Nutrition with Jane McClenaghan: Hello there, how do you poo?

Dried fruits such as prunes and figs is packed with fibre and can work as a natural laxative
Dried fruits such as prunes and figs is packed with fibre and can work as a natural laxative Dried fruits such as prunes and figs is packed with fibre and can work as a natural laxative

ARE you regular? Do you poo at least once a day (the ideal is one-to-three times a day)? When you go, is it easy to pass? All of these things are important but talking about poo can be embarrassing and not a topic for the dinner table.

Constipation is far too common and has effects far beyond our digestive tract. The health of our skin, our mental wellbeing, our immune system and hormone balance are all affected if our bowel is impacted.

The NHS officially defines constipation if:

:: You have not had a poo at least three times during the past week.

:: The poo is often large and dry, hard or lumpy.

:: You are straining or in pain when you have a poo.

There can be lots of reasons why we get constipated. From stress and anxiety, to a change in diet, dehydration, certain medications and our exercise habits.

So what can you do to get things moving?

1 Fill up on fibre: Soluble fibre from fruit, vegetables, brown rice, flaxseed, oats, beans and lentils all help to soften the stool and get things moving. They also act as prebiotic foods to help feed and nourish the friendly bacteria in our gut.

Add a spoonful of milled flaxseed to your breakfast, add a kiwi into your daily routine, or get munching on an extra carrot a day. All of this can help. Just take care with wheat bran as it can be a little harsher on the digestive tract. I tend not to recommend it for my clients, and prefer oats, kiwi or flax instead.

Don’t forget prunes and figs. Dried fruit is packed with fibre and can work as a natural laxative. Just remember to take it easy and increase fibre a little at time, otherwise your belly will tell you about it. Sometimes too much fibre too quickly can cause belly ache, grumblings, gas and discomfort.

2 Fibre needs water to move through your digestive tract, so if you are eating more fibre, it is important to up your fluid intake too. Try herbal teas or hot water and lemon to replace your tea and coffee, and aim for around 1.5 to 2 litres of water a day. Sip water little and often throughout the day, rather than all in one go.

3 Look after your friendly bacteria. Feed your gut regularly and it will help keep you happy and healthy. Include some probiotic foods like live/bio yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut or kimchi. All of these are readily available from supermarkets these days or you can have a go at making your own. These fermented foods will help populate your gut with probiotic bacteria.

4 Cut the crap! There are a lot of foods that can constipate. White, refined and processed foods, high-sugar foods, fried foods and alcohol slow things up in the digestive tract, so make the switch, improve your diet and eliminate these foods.

5 Stress can play havoc with our digestion. When we are in fight-or-flight mode, digestion is an afterthought, so things slow down and we can end up with constipation (or diarrhoea).

6 How we eat is just as important as what we eat. Take your time to enjoy the food that you eat. Don’t rush meals and if you are a fast eater, then slow it down. Give your brain a chance to tell your belly that there is food coming in for it to digest.

7 Get moving. Regular exercise can help support a healthy digestive tract, so include exercise as part if your daily routine, Walk, skip, hop, run, jump – anything that gets your body moving will help to get your bowel moving too.

8 There are plenty of natural and effective laxatives on the market. From aloe vera, psyllium and senna to vitamin C, magnesium and probiotics. Try changing your diet first, as this is often enough to get things moving.

Make sure you talk to your GP if you are constipated for a long time, or if changes to your diet and lifestyle don't make a difference.