectal cancer, diabetes, low thyroid function, diverticulosis, kidney failure, hypercalcemia (high levels of calcium in the blood) and Parkinson’s. If you believe you have chronic constipation – please don’t delay seeking further medical advice.

There are many products out there to treat constipation – some which add bulk and soften the stool (bran, psyllium), others which are designed to draw water into the bowel, others which work on the action of the bowel etc! But in this article I’m going to discuss Magnesium sulphate in particular as it’s a ‘oldie but a goodie’ and for most – it’ll have very few side effects and has a much lower risk of dependency than some of the other solutions.

Magnesium sulphate is a mineral more commonly known as Epson salt – usually used to relax muscles in a bath after a hard workout! However, taking anywhere between a teaspoon to a tablespoon of this with 300ml of water 1-3 times a day (depending on the severity of what you’re dealing with!) – is generally a very successful approach for dealing with occasional constipation. Many believe that the standard Epson salts are fine to consume orally though you can buy Epsom salts that have been specifically manufactured for oral administration and these supposedly manufactured under more regulated hygiene conditions and with fewer impurities (they are of course more expensive) – it’s your choice at the end of the day, but ask your pharmacist for help and for guidance with your appropriate dosage – especially if it’s for your children, noting that it is not appropriate to administer this to kids under 2years.

Hot tip: Epsom salts can be hard to dissolve – so stir a bit into 50ml hot water until dissolved, then add 250-300ml cold water and ice. You may find you need to add a bit of juice or cordial as it tastes pretty awful – sink it all down in one go! Generally your bowel movement will occur between 30mins-5 hours after administration. 

Magnesium Sulphate draws water into your intestines while at the same time replacing magnesium in the body which can be low depending on your diet, alcoholism or when your blood calcium levels are particularly high – added bonus! Low magnesium levels are associated with fatigue, cramping, convulsions, low concentration and irritability and magnesium also plays a role in carbohydrate metabolism. A whole swag of mental and physical functions need magnesium so correcting any deficiency is certainly important.

However, magnesium sulphate may not be the solution for everybody – especially those who are breastfeeding, pregnant (do not take this without medical supervision and guidance if pregnant!), under 2 years old, those with a kidney or other digestive organ disorder, those who have a bowel obstruction or perforated bowel or heart disease/irregular heartbeat. If this is you – ask your doctor or pharmacist for a more appropriate approach and let them know if you are on medication or supplements (especially antibiotics) in case there are any potential harmful interactions. Similarly, if you are undergoing any medical procedure or starting any new medications – advise your medical team if you are regularly taking magnesium sulphate.

Common side effects may include diarrhoea, upset stomach and rare but potential more serious side effects can include allergic reaction, dizziness/sweating or fatigue and muscle weakness.

So, hopefully you will not need this advice much – or better still – ever, but it’s certainly one of the better solutions out there to deal with acute or chronic constipation if the need ever arises.

Beautiful Blends!

Blending is a process by which whole fruits and/or vegetables gets both annihilated and consumed and an occasional blend (limit yourself to maximum one/day) can certainly be a handy and enjoyable way to top up to your micronutrient and fibre intake. For more information, please refer to our article Blending vs Juicing – does either live up to the hype?

With much experimentation (my family and friends have often been subjected to very suspect concoctions) I have found that the best blend ratio – both from a health perspective but without tasting like you’re drinking a blended salad – is a vegetable to fruit ratio of 2:1 or 3:1. However, by all means – if your tastes allow, increase the vegetable component! If you make a blend with a higher fruit content, it’s highly advised to add extra fibre (for example, chia seeds/gel ground flaxseed or raw oats) as this will help slow that sugar release – or if you like thinking of things in GI terms, this effectively will lower the blend’s GI. You also need to be aware that if a blend is used as a ‘meal replacement’, it’s best to also include some protein and good fats – avocados, soft tofu or nuts are commonly used.

Each blender will be slightly different and you may need to experiment what works best for you, but the following approach works for us:

  1. Blend ingredients first with only a little water for at least a minute, then add your liquids/ice (a good 2-3 cups worth of ice– there is nothing worse than a warm blend!) and blend some more until everything has been pulverised and is smooth.
  2. Some people literally blend the whole fruit – pips, rind, stalks – but I find that this often gives the blend a really bitter funny taste and leaves your blend gritty – even with a good blender. However, a few small pieces of citrus rind (including the pith!) can add flavour and contain great oils, vitamins, flavanoids and anti-oxidants) –  but definitely include skins on apples, pears, peaches and other fruits and vegetables
  3. Sweeten it to taste with a low-calorie sweetener like stevia liquid. Stevia is naturally derived, mixes in well and is easy on your digestive tract. Others prefer Xylitol though watch out for increased possibility of gastrointestinal issues with that one. Don’t use sweeteners like Agave Nectar as due to the high fructose content, this is worse for you to have to metabolise than standard white sugar!
  4. If I’m doing a really ‘green’ smoothie – adding ginger, lemon or lime juice and/or rind and basil, lime leaves or mint really helps palatability and adds variety and interest.

So, the following are a few of my favourite recipes – addgreen smoothie whichever greens you prefer or have on hand (spinach followed by kale are probably my favourites and even frozen peas can be great – a funny idea I know, but something that I found out quite by chance when I was mid-prep a few months ago and found myself without ice!) Adjust water, ice and sweetener volumes to your preferred taste and consistency and sometimes replacing water with coconut water, green or peppermint tea can add a really healthy, yummy twist. All of these will give around 3-4 large serves, so adjust quantities as often blends don’t keep well in the fridge (they tend to lose their smooth consistency and nutrient quality will decline once the fruits and vegetables are exposed to oxygen.

 

Blend 1: Green bananas,

  1. 2-3 good handfuls of greens

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    Banana’s are a powerhouse!

  2. One small-medium fennel bulb – trust me on this – or use a few sprigs of basil if you don’t have fennel
  3. Kids packet of sultanas
  4. One ripe, peeled then frozen banana
  5. Juice from one small-med lemon
  6. 1 apple
  7. Chilled water, ice, stevia to taste

 

 

Blend 2: Tropical refresher

  1. 1 cup of frozen pineapplepine-apple
  2. 1 ripe pear or orange
  3. 2-3 large handfuls of greens
  4. 2 cups of chilled peppermint tea (make the night before)
  5. Few sprigs of fresh mint
  6. Chilled water, ice, stevia to taste

 

Blend 3 – Ugly Duckling. Weird name, I know – but if you make it you’ll see why. Given this will undoubtedly be the most hideous concoction you’ve ever made or seen, I dare not take a photo of it – but your bravery in trying it will be well rewarded!

  1. 2 cups or so of frozen watermelonspinach
  2. ½ a cup of frozen raspberries
  3.  Cucumber – about a 10cm chunk
  4. Two large handful of greens
  5. At least 6-8 basil leaves
  6. Juice from a lime,
  7. Chilled water, ice, stevia to taste

 

Blend 4: Refreshing and lightginger

  1. Two ripe pears
  2. Three sticks of celery and about 10cm of cucumber
  3. A large handful of greens
  4. 3-4 pitted medjool dates
  5. A few sprigs of mint and a thumbsized knob of ginger
  6. Chilled water, ice, stevia to taste

Blending vs Juicing – does either live up to the hype?

Recently, blending and juicing have been very popular with many believing that the pulverizing or extraction processes better ‘release’ the micronutrients from your fruits, vegetables or nuts to allow more efficient absorption. Others believe that such liquids – especially when green and containing expensive ‘superfood’ powders or herbs – become magical concoctions which can ‘detox’ you and aid in weight loss.

However, what is the truth in all this and if you are keen to give it a try – is blending or juicing better?

Firstly, allow me to deal with the ‘detox’ claims as that’s fairly straightforward and our recent article To detox or not to detox? deals with this question in depth. However, in summary – no, there is no scientific basis or clinical evidence that nutritional ‘detoxing’ is required or effective.  The best way to maximise the function of your natural detoxification system, is to provide your body with optimal nutrition in the long-term. Most detox diets are low in proteins or amino acids, fibre, probiotics and ‘good fats’ – unfortunately, some of the key nutrients that our main ‘detoxing’ organs need to be fully functional. This can lead to impaired organ function and actually allow more toxins to accumulate.

So, assuming you don’t intend to use blending or juicing as a ‘detox’ approach – why else might you want to occasionally blend or juice?

Such drinks are easy to consume ‘on the go’ – much quicker than juicesitting down to eat a salad or dealing with the mess of trying to peel a mandarin on the way into a work conference! Many people report that they don’t like consuming solids first thing in the morning, but on the other hand, they don’t want to leave for their day with nothing in their systems – a nutritious liquid that ticks off a few fruit and vegetable serves early in the day could be a good compromise. Kids who turn their noses up at fruits or vegetables may be convinced to drink some ‘monster juice’ – my little one went through a fussy patch at around 3 years old, and green blends were a very effective way at upping her fruit and vegetable intake. And some may simply like the taste – though I’ve seen some horrendous green goop recipes doing the rounds!

At Life Nutrition, we strongly believe that if you do not enjoy what you’re eating and drinking – then aside from not being sustainable from a dietary perspective – you are not truly enjoying life in the meantime. We can’t have that!

One of the key concerns when dietary intake is restricted – either to lose weight, or due to poor eating habits, is the possible development of micronutrient (vitamin and mineral) deficiency. Synthetic vitamins/supplements have been shown to be generally acceptable in raising vitamin status in cases of deficiency, but they are not the best way to ensure safe, adequate intake as your body doesn’t fully absorb them and they’re often present in different forms to that occurring naturally in food. Excess in one supplemented vitamin or mineral can have unintended, unpleasant and at times dangerous side-effects or have detrimental interactions with medications. So unless totally necessary, I highly recommend that you refrain from taking supplements and instead work on obtaining adequate micronutrients from real, whole foods.

For me, juicing – where only the liquid of the fruit and vegetables is kept, just doesn’t cut it and doesn’t meet the definition of consuming fruit-juice‘whole foods’. Lack of fibre is the main reason for my opinion. Insoluble fibre from the plant’s stucture – eg from the skins or stalks, is great for bowel health and soluble fibre slows the rate of gastric emptying of all these nutrients/energy. This is excellent for blood cholesterol levels, blood glucose control (reduces sugar ‘spikes’), satiation, better nutrient absorption and is strongly associated with reduced cancer and heart disease risk. However, sadly all of this beautiful fibre is thrown out in juicing!

Negligible fibre in juice means that all the sugars will be absorbed far quicker with low satiation which can lead to over-consumption of energy and weight gain. If you juice too often and your fruit content is very high, your liver may not be able to keep up with fructose metabolism, leading to fat being stored around your organs and in the liver itself. It is this fat is the main contributor to metabolic dysfunction. Additionally, often antioxidants found in the skins, pulp and seeds of fruits and vegetables are left behind in the juicing process.

However, doing a blend occasionally (maximally one/day), where whole fruits and vegetables get both annihilated and consumed, does fit in with our ethos and can certainly be a handy top up to your micronutrient and fibre intake. So long as you don’t use too much fruit, you can get a really good nutrient intake for your ‘calorific buck’. Note though: unless you like drinking gritty salad purees, you’ll definitely need a high speed quality blender!

With blending, one lesser-known thing to watch out for though is that the acidity, natural sugars and colours in these blends can be very detrimental to your dental health and can cause staining if you blend too much over a long period of time, so minimise contact of the liquid with the teeth by using a straw, drinking your blend within a short time and then rinse your mouth and teeth with water after finishing.

So, if you are interested in blending, please see our Recipe page for some of my favourite recipes and blending tips – please give them a try and let me know if they hit the spot for you too –  otherwise I’d love to hear yours!