Good health comes to those who wait
As a child, my grandmother taught me a critical life lesson. As I popped my hand in the biscuit tin, she would say, “everything in moderation”. Wise words that stuck with me since the age of ten and have come to good use in all aspects of my life. There is no quick fix to good health. Looking after yourself on a regular basis, rather than bingeing and then starving yourself for example, will lead to more sustainable results. Here are my top tips for long term health – based on granny’s common sense!
1. Think long term, not fad diet
In today’s fast-moving, short-fused society, where instant gratification is king, old-fashioned lessons are as important as ever. Particularly when misinformation is so rife. Fad diets presented by the media seem so appealing because they promise drastic changes and quick “results”. Paleo, Slim Fast, South Beach diet anyone? Fad diets can be extremely restrictive, and often advise cutting out whole food groups, including nutrient-dense foods, gut-loving wholegrains, dietary fibres and prebiotics. They may be helpful for short-term weight loss, but are usually unsustainable in the long term and can cause havoc with your gut-microbiome.
2. Look after your gut to reduce inflammation
We know our gut microbiome has a profound impact on overall health: it supports our gut immune system, protects against invading pathogens, and maintains our gut barrier function. Bacterial lipopolysaccharides (LPS), for example, carried by certain types of gut bacteria, are known to act as a powerful inflammatory stimulant and trigger for low-grade inflammation, if they manage to pass through our protective gut barrier. This “low-grade inflammation” is involved in the pathology of numerous chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome. A healthy gut microbiome can keep these types of bacteria in check and maintain our protective gut barrier function, thereby preventing or minimising these health risks.
Emerging evidence also suggests the gut microbiota can influence the risk of high-grade inflammatory autoimmune conditions such as Type 1 Diabetes, Coeliac Disease, Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis. Interestingly, the incidence of these autoimmune diseases has risen dramatically since the 1940s, now affecting 5-10% of Western societies. Some suggest the energy-dense, nutrient-deprived Western-style diet’s influence on our gut microbiome could be partly responsible for triggering and progressing autoimmune conditions, alongside other environmental and genetic factors.
3. Add-in the good stuff, to reduce the bad
So, how can we best support our precious gut microbiome, to mitigate the risk of high or low-grade inflammation? There’s no magic bullet, but moderation is key - thanks grandma. A balanced, diverse, colourful, whole-foods diet is designed for life (in every sense of the word). We know a healthy microbiome thrives on plant-based foods, so favour at least 30 different types of fruit and veg, nuts and seeds, herbs and spices, wholegrains, legumes, and polyphenols each week, while limiting animal produce and minimising processed foods. Alongside regular exercise, a regular sleep pattern, avoiding excess alcohol and stress.
Of course, some medical conditions require dietary restrictions, in which case high quality nutritional supplements may be needed to compensate. But most people should be thinking about what they can “add-in” to boost their wholefood, plant-based diversity, rather than what they “cut out” of their diets. The exact opposite of a fad or restrictive diet. Just think of the damage we’re doing to our gut microbiota by starving them of critical fibre and prebiotics! Not to mention associated nutrient deficiencies and lack of energy.
4. Be patient and be kind to yourself
No worthwhile nutritional intervention happens overnight. The results won’t be immediate, they’ll take time, effort, and staying power. Benefits will accumulate over time, as your healthier diet and lifestyle settle in to become second nature. And remember, these benefits are often silent or invisible: a thriving microbiome, a healthier metabolic and inflammatory profile, disease prevention, and ultimately a longer, healthier, happier life. As in all other walks of life, another very apt childhood lesson springs to mind: “good things come to those who wait”.
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