Browsing a fruit and veg market was a reminder to Catherine Tyldesley of how dramatically her diet has changed. Five years ago, her high-protein intake meant she ate so much meat she had steak for breakfast. And go back 20 years and she was only eating junk food and was a size 22.
Now, most of the ex-Coronation Street star’s meals are plant-based – and she says she has never felt or looked better.
Cath overhauled her diet after waking up to the importance of good gut health.
And she is now revisiting the experts she met on one of ITV’s Tonight documentaries in 2015, to hear which gut health products really work – and which should be avoided.
Cath, 36, says: “I feel more energised, mentally and physically, since becoming more plant-based. I feel a greater sense of vitality. And I enjoy food a lot more as I eat a wider range now and making all kinds of different recipes, rather than sticking to the same high-protein ones.”
Her whole perspective changed when she had son Alfie, who is five next week.
“Since I have had Alfie things are no longer about weight-loss, it is just about being on the planet for as long as possible,” she says. “When you are busy working mum you can’t afford to get poorly. Children are unforgiving like that.
“I love being busy and making the most of life. I feel like to do that I have
to fuel my body correctly – you wouldn’t put petrol in a diesel car.”
Cath, whose husband Tom Mitford is a fitness trainer, felt confident about her diet when she first had her gut health tested on Tonight.
She had shed six stone to drop to a size 10, exercised regularly and ate what she thought was a well-balanced diet. But results showed she lacked vital nutrients.
She says: “I was a stickler for meat, meat, meat. At one point I was even eating steak for breakfast when I was doing a lot of weight training. I have a good friend who is a nutritionist and when I told him what I was eating he said, ‘Blimey, Cath, you’re not a bodybuilder’.
“But at that point in time, if you went to the gym or had a personal trainer, the message seemed to be protein, protein, protein.
“When you are on a weight-loss journey and weight-train, you can almost develop a fear of carbs.”
The tests showed Cath’s microbes were not working as they should. Scientists say the bacteria in our guts can help to produce different chemicals depending on what foods we eat – some go to the brain to make us happy or sad or change our appetite or control our immune system.
What we eat has a massive impact on whether or not that bacteria works properly. Cath says: “It was a shock when I got the results. The inflammatory markers were quite high. There was some good stuff in there as well that had come from the fruit and veg I was eating but I was in desperate need of a clean-up.”
She immediately changed her diet. Out went the steak for breakfast and the bodybuilder’s staple of chicken, rice and broccoli. In its place came a more plant-based regime, with lots of fruit, veg and wholegrains – and less meat and fish.
“My gut bacteria wasn’t flourishing. In order for it to work properly, diversity is key. And although I was eating some vegetables, you should really be aiming for 30 different plant-based products each week.
“It sounds like a lot but actually it isn’t, instead of buying a bag of broccoli buy a bag of mixed veg and then straight away you have four or five different types.”
The gut health products sector is now worth £750million a year in Britain. For Cath’s new Tonight programme, she has reunited with Professor Tim Spector, who highlights the benefits of gut-friendly foods.
This time, he warns Cath – and shoppers in general – to tread carefully as there is so much choice. These include probiotics such as yoghurt, sauerkraut and a milk drink, as well as fashionable new products such as fermented tea drink kombucha.
But he says not all products are as good for the gut as they seem to be.
Things to look out for are high levels of sugar, artificial sweeteners, long lists of ingredients and foods that have been heavily processed.
Cath says: “Artificial sweeteners are terrible for gut health. Your body doesn’t know how to process them. It is so important to read the labels.
“If you can’t pronounce the words, it shouldn’t really be going into your system. If something has reams and reams of ingredients, preservatives, then again you have to question.
“I think if you eat from the land then you can’t go far wrong.”
Cath’s weight temporarily plunged during last year’s Strictly Come Dancing , when she danced with pro Johannes Radebe. After the Strictly tour she showed on Instagram how her clothes were too big, saying: “It’s official, I need a pie. Lost my junk.” The actress has clearly now done her homework on what she should and should not eat.
Looking back to her days as an overweight teen who lived off junk food, she cannot believe how far she has come.
And she says she is living proof it is never too late to make healthy changes.
“The old Cath didn’t have a clue,” she says. “The foods I used to consume! Don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of cake as much as anybody but I make the right choices or I might make a healthier cake.
“When I ate a lot of junk food I couldn’t function. I had a foggy brain, I was always tired, I was incredibly unfit. When I look back it was a form of self-abuse
in a way.
“I feel sad I didn’t make the effort to learn more back then. It is about education, it is about getting this across in schools. But we still aren’t, which is frustrating and it’s why I am
so behind making programmes like this.
“It is never too late to make changes and you could possibly prolong your life.”
- Diet: Trust Your Gut? is on ITV1 at 7.30pm tonight.
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