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Image by Annie Spratt


Food Fabulous

Notes from midlife

How to fix your midlife digestion naturally

Perimenopause and menopause can be a b1tch for your digestive system. I hear from women all the time who notice that midlife brings all kinds of unwelcome symptoms, including bloating and windy. In this blog, I'm lifting the lid on why a lot of this stuff happens and what you can do about it.

There are few things worse than tummy troubles. If your digestive system doesn’t work as it should, the result might be pain or discomfort right through to downright embarrassment at the gurgley noises and bad smells your body produces. It doesn’t have to be that way and, as a nutrition practitioner, I am always amazed by how long some of my clients have been trying to muddle through before they seek my help.

porridge with berries, nuts and seeds

What scientists now call the ‘microbiome’ is a parallel universe of all kinds of different microorganisms running all through your digestive tract, that runs from your mouth to… well, the other end.

Most of these organisms are bacteria, and there are lots more of these than there are cells in your body - about ten times as many. The balance of the bacteria in your digestive system has implications for your health in general and not just your innards. In short, it’s important to have the right kinds of bacteria in the right places. It matters that the ratio of good to bad bacteria works – when you’re out of balance (there are more unfavourable bacteria and other microorganisms,) nutritionists call this ‘dysbiosis’. This can result in your digestive system becoming a more favourable environment for yeasts like Candida, or parasites.

There are some places you don’t really want many bacteria, whether good or bad, and that’s in the small intestine. Your body really should do a daily swoosh of all bacteria from the small intestine down to the colon (called the Migrating Motor Complex). There are many reasons why this doesn’t happen – like having had food poisoning in the past – and the result is that the bacteria left behind feast on the food you’re eating, causing bloating, wind, feelings of nausea, diarrhoea and constipation (or a combination of the two). Essentially, all those things you might be linking to your irritable bowel syndrome.

I’m going to be straight with you and say that the ideal situation here is that you bring your digestive problems to me, and that we talk about getting to the bottom (excuse the pun) of exactly why your system isn’t working the way it should, and thus usually involves some testing. When you’re ready to prioritise your health, you know where I am. But for now, I want to share some simple tips and tricks to help you get back on an even keel.


Benefits of a happy, healthy tummy for women over 40

Here are 5 important things your gut bacteria do for you

1 Kill bugs and hostile bacteria that can cause unpleasant symptoms or disease – like the ones that cause food poisoning or stomach ulcers.

2 Boost your immunity. 60% of your immunity is in your gut and the type of immune tissue in your digestive system is very sensitive to bacterial activity. The good bacteria also encourage the body to make a particular kind of antibody that stops you getting sick.

3 Improve digestion. Some bacteria help you break down particular foods and even help with the muscular contractions that move food through your system – thus keeping you regular.

4 Make vitamins & help you absorb nutrients better. Your gut bacteria are responsible for making many B vitamins, and these same bacteria help you absorb minerals in the food you eat better.

5 Protect against disease. Some bacteria produce enzymes that turn dietary fibre into short chain fatty acid (SCFA). This is interesting because these SCFAs can help protect against heart diseases by regulating cholesterol and having a positive impact on fats in the blood. A particular type of SCFA called butyrate has been shown to be protective against cancer.

5 easy ways to reduce bloating in perimenopause

These tips can have an immediate impact


The first step in the digestive process is often overlooked, but it’s a really important one. Known as the cephalic phase, it’s triggered when you see or smell food. You are literally whetting your appetite.

When you start thinking about the lovely meal you are going to prepare, you are getting your digestive juices flowing. The enzymes in your saliva help you break down your food more easily, so, when the time comes, your body is actually ready to start digesting food before you have even cut the first slice – never mind actually put anything in your mouth.

It may sound an incredibly simple step – and it is – but these days we are often so busy that we don’t make the time to think about our food in this way. If you find you’re always eating on the go, throwing a sandwich down your neck at your desk or having a TV dinner TV, this is a vital step you are missing out on. One trick is to be mindful and try and spend a few minutes thinking about your tasty lunch before you eat it to get the digestive juices going.


Your stomach does not have teeth! Chewing your food is the second phase of digestion, and it’s key when it comes to good gut health. With proper chewing, you are mechanically breaking down the food into smaller pieces, so that there’s a greater surface area and the digestive enzymes can get to work more easily, doing their job.

And the bad news? If you’re not chewing properly, it’s highly likely that you’re not digesting your food properly. And that means you won’t be absorbing the vital nutrients either. Not chewing also means the food you eat takes much longer to break down, and, as it hangs around in your digestive system, it can start to ferment, causing uncomfortable wind, gas and bloating.

Don’t worry about chewing a certain number of times – that all depends on what you are eating and various other factors.

Instead try this test: chew your food enough so that if someone asked you to spit it out, they wouldn’t know what you had been eating. Another sign you need to chew more is if you start to see undigested food in your stools.


Sales for heartburn tablets are skyrocketing because so many people wrongly assume that their digestive troubles are because of too much stomach acid. What nutritionists like me find more frequently in clinic is the total opposite! Getting older, stress and some over-the-counter medications can make your stomach acid levels drop to the extent that you don’t produce enough to digest food sufficiently.

Why is this important? The stomach acid you produce not only kills any bacteria in the food you are eating, it also breaks down the protein in your meal. If you’re not properly digesting the protein element in food, it can start to ferment, creating gases that force up the esophageal sphincter muscle (a type of muscle flap) and what little stomach acid there is can escape. So that burning feeling, especially if accompanied by smelly gas, can be a sign your digestion isn’t working as well as it should be.

apple cider vinegar

One solution is to have a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar before each main meal. It’s important you choose apple cider vinegar with ‘mother’, rather than one you can buy in the supermarket (that’s for your chips). I love this one as it's raw and organic but apple cider vinegar is pretty widely available - even in supermarkets these days. It's actually a super-helpful addition since taking a shot of apple cider vinegar before a meal can reduce any glucose spike from eating starchy carbs so it's a win, win.

There are people who genuinely produce too much stomach acid and, if you try the apple cider vinegar trick and it seems to make things worse, you can neutralise the acid by taking a little bicarbonate of soda.


Digestive enzymes break down our food into nutrients so our bodies can absorb them. But as you age, you naturally produce fewer of these helpful enzymes. You can counteract this by increasing your intake of foods that are higher in them – eating pineapple or papaya before a meal can help.

If you aren’t a fan of these fruits, instead try a digestive enzyme capsule (available from health food shops), which will give your system a gentle boost to help it do its job properly.


Not eating is almost as important for your health as eating. It’s important to space out your meals so the digestive system actually gets a chance to rest. This might require some self-discipline if you’re a frequent grazer.

Eating every 3-4 hours is a good benchmark to aim for and gives the body enough time to completely digest the previous meal and have a break before you put it to work again.

Of course, there will be days when your eating routine falls out of whack, but don’t beat yourself up. Just try and get back on track the following day.

happy tummy

Happy tummy foods

Some foods are really good for supporting your digestive system as a midlife woman


Fibre is one of the best things to eat to support healthy digestion. Fibre is described as being either insoluble or soluble.

Insoluble fibre is part of the plant wall in fruit and veg. It’s indigestible so it passes right through your system, sweeping up toxins and other waste products as it goes, and keeping you regular. The undigested fibre is also fermented by gut bacteria, producing the beneficial short chain fatty acids I mentioned earlier.

You can find insoluble fibre in:

· Fruit and veg

· Beans and lentils

· Oats

· Wholegrain foods like brown rice and wheat

Soluble fibre can be partially digested and is well-celebrated for its ability to reduce cholesterol in the blood and normalise blood sugar levels.

You can find soluble fibre in:

· Oats

· Veg

· Fruit (especially apples, pears, berries and citrus fruits)

· Beans and lentils

polyphenols for good gut health


Fermented foods have a long tradition in some parts of the world, especially Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. Bacteria (and sometimes beneficial yeasts) might be involved in the process and the result is an increase of good bacteria in the foods. You’ve probably heard of live or ‘bio’ yoghurt. Some of these other probiotic foods might sound peculiar and a little ‘advanced’ for most regular people. However, they are now commonly found on supermarket shelves (you’ll find them in the world foods aisle where the Oriental products are) and, while they might not be the kind of product you would usually go for, it is always worth experimenting. Kimchi, in particular, is often combined with chilli and other flavours and is far tastier than its name might suggest.


Pickles (gherkins)


Kimchi (fermented cabbage)

Tempeh (fermented soya beans)

Natto (fermented soya beans)

Miso soup (fermented soya beans)

Tamari soy sauce.


Some cheeses like cottage cheese, gouda, mozzarella & cheddar.

Fermented drinks

Like other fermented products, these were once only found in health food shops and were perhaps the prevail of people who ate a very clean and unprocessed diet. These were a secret waiting for the masses to discover. Often flavoured with fruits, they really are delicious and do not taste ‘worthy’. You’ll find them in the chilled drinks section in most supermarkets.

Kombucha (fermented tea – sweet and fizzy but without sugar)

Kefir (fermented dairy drink very much like a yoghurt drink).

The only way you’ll know if it’s for you is to try!


These smelly veg bring amazing health benefits on a number of different levels. Since we’re talking about foods that are helpful for your digestion, you should know that they contain compounds called glucosinolates, which are fermented by bacteria and used as fuel. They are prebiotic.

Examples are:

Bok choy


Brussels sprouts





Spring greens


antimicrobial garlic


Some foods exert a natural antibiotic or anti-fungal effect and can be useful for keeping nasties like pathogenic bacteria or unwelcome yeasts at bay.

These include caprylic acid found in coconut. Coconut oil is also a very good oil to use in cooking, especially at high temperatures.

Garlic contains the ingredient allicin, which has historically proven itself to be an effective killer of both bacteria and viruses, making it a great immune-boosting ingredient. Use it raw wherever possible.

Olive oil – the oleic acid has anti-bacterial properties. Use it generously to dress salads and veg.

Foods to avoid if you have IBS or other digestive problems

In same way there are things your digestive system loves, there are things it will not love you for.

Sugar. That’s the number one thing to avoid, plus anything that contains added sugar.

Other things your tummy is not fond of include highly refine products like white rice, pasta, pastry and snacks like crisps and biscuits.

Recipes to help digestion for women in perimenopause

Weave these into your regular diet to help reduce digestive symptoms.

ginger tea

Ginger & Star Anise Soothing Tea

Fresh ginger has been used for millennia to ease digestive discomfort. The addition of star anise adds a gentle, warming taste.


3cm fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

1 star anise

250ml freshly boiled water


Put the ginger and star anise in a large mug and pour over the boiled water. Steep for 10 mins to allow the flavours to disperse.


Pomegranate & walnut salad

This dish is bursting with colourful veg that are packed with polyphenols. These in turn have probiotic qualities. It’s a veritable feast for the eyes as well as your tummy!


1 generous handful of rocket

1 small purple carrot, grated

¼ pomegranate (seeds only)

¼ sliced beetroot

15g purple cabbage, finely sliced

Small handful of raw walnuts

Sprig of fresh mint


Put all the ingredients in a bowl and toss together with a simple dressing made from extra virgin olive oil and apple cider (or white wine) vinegar.



This is a traditional Korean fermented dish. During the fermentation process, the naturally occurring bacteria produce lactic acid, which is a natural preservative. Thanks to its probiotic qualities, it’s a favourite among nutrition professionals.


Medium Chinese cabbage, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 tsp sea salt

1 fresh chilli, seeded and finely sliced

4 spring onions, finely sliced

4 cm fresh ginger, grated

2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped

Freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp sugar


· Put the cabbage in a glass bowl, sprinkle with salt, and cover with a plate smaller than the bowl. Add weights - a couple of full tin cans will do - to squash the cabbage down. Leave overnight.

· Next day, remove the plate and weights/ cans and drain the liquid off.

· Stir in the rest of the ingredients and put into a clean preserving jar, leaving a small gap at the top. Press down until the juices rise and the liquid covers the kimchi.

· Leave on the kitchen counter for 3-5 days to ferment.

· Check it every morning, pressing down the kimchi into the liquid and releasing any gas bubbles.

· Refrigerate for 3-4 days before eating.

· Serve a tablespoonful with hot or cold meals.

Keeps for up to 3 months in the fridge. Dried chilli can be used instead of fresh.



This has been a staple in German cuisine for years. Simple to make, sauerkraut is salty, tangy, crunchy and tastes delicious. A natural probiotic, it’s also used to support digestive health.


(makes a medium jar)

Small-medium red or white cabbage

Sea salt or Himalayan pink salt.

Grated ginger (optional)


· Cut the cabbage into quarters and take out the centre stalk. Finely shred, either by hand or using a food processor.

· Weigh the prepared cabbage. Add 2 teaspoons of salt per 500g of cabbage.

· Pound the shredded cabbage with a kraut pounder or the end of a wooden rolling pin, until the juices start to run.

· Add the grated ginger, if using. Cover with a tea towel and leave overnight.

· Pound again, then put into a clean preserving jar or other large glass jar. Press cabbage down until the juices cover the top.

· Leave on the kitchen counter for 4-6 days.

· Each morning, press the cabbage down.

· When the bubbles have stopped appearing close the lid and store in the fridge.

· Serve on the side of hot or cold meals.

Keeps for up to 3 months in the fridge. Eat raw to get the benefit from the live bacteria. If heated, the live bacteria may be lost.


If you know your digestive system hasn’t been right for a while, what is holding you back from making some changes. A great start is to book in for a free mini consultation with me where you’ll have the chance to talk about your symptoms and how they impact your life. Together we can make a plan of action, that might involve working with me at a deeper level and perhaps getting some diagnostic tests done.

I offer a range of packages and testing options, and I’d love to help you make the food and lifestyle changes to turn your health around. If that feels a good start, book your call here.

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