Tag Archives: healthy living

You and your gut microbiome!

What is the microbiome?

Did you know that there are as many microorganisms living inside and on you as there are cells in your entire body?  That means that half of your body is made up of other living beings – microorganisms – which are so small that they can only been seen through a microscope. Microorganisms include bacteria, fungi, protozoa, algae and viruses. They live in and on different parts of your body but most of them are in your digestive tract (gut) and most of the microorganisms in the gut that affect your health are bacteria. Collectively, all these microorganisms are called the microbiome (or microbiota) and recent research indicates that the microbiome has a huge impact on your health!

Everyone’s microbiome is unique to them with different numbers and types of microorganisms; some of which are good for you and some are not. There is still so much we don’t know about the microbiome but this article will discuss how the it affects our health and what you can eat to improve your own microbiome.

The microbiome and our health

Many different factors affect your microbiome including how you were born (e.g. by caesarian), whether you live with other animals, lifestyle factors, such as diet and exposure to toxins, use of antibiotics and other medicines and stress. These factors affect both the number of bacteria, the types of bacteria and the diversity (how many different species there are).  Everyone’s microbiome is different and there is now research looking at how different foods could be used with different people to improve their health.

The bacteria and other organisms in the gut depend on us for their survival but they also give us something back, as long as they are healthy and there is a good variety of bacteria. Some bacteria that live in our gut are good for us, some don’t have any effect and some are not so good for us. The ones that are good for us can do lots of different things, for instance:

  • Produce nutrients such as vitamin K and some of the B vitamins.
  • Digest some types of fibres to produce short chain fatty acids and gases which fight a number of diseases (more about these later).
  • Produce chemicals that inhibit the growth of other microorganisms that cause disease e.g. Clostridium difficile and E. coli.
  • Produce other chemicals that interact with the nervous system or reduce levels of inflammation in the body.

There are many different ways in which we think the microbiome helps to prevent disease. For instance, it is particularly important for a healthy immune system. The body interacts in a complex way with the microorganisms in your gut to improve your immune response to infection so that you can fight off the invading bacteria or viruses without fighting your own cells and organs.

Some species of bacteria in your gut produce chemicals called short chain fatty acids which are vital in tackling a range of diseases. For instance, one of these short chain fatty acids called butyrate provides energy for a type of human cell that destroys cancer cells. Butyrate also helps to regulate glucose levels. Another short chain fatty acid called propionate regulates the body’s feeling of fullness after eating. Acetate, another short chain fatty acid, regulates cholesterol in the blood and again may help to regulate appetite.

Some microorganisms produce chemicals which produce an inflammatory effect in the body whilst others produce an anti-inflammatory effect. Inflammation is linked to a wide range of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

There is increasing evidence that the microbiome is linked to a healthy brain and to your mental health. For instance, research suggests that eating certain foods can improve your feeling of well being and a healthy microbiome is involved in the production of the brain hormone serotonin which helps to stabilise your mood and make you feel happy.  Other research suggests that conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are more likely in people with an unhealthy microbiome.

Unhealthy bacteria produce chemicals which help to cause disease, such as a chemical called TMAO which raises the risk of heart disease. TMAO is produced by the bacteria in the gut when you eat animal products, so vegans are at an advantage here.

The microbiota may also play a part in the development of obesity. People who are obese have different microbiota from healthy weight people. In fact, recent trials have taken place to assess whether transplanting microbiota from the gut of a healthy person into an obese person can improve their recipient’s microbiota, although the findings have so far been inconclusive.

At present research indicates that the microbiome is also linked to a range of other conditions and diseases such as autism and allergies. Sadly, many of the studies that show these links have been done on mice and it isn’t clear how the findings translate to humans.

What can you do to keep your microbiota healthy?

Foods which produce an unhealthy microbiome are processed foods, foods high in sugar, alcohol and animal-based foods. So, the key is to reduce these and increase healthy foods which are those that your beneficial bacteria need to survive. These foods are carbohydrate rich plant foods and are collectively called prebiotics. This means a varied plant-based diet with a wide range of unprocessed vegetables, fruits, nuts and pulses; these all contain the fibre which your healthy bacteria love. Research shows that the greater the variety of food eaten, the better the diversity of the microbiota. If your diet is currently low in plant foods, build up the amount of fibre slowly so that your gut bacteria have a chance to adapt.

In addition to prebiotics, research also suggests that probiotics may be useful. These are foods which already include the healthy live bacteria, such as Lactobacillus, in them. Probiotics are fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha and live (plant-based) yoghurt. Other foods may contain probiotics, such as tempeh, miso and some nut cheeses.

To summarise, eat lots of different types of mainly unprocessed plants and include a variety of plant-based probiotics.


Words by Liz Readle, Certificate in Plant-based Nutrition, University of Winchester

Image by Geralt via Pixabay

Viva! campaign to protect against future pandemics

Calderdale based group 3 Valley Vegans are backing the Viva! campaign which highlights the risks from the coronavirus to those with underlying health conditions.  A healthy vegan diet can help you lose weight, reverse type 2 diabetes, and protect heart health, reducing your risk of severe Covid-19.

Viva!,  the UK’s leading vegan campaigning charity,  have written an open letter to Boris Johnson, urging the government to support and encourage plant-based food initiatives to transition our food system and eradicate our reliance on unsustainable animal agriculture.

Covid-19 is just one of many zoonotic diseases including SARS, MERS, Ebola and HIV – all of which came from animals – and new viruses are appearing with increasing frequency. It is a stark warning of what’s to come if we don’t act now.

In their letter, they state that

“…across the globe animals are kept in horrific conditions in factory farms and wildlife markets. These settings provide a fertile environment for the transmission of viruses between different species and are the leading contributor to global heating. Meat and dairy production are responsible for 60 per cent of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions, while the products provide just 18 per cent of calories and 37 per cent of protein levels around the world (Poore, 2018).”

Avian and swine flu are particularly worrying due to the often thousands of chickens and pigs kept in one shed, with over 800 mega farms in the UK. In Cheshire recently an avian flu outbreak, although so far not posing a risk to humans, has resulted in the culling of 13,000 chickens at one farm, and an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) has now been declared across the whole of England meaning that it is a legal requirement for all bird keepers to follow strict bio-security measures to help contain the disease.

Bird flu hit the headlines in 1997 when it was found that a strain of flu virus was spreading from poultry to humans in Hong Kong.  Luckily this strain didn’t spread quickly between humans and therefore didn’t spark a global pandemic, but Dr Greger has warned of this possibility in the future, in his book published in 2006 “Bird Flu, A Virus of Our Own Hatching” especially as chicken consumption has increased dramatically.  Swine flu in 2009-10, however, did become a global pandemic originating in Mexico, near some of the largest pig farms housing thousands.

Ending factory farming of animals is the only way to prevent future pandemics.

For more information visit Viva.org.uk

Vegan school meals: why should they be available for all and how can I help?

3 Valley Vegans is informing parents about campaigns to get vegan school meals on the menu for all school children. Some Calderdale schools are now providing vegan meals for those requesting it, but we believe vegan meals should be available for all, as an option, for the environment, health and the animals.

Why support vegan meals in schools?

There are many sources to consider which advocate or encourage plant-based diets for all ages:

  • Veganism is supported by the Human Rights Act 1998 Article 9 which protects personal beliefs including veganism. This has been reinforced in a 2020 legal case in which ethical veganism was confirmed as a protected belief under the 2010 Equality Act in the same way as religious beliefs. The case therefore removes any doubt that it is illegal to discriminate against vegans by treating them less favourably than others i.e. not catering for them with vegan meals that are as equally nutritious as those served to non-vegan pupils.  Also, there is a wealth of evidence that shows a vegan diet to be healthy, and to be preventative with diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes (see the China Study). Many children suffer from dairy intolerance, which may cause eczema, who for health reasons need to avoid dairy.
  • The World Health Organisation states processed meat is a group one carcinogen, and red meat which includes beef, lamb and pork as a group 2 carcinogen. In the WHO School Policy 2008 framework it states “A nutritious diet should meet the nutrient and energy needs of students and be based on a variety of foods originating mainly from plant-based sources.”
  • The British Dietetic Society recognise that a well-planned plant based diet is suitable for every age and lifestyle, and the NHS confirm this.

By providing a vegan option in schools, the government will be addressing human rights, environment, health (government guidelines encourage us to eat more fruit and veg, 5 a day, as recommended by WHO), and poverty (free school meals for vegan children).

What can I do as a parent?

ProVeg offer support to schools on how to increase the intake of vegetables, fruits and other plant-based foods.

The Vegan Society have a template letter which families can use when writing to schools. They also have letters for caterers and educators too.

Calderdale Council no longer provides any catering to schools.  Therefore, we suggest you write to individual schools, although some schools provide the catering for a number of others in the area and deliver prepared meals daily. Nevertheless, it may be worth referring to a Calderdale Council internal human resources policy, introduced recently in response to the climate emergency, that requires meals and catering at Council events to be plant-based by April 2021.  This is relevant since many school staff (not academies) still receive their salaries via the Council.

Did you know that it’s still mandatory for school caterers in England to serve meat, fish, and dairy? Sir Paul McCartney, MPs, and environmental, health, and other groups have asked the government to revise these guidelines so that schools have a choice in the matter. Add your name to the healthy children’s meals petition by PETA UK.

In summary, have a look at the template letter or better yet craft your own using the sources above. Write to your children’s school, or the one where their food is prepared and ask what they are doing to support you. Add your name to the healthy meals petition.

Image by Andrzej Rembowski from Pixabay

Plant Based Health Professionals write open letter to UK government

On World Nutrition Day in May more than 200 NHS doctors and other health professionals wrote an open letter to NHS leaders and the UK Government urging them to make radical changes to the current unsustainable and unhealthy food system. The letter received considerable attention on social media and was also published in The Metro.

The letter was produced by Plant Based Health Professionals UK, a rapidly growing organisation of doctors and health professionals whose aims are:

  • to promote plant based nutrition for the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases
  • to education health professionals and the public on wholefood plant based nutrition and
  • to provide evidence-based recommendations for public policy on nutrition.

The letter stresses the need for rapid, nationwide changes to the obesogenic and unsustainable food environment in the UK, which has added to the UK’S COVID-19 death toll.

Three in four of the world’s new or emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic and are mainly transmitted through wildlife trade and factory farming. This combined with the increasing demand for cheap meat and dairy is contributing to environmental degradation and the rise of antibiotic resistance. The letter also stresses that 90% of global wild fish stocks have been over-fished or fished at capacity and farmed fish are contaminated with antibiotics and chemicals that pose a risk to human health.

Poor nutrition is of particular importance to communities of lower socio-economic means and is disproportionately affecting minority ethnic communities which makes them particularly vulnerable to disease.

The letter proposes changes such as the banning of subsidies and introduction of taxes for junk food, soft drinks and animal farming; banning of advertising which increases the consumption of unhealthy foods and importantly the introduction of subsidies to move towards a predominantly whole food plant based diet in order to improve human and planetary health.

The full letter is available to read at Plant-Based Health Professionals UK and you can see a video of the doctors talking about the urgent need for change.

Worth Valley Vegans: a new group starts up nearby

Guest blog post by Anne Taylor

This is a group to bring together people in the Worth Valley and Keighley area, who care about animals, the environment, and health, to share ideas and information, to support others in adopting a vegan lifestyle and to campaign to end all animal cruelty.

My plan in forming this group is to be able to put forward information to members of the public about the connection between food and lifestyle choices, and animal cruelty, environmental damage, and health. This has become even more urgent since the coronavirus pandemic. Although believed to have been started by the ill treatment of animals in a wet market in China, many people are not aware of the links with industrial animal farming, where animals kept in filthy and cramped conditions have become a breeding ground for deadly diseases, including swine and avian flu, meaning the next pandemic could be just around the corner. The only way to prevent this is for large numbers of people to stop eating meat.

Members of the group or anyone who wishes to join is welcome to share ideas for how to spread this message, whether that is by street campaigning, writing to MPs, newspapers, or linking with other likeminded groups, all ideas appreciated

If anyone wishes to contact me for more information please email Anne Taylor at worthvalleyvegans@gmail.com or go to their Facebook group.

CANCELLED 18 Mar: Good nutrition as your super power (talk in Todmorden)

Regrettably, we have taken the difficult decision to postpone this event for a while. I’m sure you can appreciate the reasons. Apologies for the inconvenience.

You are invited to a 3 Valley Vegans talk/food/drink event:
Good nutrition as your super power

flyer with superman holding carrots

Hosted by Sally-Anne Wilkinson from True To Your Health Personalised Nutrition
Registered Nutritional Therapist dipCNM mBANT mANP
Registered Nutritionist rCNHC rGNC

  • 7.30 to 9pm
  • Wednesday, 18 March 2020
  • The Todfellows Space
    Oxford Street, Todmorden OL14 5PU
    (Near the centre of Tod, behind Kava)
  • Suggested donation: £3
Sally will be covering:
  • How familial ill health led to her becoming a registered nutritional therapist, and how it helped improve everyone’s health.
  • Why poor food choices are our own personal Kryptonite
  • Why genetics aren’t the main reason we succumb to chronic illnesses
  • What we can do to change our health to more positive outcomes
There’ll be healthy recipes to try, and she’ll also be answering questions about healthy eating, and for those who are interested, how to transfer to a healthy plant-based diet.