5 ways to boost your microbial metabolism

How much attention do you pay to your microbial health?

It’s an area of research that’s getting increasing attention. It’s been found that having more beneficial bacteria in your gut (your gut microbiome) can have all sorts of health benefits, including keep you slim, improving mental health and staving off disease.

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

1. Diversify your diet 

Eating a wide range of foods – particularly fruits, olive oil, nuts, vegetables and pulses is a great way to boost your microbial diversity.

“Compared to our recent ancestors who’ve enjoyed a rich and varied diet, we have only a fraction of the diversity of microbial species living in our guts,” says Tim. “I’ve found that it’s easiest to give up meat temporarily. This enables you to fill the space with other items that you may not have tried before.”

2. Plant new microbes

As Tim explains, it can be helpful to think of your microbial community as a garden.

“You can plant new seeds regularly in the shape of fermented foods and probiotics,” he says. “We don’t yet know what the best probiotics are, but we know that fermented foods (kefir or kombucha, for example) have large numbers of different species (up to 20 billion).”

Eating fermented foods regularly can help to boost the number and diversity of beneficial bacteria living in your gut.

3. Take a break

Having a break from eating can actually do your gut a whole world of good.

“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 says.

It’s best to only fast intermittently though as, if given free rein for too long, these nibbling microbes can damage the gut’s protective lining. It’s important to find a fasting practice that fits your lifestyle – this might be reducing calorie intake to 25% 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

Sweeteners and preservatives wreak havoc with our microbes, leading to changes in appetite and metabolism.

“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.

For this reason, 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. Instead he advises: “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 – as Tim explains, it’s no good for your gut!

“Hygiene is something we should redefine and bother less about,” he says. “Our homes have become sterile laboratories. Modern kitchens are more like operating theatres, and food comes smothered in plastic – this doesn’t 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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