This is a question that has started to dominate my thoughts recently, being someone who writes about food and health for a living, I have a vested interest.
But I’m going to say it, I really don't give a flying fig about the latest study that found one in four people had more satisfactory bowel movements after eating bananas on a Tuesday. OK, I made that up, but you know what I’m saying.
The problem is that most of the stuff thrown at us regarding health is either unproven/tenuous/anecdotal or just stating the bleeding obvious (yes we know vegetables are good for us!). In the never-ending search for ‘the next big thing’ the health media looks for ever more obscure angles on ‘what we should be doing’.
So what happens? We either give up completely and resort to the ‘sod it, I could be run over by a bus tomorrow' approach or we turn to gimmicks like downing pints of celery juice or popping piles of supplements.
On the subject of supplements, I have long been cynical of this lucrative and unregulated industry (here's a previous blog post on the topic) and was very happy to see Tim Spector slam the supplement sector in his excellent new book Spoon Fed. For anyone who is interested in what we really know (and don't know) about food and health from a respected scientist's perspective, it’s a must read.
So that brings me back to my original question, have we reached peak wellness? Well, I hope so. People are so much better informed now than they used to be, or certainly that's the impression I get from talking to people every day about this stuff, and more able to exercise informed judgement when it comes to what we put in our mouths.
Every so often though there is an exciting health breakthrough that enhances our understanding of how our bodies can thrive and survive. The emergence of gut health as a major area of focus is properly game-changing and the more I read on this topic, and talk to people in the nutrition arena, the more convinced I am that this is the future direction of nutritional advancement.
A healthy gut contributes to a strong immune system, heart health, brain health, improved mood, healthy sleep, and effective digestion, and it may help prevent some cancers and autoimmune diseases.
Looking after your microbiome is something we should all take seriously and thankfully it's not hard. Here’s what to do:
Aim to eat 30 different plants foods a week including whole grains, nuts, seeds, pulses, colourful fruits and veggies, herbs and spices.
Eat fermented foods that are full of probiotic good bacteria - kimchi, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut which you can buy in all supermarkets these days - as well as unpasteurized cheese and live natural yogurt as often as possible.
Avoid ultra-processed foods as they are full of sugar, unhealthy fats, and artificial sweeteners that don't support a healthy gut microbiome.
And going back to supplements – the only probiotic supplement out there that has some support from the scientific and medical community is Symprove, here’s an article to read if you want to find out more. It is very expensive and I don’t personally take it because I look after my gut health in all the other ways mentioned above, but it could be useful if, say, you’ve been ill and on antibiotics which have stripped out your good gut bacteria. It isn't, however, a replacement for eating well.
Thanks for reading.