It’s that time of year again: bacterial chest infections, repetitive cystitis, and toothache abound. You’ve had a course of antibiotics. So all good, right?
The problem with antibiotics is they kill nasty bacteria involved in that hacking cough, or a flare up of cystitis, but they can also deplete beneficial bacteria in your gut which is vital for health.
The trillions of bacteria which live in our intestines, predominantly the colon, weighing about 1.5k in total in the average person, and known as “the microbiome” have recently been found to be the control centre of much of our health. This bacteria keeps our weight stable, and signals to our immune system to do its job right.
When this gut bacteria has taken a hammering, such as after antiobiotics, you can find yourself having constant cravings for sweet and white carb foods, and falling ill with more infections again.
The microbiome is highly-manipulated through what we eat, and you can boost lots of different types of microbes in days by eating lots of different vegetables, herbs, and some fruit.
I notice from the food diaries I see in my job, that many people are often eating a small range – for example just five or six different types in a week. Eg apple, banana, satsuma, sweetcorn, peas, carrot.
Here's what can help:
1) Try to aim for 20-30 different types in week. When you’re in the supermarket, spend more time in the veg aisle, and put fruit and vegetables in your basket you’ve never had before. Go off piste! It’s really easy to try new foods nowadays, thanks to YouTube videos. Okra –what can you do with them? Pomegranates – how do you cut one of those up?
2) If you’re in a restaurant pick something you’ve never had before. Look out for the baked fennel, or the chicory salad. The fibres in these kind of veg are particularly helpful. If you’re in a curry house, order side dishes you’ve never had before – try the smoked aubergines. When eating out Chinese – order a big side of steamed green veg.
3) Leave yourself more room to eat the side dishes of veg by not ordering the nan bread, or noodles. You’ll have loads more room for a variety of vegetables with all the fibre and colour to feed your gut bacteria by doing this, than just eating lots of beige fillers.
4) When cooking at home, make a ritual of having starters every night. Starters are a really good way to get another portion of veg down you at a meal time. Make in advance or buy good quality ready made ones from the fridge section of the supermarket. Rotate round, eg tomato one day, courgettes another. Or have a small small bowl of green leaves as a starter – eg just take a handful of rocket leaves out of a bag from the fridge and dress with some extra virgin olive oil and some balsamic vinegar. Olive oil contains polyphenols, a food to feed the good bacteria in your gut.
5) Try to get a couple of portions of veg and fruit in at breakfast. Chop up an avocado, and squeeze over some lemon alongside some smoked salmon; cut up a piece of fruit on the side for fibre and colour too.
The new paperback version of The Gut Makeover is published in the UK on 29 December