Give your gut a break – gut health tips for summer

gut health

It’s the time of year when we all start to look forward to a much-needed summer holiday, but for many the longed-for vacation can turn into a health nightmare that ruins the break.

The change in diet, routine, time zone, and even just the flight can adversely affect the gut and digestion, resulting in constipation, or the other extreme, diarrhoea, quite often as a result of stress.  

It doesn’t have to be that way, just making some simple choices can make the difference between a holiday you never want to forget and one you really do!

Award winning nutritionist, Lucy Williamson specialises in gut health and has provided some tips for staying gut happy as well as resisting unwanted bugs, feeling energised and glowing so you can have the break you need to thoroughly restore and refresh, both physically and mentally. 

  • Can I help my gut even before we have even left home? A resounding YES!
  1. Address your Stress: it can play havoc with our digestion, not least when we’re busy preparing to go away on holiday. Have you heard of the term ‘Rest and Digest’? This is a very real need by our body: carrying tension creates a poor digestive environment. Compare this to a wonderfully calm gut.  Our relaxing vagus nerve, part of our vital gut-brain axis, has nerve endings all along our gut wall and if we give it a chance to work well with simple daily relaxation techniques, our gut health and digestion will thank us for it. Simply enjoying a 10-minute breathing meditation or listening to music can be enough to break the stress cycle each and every day.
  2. Gut health: Eating a bigger variety of plants (this includes spices & herbs as well as fruit and veg, beans, pulses like lovely lentils and chickpeas, nuts, seeds and grains) is the single, best thing we can do to nurture our gut health. Why is this worthwhile? Most of our immune system sits within our gut wall so looking after our billions of beneficial gut microbes really helps to build our resistance to those holiday bugs.
  3. Getting into good habits: Problems getting to sleep? Try avoiding eating anything after 7.30pm (herbal teas and water are fine though) and a simple box breathing exercise when you get into bed. Once you’re away, keeping going with these habits of ‘self-love’ can be really helpful. Sleep is a vital part of your gut health.
  • Eating to feel holiday-ready

Skin: It feels good to glow! Our body has a very natural detox system to clear everyday toxins that build up. Eating to nurture our gut health really helps; a great rule of thumb is the 3Ps – 1. Probiotic 2. Prebiotic and 3. Polyphenols

In other words:

  1. Fermented food little and often (food with live cultures like kefir, yogurt, kombucha and sauerkraut)
  2. A wide variety of plants (see above)
  3. Antioxidants in all colourful fruit and veg like berries, beetroot and sweet potatoes are rocket fuel for out good gut mircrobes. Plant oils are a fabulous way to get skin-boosting Vitamin E too – enjoy olive oil on your salads or use cold pressed rapeseed oil for roasting.
  • Weight control: we all enjoy feeling our best before we jet off; try this simple advice for a few weeks before you leave:
  1. Avoid very processed foods which will be higher in additives, sugar, energy and less healthy fats, all of which tend to drive weight gain. Sweeteners, yes sweeteners, can be a real enemy to our waistline because they actually trick our body into absorbing more sugar from the food that follows!
  2. Always choose the more natural version of a food – for example whole yogurt is far more filling than fat free so you’re less likely to snack between meals.
  3. Swap energy-rich carbs like pasta, rice, potatoes and bread, for their high-fibre equivalents – try buckwheat, quinoa and sourdough for gut healthy alternatives. (see my recipes below)
  • At the airport
  1. If stress is creeping in – remember those breathing exercises you’ve already started to love? Do them while you’re queueing – nobody will know, and your gut will be thankful for the destress!
  2. Keep hydrated – hydration is so important when it comes to travel and supporting your immune system. Once on the plane changes in the air pressure can alter water balance between tissues in the body often resulting in swelling or bloating but it can also make the gut medium become more watery. A decent amount of fibre in your breakfast such as porridge could be helpful in absorbing extra water and therefore avoiding excessive bowel movements in the gut. Alcohol may also upset the water balance during flights so try to avoid it however tempting a celebratory holiday toast might be.
  • While away

So, you’ve arrived at your destination at last. Now it’s time to keep going with those eating habits which have really helped you in the few weeks before you left.  Of course, we all need holiday treats, but as far as possible try these:

  1. Savour one or two glasses of wine each day but try not to over-indulge! A lot of preserved foods contain sulphites, including wine!  These can upset our beneficial gut bacteria, so go easy or build in some ‘dry days’. However, the good news is that red wine and cider are high in those gut loving polyphenols so as always there’s a balance to be had!
  2. Overnight fasting – an easy way to help that calm gut situation! If you’re eating a bit later in the evening – have your breakfast a bit later too – at least 12 hours fasting overnight will help you to stay gut-happy
  3. Take advantage of local, seasonal food! The Mediterranean diet, high in fish, colourful fruit and veg and olive oil is well known to be a gut healthy diet so make the most of it while you’re away.
  4. Take advantage of some Vitamin D from the sun – exposure to UV rays directly on your skin for 10 minutes earlier in the day or late afternoon will boost your Vitamin D and your immunity too!
  5. How to help those hormones? Remember sleep is so important here so keep going with those breathing exercises at bedtime. Try to keep up the variety of veggies and other plants while you’re away, hydrate well and look for foods rich in natural phyto-oestrogens – great choices are apricots, flaxseed, soy products, cashew nuts, coffee (espresso is best!), garlic, onions, and legumes like green beans.
  • Once home – coping with the jet lag

Hopefully you’ve had a wonderful holiday and feel much the better for it… apart from the jet lag! Our body is wired to like the natural rhythms of light. It’s how we’ve evolved. Try to get to bed early and wake up with the natural light rather than sleeping on into the day. Allowing our body to wake up naturally with its inbuilt circadian rhythm, greatly reduces low level stress and will help to ease you back into life back home…

Lucy and chef Katy from Peterley Manor Farm in Buckinghamshire have prepared some gut healthy recipes to get your holiday preparations underway:

Vegetable Fritters and Labneh

Pair these delicious savoury fritters with some Greek yogurt for a delicious light lunch or a super supper snack.

Make 12 large fritters

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes


For the fritters:

  • 3 large carrots grated
  • 2 small onions
  • 2 garlic cloves crushed
  • 250g feta
  • ½ lemon juiced
  • 1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
  • 3 eggs
  • Cold Pressed Rapeseed Oil
  • 125g yellow pea flour
  • 1tsp whole cumin seed
  • 2tsp baking powder
  • Seasoning


1.      Sweat the onions in a non-stick pan with a little cold pressed rapeseed oil. Once soft, add the crushed garlic, cumin seeds and grated carrots. Cook for 5-10 minutes

2.      In a large bowl, crack the eggs and whip.  Whisk in the yellow pea flour, baking powder and seasoning.  It should resemble thick pancake batter

3.      Add the contents of the pan, the feta, lemon juice and parsley. Mix well, season to taste

4.      Wipe out your pan and cover with 0.5cm of rapeseed oil on a medium to high heat (do not allow to smoke)

5.      Shallow fry tablespoons of the mix flattened, in the cold pressed rapeseed oil on a medium heat until golden brown on each side.  You will need to do a few batches. Freeze for any easy supper another time or serve warm and crispy with a dollop of your favourite greek yogurt.

Buckwheat Tabbouleh

This is a twist on a traditional tabbouleh made with buckwheat instead of bulgur.  There are also two mini recipes within this – slow roasted tomatoes and Dukkah. This recipe works well served with grilled or roasted fish, griddled chicken or falafels

Serves 4

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes for the buckwheat (2 hour roasting of tomatoes can be done in advance)


Slow Roasted Tomatoes:

·       20 cherry tomatoes (halved)

·       Sea salt & pepper


1.      Preheat the oven to 110°c (fan) 130°c (non-fan), or gas mark 1

2.      Lay out the tomato halves cut side up on a baking tray and season generously

  1. Roast in the oven for at least two hours


For the Dukkah

  • 100g peeled hazelnuts
  • 2 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • ½ tbsp fennel seeds
  • 50g sesame seeds
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • Ground black pepper


1.      In a heated frying pan(no oil required) toast the hazelnuts, coriander seeds,

cumin, fennel and sesame seeds, until fragrant

2.      Tip everything into a food processor, along with the smoked paprika, salt and pepper, and pulse until there is a chunky mix (don’t overmix or it could turn into nut butter)

3.      This makes double what you need so store half in a sealed jar and use to top salads, guacamole, falafel etc


For the Tabbouleh

·       250g Buckwheat

·       1 Lemon zest and juice

·       4tbsp olive oil

·       4 spring onions finely chopped

·       ½ a cucumber finely chopped

·       Watercress, flat leaf parsley and coriander finely chopped are all a nice addition


  1. Heat a dry frying pan and toast the buckwheat for a few minutes, moving often, until the groats start going a nice toasted golden colour all over. Add twice the volume of cold water and bring to the boil, simmering for 10 minutes and drain
  2. While still warm, add in the lemon zest and juice, olive oil and salt and pepper, so all the flavours are absorbed
  3. Allow to cool to room temperature before mixing in the spring onions, cucumber, herbs, watercress, slow roasted tomatoes and Dukkah

Trout and Watercress Fishcakes

Make a big double batch and freeze them in pairs ready to take out for a really easy supper!

Salmon works just as well, or you could also add in some white fish.

Perfect served with some wilted greens or watercress and a dollop of yoghurt flavoured with lemon and mustard. To keep the cost down, use a bit more potato in the mix.

Makes 10 fishcakes

Prep time: 30 mins

Cooking time: 20 mins


  • 750g fish
  • 2 large baking potatoes
  • 125g British watercress
  • 2 tbsp wholegrain mustard
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 4 eggs, whisked
  • 200g fresh breadcrumbs
  • 50g plain flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp of cold pressed rapeseed oil


  1. Preheat the oven to 190 Degrees C
  2. Wrap the fish in foil & place on a baking tray in the oven for 15-20 minutes. Check and remove when it is just cooked through and the flesh flakes away easily with a fork. Undo the foil and leave to cool.
  3. At the same time cook your potatoes until they’re ready for mashing (around 20 mins)
  4. Once the fish is cool, flake the flesh into a large bowl. Check carefully for bones and discard the skin. Try to keep in slightly larger chunks rather than flaking really finely.
  5. Crush the garlic cloves, glug the oil into a medium sized saucepan over a low heat. Add the garlic and cook gently but don’t allow to colour. Roughly chop the watercress leaves. Add the watercress to the pan, stir through the garlic, pop on the lid and wilt for a couple of minutes on a low heat. Once the watercress has wilted down remove from the heat.
  6. Tip the mixture into the bowl with the fish and potatoes. Add the lemon zest and juice, mustard, chopped parsley and season generously with salt and pepper. You really need to taste the mixture here to get the seasoning right and adjust. 
  7. Next shape the fishcakes into 10 balls using floured hands then flatten slightly. Lay out on a tray lined with baking paper and pop in the fridge for at least an hour to firm up.
  8. Next cover in flour, then whisked eggs, and finally breadcrumbs
  9. Place on a baking tray and cook in the oven for 20 minutes at 180°C or 160 °C fan

Pearl Barley Seasonal Risotto

Risotto is a great base recipe – you can use other seasonal veg or add toppings like goat’s cheese or chicken pieces, but this simple recipe is tasty alone too!

Serves 2

Prep time: 10mins

Cooking time: 45 mins


  • 200g pearl barley

·       1 onion, finely chopped

·       3 garlic cloves, crushed

·       50g butter

·       1 tbsp of cold pressed rapeseed oil

·       2 celery sticks, finely chopped

·       150ml white wine

·       500ml good quality chicken or vegetable stock

·       1 lemon, zest and juice

·       100g grated parmesan cheese 

·       Salt and pepper

Seasonal Vegetables:

  • 160g watercress (or mix with spinach)
  • 400g asparagus, washed and chopped into 3cm lengths
  • 120g frozen peas
  • Good handful of summer herbs: chives, dill, flat leaf parsley and mint- finely chopped


1.      Place a non-stick pan over a low heat, add 25g butter and rapeseed oil. Add the finely chopped onion and cook gently for 5-10 minutes until translucent (but not coloured), then add the garlic and celery, cook for a further 5 minutes.

2.      Add the pearl barley and stir well to ensure it is coated in the butter/oil.

3.      Keeping the heat on medium, start adding in the stock, stirring frequently.  Wait for the majority of the liquid to be absorbed before gradually adding more.

4.      The barley will take about 25 minutes to cook through and you will be gradually adding liquid throughout. After 15 minutes of cooking add in the chopped asparagus, if using.

5.      Once the pearl barley is cooked, stir through the chopped watercress, cooked peas, chopped herbs, grated cheese, lemon zest and juice, and seasoning.

6.      Cook for a couple of moments stirring continuously, then turn off the heat, place on a lid and leave it for 5 minutes to allow the flavours to settle. Remove the lid then taste and check seasoning. Add the rest of the butter at this point and mix through.

7.      Garnish with cheese shards and herbs.

All that’s left to say, is Bon Voyage!

To find out more about gut health and its overall effect on the whole body’s health, and for more delicious recipes, visit

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