I’m not squeamish, but constipation is just one of those subjects that’s awkward to talk, and blog, about. However, a new report published this week reveals all that straining in the loo cost £145m in hospital treatment last year and 1 in 7 adults are affected by constipation at any one time. That is an awful lot of people! And with 1 in 3 children suffering too, it’s an issue for the whole family.
As we age, constipation becomes more prevalent and women are more prone to it than men (we’re plumbed differently, basically). So it’s something we need to face up to. It’s not life threatening , but it is debilitating. The Cost of Constipation report www.coloplast.co.uk/constipation makes the point that it can diminish quality of life as well as cause debilitating psychological and physical distress. Some medications and non-intestinal diseases (like thyroid problems, diabetes, multiple sclerosis) can increase the risk, but lifestyle is incredibly important. Drinking plenty of water, and eating a diet rich in fibre, can make all the difference. Annabel and I are pleased to report , that as an unscientific study of two, the ‘Kale & Cocoa’ diet – lots of greens, beans, berries, nuts and wholegrains keeps us regular. But fibre has a much bigger role to play in our overall health. It’s linked to a reduction in heart disease, stroke and hypertension. Fibre is something the body needs but never actually digests.
It comes in two forms, soluble and insoluble, and most plant-based foods contain a mixture of the two. Soluble fibre turns to gel in the stomach and slows digestion, which helps lower cholesterol and keep blood sugar in check. Insoluble fibre, on the other hand, remains unchanged all the way to the colon, making waste heavier and softer so it can move through the intestines more easily.
How much do we need? Well, our requirement declines with age, so adults over 50 require around 30g (for men) and 21g (for women) a day. And getting your daily dose of fibre doesn’t mean having to fill up on stodgy brown bread or pasta. A cup of raspberries contains as much fibre as three slices of wholemeal bread, an avocado has 9g of fibre and a tablespoon of chia seeds has 5.5g (try our chia parfait). Lentils are packed with fibre, with a whopping 15g per cup, cooked – our lentil spag bog is a great family favourite. There’s 5g in a cup of cooked broccoli, or cabbage – the same amount you’ll find in a medium apple. Oats are another great source – try the two granolas (stove top and Christmas) on the blog – providing 1g of fibre for every 10g of the grain. So it quickly adds up.
Ever since my daughters stopped eating meat last year, I’ve been searching for a recipe to replace the ‘meatballs and pasta’ dinners we had regularly when they were younger. These vegan ‘meatballs’ – beanballs? – are a big hit and provide a good dose of fibre from the beans and oats.
VEGAN MEATBALLS WITH TOMATO SAUCE (serves 6-8)
For the ‘meat’ balls:
- 2 carrots – approx. 100g
- ½ red pepper
- 50g whole almonds
- ½ small onion
- 2 tins of cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 tbs tamari or soy sauce
- 2 tsp pizza and pasta seasoning (herb mix) or dried oregano
- 1 tbs red wine vinegar
- 150g porridge oats
- 2 tbs olive oil
For the tomato sauce:
- 680g passata
- 1 small glass of wine
- ¼ vegetable stock cube
Whizz the first four ingredients in a food processor, then pulse in beans, followed by all the other meatball ingredients, except the oil, until well mixed. Chill in the fridge and get on with the tomato sauce. In a wide, shallow pan, gently simmer the passata, wine and stock cube until it starts to thicken. Line a plate or baking tray with greaseproof paper. With damp hands roll small lumps of the bean mixture into balls (we prefer small walnut sized ones as opposed to big golf balls). Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and fry the balls until crispy and crusty – they will flatten a bit so just cook them top and bottom. Drop the balls into the tomato sauce and cook through for 5 minutes, turning them so they are coated in sauce. Serve with wholemeal pasta and a green vegetable.