5 Tips to Boost Your Microbial Metabolism

Professor Tim Spector at home with vegetables

Leading British gut expert, Professor Tim Spector, reveals his five recommendations for increasing microbial diversity and improving our overall health.

1. Diversify your diet 

‘Compared to our recent ancestors who have enjoyed a rich and varied diet, we have only a fraction of the diversity of microbial species living in our guts,’ says Tim. He advises eating a much wider array of foods – particularly fruits, olive oil, nuts, vegetables and pulses. ‘I’ve found that it’s easiest to give up meat temporarily,’ he adds. ‘This enables you to fill the space with other items that you may not have tried before.’

2. Plant new microbes

‘It’s useful to think about your microbial community as a garden that you’re responsible for,’ says Tim. You can plant new seeds regularly in the shape of fermented foods and probiotics.’ As a general rule, he recommends focusing on fermented foods: ‘We don’t yet know what the best probiotics are, whereas we know that fermented foods (kefir or kombucha, for example) have large numbers of different species (up to 20 billion).’

3. Take a break

‘When you’re not eating, a whole different set of microbes comes and cleans up your gut wall, eating up any sugars and promoting a good immune balance,’ Tim notes. If given free rein for too long, however, these nibbling microbes can damage the gut’s protective lining, so it’s best to only fast intermittently. It’s important to fin da fasting practice that fits your lifestyle – this might be reducing calorie intake to 25 per cent for a 24-hour period, or simply having a 16-hour rest between your last meal of the day and the first meal the following day.

4. Pass on processed foods

‘We now understand why people who have lots of diet drinks end up being fatter than people who just drink water or tea,’ says Tim. This is because the sweeteners and preservatives are wreaking havoc with our microbes, leading to changes in appetite and metabolism. For this reason, Tim explains, eating a diet high in processed foods ‘makes you more likely to get diabetes and to lay down fat around your liver and gut’. Just like the team at Liz Earle Wellbeing, Tim recommends banishing low-fat products from your kitchen: ‘Eat traditional cheese and full-fat yoghurt, and avoid processed alternatives – the fewer synthetic ingredients on the label the better!’

5. Not-so-clean living 

Put away the Marigolds and throw out anti-bacterial sprays: ‘Hygiene is something we should redefine and bother less about,’ Tim argues. ‘Our homes have become sterile laboratories. Modern kitchens are more like operating theatres, and food comes smothered in plastic – this does not benefit our health.’ Interestingly, research has shown that, on average, gardeners are happier and healthier than the rest of us – Tim suspects this may have something to do with the time they spend getting their hands dirty outside.

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