These grids are great places for learning about gut-friendly food.

In years gone by, a new year heralded, as if it were a default, ‘a new you.’ It was, and is still, hard to escape the message that in this month, we must suddenly transform and become someone else; an ambition that is, by its definition, doomed to failure.

There is, of course, a logic to the timing. We have collectively emerged from the most indulgent period of consumption of the year – in part because it’s Christmas; in part because it’s cold and what’s nicer than mince pies and brandy butter to keep us warm and cheer us up? It follows then that we might wish to stop hoovering up all sugary treats in sight with quite such alacrity. And yet, it is still cold, and we still need cheering up. Yet we do want to pay some attention to our health. So, what’s the answer?

The good news is that most qualified nutritionists do not subscribe to the old ‘calories in/calories out’ adage any longer. And indeed so decisive is the move away that it has now filtered down to the mainstream. The much more encouraging alternative can be found in the acres of evidence pertaining to how important it is to eat gut-friendly food to feed your microbiome.

We all harbour millions of bacteria in our guts, not all of them bad despite the rep the word gets. The idea is to feed the good bacteria by eating the right things while abstaining from more processed foods. Which, in practice, means consuming a diversity of foods and concentrating on a varied diet. Cabbage soup regimes, be gone!



The basic rules? First, whether your diet is plant-based or not, be sure to incorporate plenty of fibre-filled veg into the day, all of which are incredibly kind to your gut.

Second, do eat pro-biotic fermented foods every single day. These include the likes of sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, miso, kombucha and natural yogurt. If you’re struggling to incorporate these often enough, you can also take a probiotic.

Third, it’s not all about probiotics. Prebiotics are vital too. These are the foods that are non-digestible carbs or fibres, which act as food to our healthy gut bacteria. Examples are easily come by and include onions, oatmeal, bananas asparagus and Jerusalem artichoke.

Fourth, do limit sugar. It can be hard, yes. Does it work? Also yes.

Fifth, opt for Polyphenol-rich food. These boost digestion, and protect against heart disease, cancer and Diabetes II. They include red wine (hallelujah!), dark chocolate (ditto!), tea, and berries.

And finally, don’t be too clean. Natural dirt is brilliant for the microbiome; indeed, getting muddy in the garden is one of the very best things you can do. But don’t just take our word for it. Here are just a few of the experts to follow on Instagram who pack in the science and offer encouragement and advice aplenty.

@theguthealthdoctor



The Gut Health Doctor, aka Dr Megan Rossi, is on Instagram to offer us all ‘fad-free nutrition news’ that is ‘science-based and easy to digest.’ You can pre-order her Love Your Gut for Free Immunity Guide, but in the meantime, you’ll find her feed a rich source of inspiration. All the food and recipes she posts are colourful, joyful and far from depressing diet food. As she writes: ‘No detox diets in 2021…. We're only 3 days into the new year and if it feels like the 'detoxes' and juice cleanses are already taking over your @instagram feed, read this! You do NOT need to do a 'detox', drink green juice, have a colon cleanse or cut out all your favourite foods (yes that includes 'starchy carbs' and chocolate!) to have good gut and overall health! It's just not based in real science, and as I witness in clinic time and time again, only sets you back in terms of achieving your long-term goals, whatever they may be.’ Like the sound of that? Us too.


@thegutstuff



Run by twin sisters and former DJs Lisa and Alana Macfarlane, we love The Gut Stuff, for providing a glut of useful information in an easily digestible format. As they explain over on their website: ‘Look, nutrition is COMPLEX. Even the experts say so and, trust us, we were not experts. We’d done every fad diet under the sun, including the cabbage soup diet pre-Magaluf 2005 (remember that?) and grew up in Scotland eating deep-fried pizza and chips, plus all of Edinburgh’s supply of Yum Yums. We only knew what kale was because we used to feed it to the guinea pig on his birthday.’ It all changed when they volunteered to be part of the TwinsUK research at King’s College London. That was when they discovered that despite being twins, they shared no more than 30 to 40 per cent of the same microbiota. The lesson? This is the key to why we all handle different foods and exposure to environmental factors differently. A brilliant, microbiome-friendly feed.


@theguthealthclinic



This account, run by a team of gut specialist dietitians (including our old friend Dr Megan Rossi) is brilliantly user-friendly. It is extremely easy to navigate, as each square focuses on a very specific health topic that relates in some way to the gut, from IBS to stress to pregnancy to food intolerance to oncology and some suggestions for how to deal with the effects of cancer treatment on the gut. Excellent.

@tim.spector

and

@zoe



If you like your nutrition scientists with serious credentials (and who doesn’t?), then giving Tim Spector – as well as his Zoe project – a follow is a great idea. He is, after all, the scientist behind developing the Covid-19 symptom app, along with King’s College London, which they created together at lightning speed. But he is also a microbiome expert who argues for the imperative of feeding yourself well in lockdown. His book, Spoonfed, debunks all the diet myths he abhors; rather, the idea – espoused on his Zoe account – is that all bodies react differently because, well, we are all different and the composition of our microbiomes are all unique. Over on @zoe, UK residents will soon be able to order test kits (currently available in the US) to determine the foods that will nourish you; the approach is, by definition, individual and not blanket. Fascinating and game-changing stuff.


@thecrunchyradish



Miranda Hammer is a New York-based registered dietician whose gut-friendly recipes have earned her a 60k-strong following. It’s easy to see why. The joyful plates she creates are good for those little microbes, while being varied and tasty. She emphatically does not subscribe to detoxes or any such gruelling and unscientific punishment regimes. Instead she loves big wintery salads, lots of root veg and delicious colourful and hearty foods packed with flavour. Feeling off-kilter? She recommends lentil soup. ‘I don’t believe in diets, detoxes, or cleanses but lentil soup is always my grounding food whenever I feel a bit off kilter. Simple, sustaining, delicious, and very easy to make.’ Perfection.

By Nancy Alsop
January 2021

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