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Food is Your Natural Pharmacy

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I have another man in my life and my husband is totally onboard with it. I hang on to his every word, quote him whenever I have the opportunity, and have changed my family's lifestyle based entirely on his wise counsel. I'm talking of Professor Tim Spector, one of the top 100 most-cited scientists in the world, and an internationally acclaimed authority on the microbiome. What is the microbiome and why is it so important? Oh you've got me started.

Research into the microbiome is considered the most significant medical breakthrough since the development of antibiotics and, unlike antibiotics, it's entirely natural. I'll try to simplify it for you seeing as you haven't had the benefit of 'my boyfriend' educating you about gut health. 90% of our immune system is in our stomachs which is populated by literally trillions of microbes or gut bacteria. These play a crucial role in our overall well-being, and the greater the variety of different bacteria, the better our overall health. It's therefore absolutely essential to eat to feed your microbiome and constantly introduce new, beneficial microbes into your diet.

This groundbreaking research is proving that a healthy microbiome acts as a protective shield against dementia, cancer, and heart disease. And it all comes down to the food choices you make. 

Fun fact. If someone in their 40s had to change the way they were eating now, they'd add 10 years to their life, and it's never too late.

Your 40th birthday is long gone? The food you eat today can transform your microbiome - and immune system - within 24 hours.

Additionally, it takes just a few days for the damaged lining of your gut to repair itself and, with every mindful meal you eat, your health improves ten-fold. Nope, my crush Tim is no spin doctor, and this is all 100% proven and backed up with clinical trials. Now is your chance to discover the power of the microbiome, make better food choices, and live your healthiest life. And here's how:

Enter the 30-plant a week challenge. Plants are proven to introduce more beneficial gut bacteria than anything else and 30 plants a week is the magical number to aim for. Now, don't panic at the thought of filling your plate with 30 different fruits and vegetables, as the category of 'plants' is much broader than that. All herbs, spices, grains, nuts, legumes, seeds and even coffee and dark chocolate count as plants. Ensure you cook with as many spices as possible and not just salt and pepper, add fresh and dried herbs and spices to your meals, and keep a "diversity jar" containing mixed nuts and seeds in your refrigerator to sprinkle over salads and yoghurt. Variety is the spice of life, and it turns out, it's the key to a healthier gut too.

Next, and this is absolutely vital, avoid ultra-processed foods. I'm talking breakfast cereals, store-bought salad dressings, manufactured marinades, boxed cookies, crackers and even supermarket bread. Read the ingredients list of anything you purchase and, if it contains ingredients you don't recognize and wouldn't have in your grocery pantry, don't buy it. Yes, it may take time to adapt to this way of thinking, but it's entirely doable. Ultra-processed food not only fails to feed your gut bacteria but it can seriously damage them. A fun fact is that people living in rural Africa have a far greater variety of gut bacteria as they don't have access to ultra-processed foods. 

Moving on, a vegetarian diet is a healthier choice, but most certainly not if you eat manufactured meat substitutes like supposed vegetarian burgers, which are packed with damaging chemicals. You'd do your body a bigger favor by eating a steak instead. Stick to plant-based options with a focus on protein-packed legumes like chickpeas and lentils, or pick fiber and protein-packed mushrooms on a burger roll instead. 

The next piece of advice may be hard for some to stomach. Avoid anything labeled 'low fat' or 'fat free' as these have added sugars and worse to make them palatable. The low fat diets of the 1980s and beyond resulted in obesity rates soaring. And, while we're at it, cut out all artificial sweeteners as these spike insulin levels as much as sugar, and damage your microbiome. In the same vein, stop calorie counting as not all calories are created equal, plus the nutritional information is usually up to 30% incorrect. If you eat 200 calories worth of chocolate, or 200 calories worth of broccoli, your body will respond in completely different ways to each.

Everyone is obsessed with getting enough protein when it's a fiber crisis we face. Protein bars and protein powders deliver too much protein at once and excess protein turns to sugar and then fat. They are also ultra-processed and to be avoided for this reason alone. To make it easy for yourself, shop on the outskirts of the supermarket, which is where you'll find all the fresh produce, the dairy fridges, meat, fish, and cheese counters, When I shop, I stick virtually entirely to this outer ring, and venture into the middle of the supermarket only to buy canned tomatoes, rice, sugar, legumes, and flour. 

Finally, include fermented foods in your diet, as these are packed with microbes. On a personal note, I suffered from extreme IBS for years, and specialists were baffled by my impossible-to-diagnose condition. Once I began eating kefir daily a fermented yoghurt I make with kefir grain cultures and ordinary milk every single symptom completely disappeared. This may not happen to everyone but it certainly was the proof I needed that you really are what you eat.

 There is so much more to share including fun facts like people who have pets have a healthier microbiome than people who don't as do people in a relationship compared to singletons but it's hard to condense it all into a single article. Do as I do and listen to podcasts and YouTube videos Zoe Shorts make a great place to start as does any interview with Professor Tim Spector and educate your way to better health. 

It goes without saying that I apply all these principles in my home too don't stop by thinking you'll find processed cookies or crackers to snack on as I've banished these edible food-like substances from my kitchen and my made-to-order range too. My Roast Butternut, Chickpea Spinach Curry, for instance contains no less than 15 different plants/herbs/spices. A single portion means you've already had half of your weekly requirement of 30 plants a week.

Sign up for my weekly newsletter at where I will be inspiring you with healthy recipes and more. I'd also be glad to answer any questions you may have.

Here's to a flourishing microbiome, greater resistance, improved longevity and a happier, healthier you!

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Friday, 19 July 2024

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