Ever wondered what rules a dietitian lives by when looking after their own gut microbiome? We definitely have. Which is why we asked our very own gut-health dietitian Dr Sammie Gill, to share the five things she does.
1. Add in, not take away
One of the golden rules of looking after your gut microbiome is focusing on diversity and adding things in. It can be tempting to take foods out of the diet –particularly when you’re experiencing gut symptoms. But in the long-term, it does more harm than good. Over-restriction is not sustainable, nor beneficial for gut health and overall health.
Our gut loves plant-based foods (e.g. wholegrains, legumes, fruit, veg, nuts and seeds) so I try and base my meals around these foods.
Remember, plant-based eating does not mean vegan. It covers a whole spectrum – from vegan, vegetarian, through to flexitarian. Including animal products such as eggs, lower-fat dairy, lean meats, poultry and fish have a wealth of health benefits too.
The gut likes consistency so try and keep your eating habits consistent too. Whether you prefer three meals a day or smaller more frequent meals, keep it regular.
Dig into some of our favourite gut-loving recipes.
2. Prioritise sleepGut health and sleep are not always seen to go hand-in-hand, but they do! Did you know that your gut microbiome has its own sleep-wake cycle (i.e. circadian rhythm?). In fact, each and every microbe has its own body clock.
I try to maintain a good sleep pattern such as going to bed and waking up (roughly) the same time each morning. I keep the bedroom cool as it’s easier to drop off and mimics the drop in body temperature during sleep.
3. Get outside
When working from home, it can be easy to become a bit of a recluse. You start work in the early hours and then suddenly it’s 5pm. Where did the time go?
Sitting down all day staring at a computer screen is not ideal, so I always make a conscious effort to go outside at lunchtime or after work.
Sometimes it’ll be a 30 minute walk, sometimes I’ll go for a run, or a swim at my local leisure centre.
4. SnackingSnacking often gets a bad reputation, but it’s what you’re snacking on that matters. Plus it’s a great way to meet your daily nutrient requirements and an opportunity to feed those gut microbes.
Of course, there will be times I just want a packet of crisps and that’s okay – no foods are ever off limits, but I don’t make a habit of it.
When I’m on-the-go, I always make sure I have snacks in my bag so I’m not caught out – things like fresh or dried fruit, nuts, oaty flapjacks, carrot sticks, popcorn, nutty/cereal bars, or some fruity bread.
If I’m at home, I find a bowl of cereal, some natural yogurt with various toppings, carrots and hummus, or a homemade smoothie is a quick go-to snack – my favourite smoothie at the moment is milk (cow’s or plant-based) made up with banana, nut butter, oats and honey.
5. No food is off limits
Food should be about enjoyment - I don’t demonise certain foods. All foods have a place in the diet. Plus, if you forbid yourself from having chocolate, cheese or pizza, then it’s all you’ll think about!
But, there are ways to boost the diversity and feed your gut bugs with these types of foods. For example, if you’re having pizza, add some veggie toppings such as onion or mushroom. Or add a salad on the side. If you want chocolate, one option is to go for darker chocolate (60-70% cocoa or above) since it contains more polyphenols. Or melt down and dip in chopped up fruit. If you want cheese, pair it with wholegrain crackers and sliced apple or grapes.
Even one of the nation’s favourite dishes being fish and chips – the fish is often generously coated in batter so just remove half of it, ask for a smaller portion, ask to hold the salt and add a side of mushy peas. Even better, make your own at home so you can bake rather than deep fry.
Hungry for more? Find out why the gut is more important than you think.