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Knowledge base

The number #1 lesson - look after your gut

Scientists and doctors around the world have begun to realise more and more over recent years the importance of our gut microbiomes to almost every other part of our physical and mental wellbeing. The lesson that I like to take from this is 'look after your gut and your gut will look after you'.

Many studies have shown that looking after your gut can help improve depression, anxiety problems and stress, and a healthy gut can also help to reduce problems during pregnancy.

So, what advice can help improve your gut health? Here are just a few tips:

  1. Try to eat the whole alphabet of plant-based foods every month - think of options from A to Z and combine them into your existing meals. And when you're out, look out for 'new' fibre-rich plant foods to experiment with

  2. Give yourself at least a 12-hour window without food, and longer if you can. I have actually started to eat just two meals a day, at around 8am (a substantial and healthy breakfast) and again at around 5.30pm (a fairly substantial hot meal based on chicken, fish or vegetables in rotation). Make sure you wait at least two hours after eating to lie down or to sleep

  3. Try to stop eating snacks between meals - our guts can thrive when they have a break from food

  4. Eat fermented foods like sauerkraut or kimchi, which help to introduce beneficial bacteria into your body, and avoid artificial sweeteners.

Eating organic 'in season' foods - why is it important?

Part of improving your diet is understanding your body, but almost as important is understanding the natural world around us. Choosing and cooking food that is in season has a range of benefits that will help you to fall in love with what you eat even more.

Firstly, it simply tastes better. Fruit or vegetables that have been freshly picked and locally sourced will have more flavour, will not have needed to have been chilled or stored for long periods and will be of higher quality. It's also cheaper - when farmers have an abundance of crops, they will sell them for less money.

In season foods will also retain more nutritional value. Antioxidants like Vitamin C and carotenes decline in quality when they are kept for long periods.

Finally, in season fruits and vegetables sourced from your own country will not have been subject to any contamination from overseas food producers, who may have different rules to your own; while the whole process of finding, cooking with and enjoying in season foods is so much more environmentally friendly, avoiding pollution and cost from being transported from other parts of the world. 

So my advice is, research what fruits and vegetables are in season for the time of year and part of the world where you are, and base your weekly meal options around them!

Fats, carbohydrates, proteins - what are they and what do I need to know?

Human beings require three key 'macronutrients' to survive - carbohydrates, proteins and fats. But how much is the right amount, and what do you need to know about the science behind the food we eat. Here are just a few pointers to help you understand better. But if you want to know more, get in touch or simply research it on the internet. There is lots of good information available out there which can help you make your own health and nutrition decisions.

Protein: proteins can be animal- or plant-based and are made of amino acids. They help with cellular repair and can boost your body's vitality. The best protein sources are plant-based as they can be easily digested and help to keep your bloodstream alkaline. The best type of animal-based proteins come from eating foods like chicken or fish. Aim to eat around 1 gram of protein for every half kilogram of body weight (ie. around 160g of protein-rich food, if you weigh 80kg). Good sources of plant-based protein include beans, legumes, lentils, quinoa, chickpeas, spirulina or tofu. Protein-rich foods should form around 30% of your daily food intake.

Carbohydrates: carbohydrates are what provide your body with most of your energy. They can be made up of starches, sugars or fibre, and you should aim to form around 40% of each meal from carbohydrates. Starchy carbohydrates include things like pasta, rice and potatoes, which are important in moderation as they help deliver sugar into the system and the release of the hormone insulin. Sweet carbohydrates, which are found in fizzy drinks, chocolate, ice cream and similar unhealthy products can adversely affect your blood sugar. That is why you should aim to get most of your carbohydrates from fibre, which you can find in fruits and vegetables. As well as being good for weight loss, fibre also helps you eliminate the toxins and wastes that build up in your system every day. Eat plenty of fibre-based carbohydrates and be sparing about the other forms.

Fats: surprisingly, we need fat in our diet in order to survive. The trick is to find the right kinds of fats to incorporate, and in the right quantities. It's important to know that there are three types of fats - saturated, unsaturated and trans fats. Trans fats are artificially created and should be avoided at all costs - you will find these in fried food, but they contribute to clogged arteries and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Saturated fats come from animal sources and are solid at room temperature - things like butter or bacon fat. Again, these are not good for your arteries. The best sources of fat are unsaturated fats which are liquid at room temperature. These include things like coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil (try to only cook with these types of oil). Fish is a source of good fats (including Omega 3, 6 and 9), as are nuts and seeds. Try to get the majority of your fat intake from these foods. Fats should make up around 30% of your food intake each day.

My food suggestions to help with meal planning

On the 'Services' section of this website you can access links to some of my recipes, hosted on my Cookpad site. I will be continuously adding to this section, so keep it bookmarked and check back regularly for more ideas and recipe suggestions.

Here, I want to give you some pointers about the kind of foods to consider for your daily menu choices.

It's important to remember that there are plenty of foods you can choose for any meal which will improve your health but still taste great. Aim to eat foods that are dense in nutrients - vegetables and salads are fantastic choices. Vegetables high in protein such as quinoa, legumes, pulses, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils and chickpeas should be worked into your meals where possible. They help build muscle and provide you with essential amino acids that you need if you are not eating so much meat (which I also recommend - focus on chicken, fish and vegetarian options instead of red meat).

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