It’s all in the gut, it turns out. Health, and possibly longevity, is related to the hosts of friendly bacteria inhabiting your gut, aka microbiome.
Studies have shown that, genetics and lifestyle aside, a lot in how fast we age depends on the flora resident in our gut. To put it very simplistically, the bigger diversity in the microbiome, the better. There are some particularly good guys among the bacteria, responsible for lowering inflammation and better sugar and fat metabolism, but it is the right balance and a wide variety in the world of gut microbes that is beneficial for healthy, long life – just exactly like anything to do with diet and nutrition.
Related to that is the reason why junk and ultra-processed food is evil. One thing is that we tend to overeat on a diet of processed food because it doesn’t contain enough protein and fibre – so we keep on eating thinking we’re still hungry. Quite another effect, recently researched, is that the shortage of insoluble fibre and excess of artificial additives seriously interfere with the good work the gut bacteria should be doing, causing inflammation.
How to look after those little guys properly then, since they might be hiding the secret to more than your regularity? The studies included experiments (ALERT: DON’T EAT YOUR BREAKFAST WHILE READING THIS!) with faecal transplants between old and young animals which brings to mind ancient beliefs in rejuvenating powers of young blood transfusions (they just got the wrong bodily fluid). Fascinatingly, transplants from old into young animals seemed to age them while the other way round worked as revitalization.
Before you recoil in horror at such prospects, there is a better way to look after your microbiome: the right diet, of course. Needless to say it should consist of wholefoods and exclude ultra-processed, junk and ready meals. What we should eat is a varied, balanced mix of vegetables and fruit with fermented foods and healthy animal protein.
Fibre is the key, so make sure you eat plenty. Artichokes are choke-full (hehe) of fibre and make a delicious snack or a lunch dish. Lentils and other pulses are just as good: you could try lentils with mushrooms or spicy cheesy lentil bake.
Potatoes, but especially with their skins like in the lemon potato wedges. Sweetcorn – and we can still have it fresh now, with chicken and feta for instance.
Oats too, which we all know but maybe not how quick and easy it is to prep indulgent porridge with crème fraiche for breakfast.
Healthy protein in a balanced diet should come from animals – scientists are taking a firm stance on veganism, I’m pleased to hear – so check out my recipe for baked sardines, Italian style. Or maybe the one for simple pan-fried fish?
If you bake bread, try the seeded rye sourdough. It is whole grain, it is fermented and it has tonnes of seeds added: your microbiome will literally dance with joy. For more fermented foods try making your own sauerkraut or kimchi. If that’s not to your taste, at least eat plenty of yoghurt, homemade or not, with your overnight oats for breakfast.
I should customarily end with cake, but you might expect me to skip it this time: surely cake is a good bacteria killer? But remember your diet should be varied so a piece of raspberry sponge cake with the berries, still in season now, which are incredibly rich in fibre, won’t do any harm, I’m sure.
Hope that has been some food for thought – and the gut. Keep cooking healthy stuff!