How strictly do you control your eating habits? While some eat what they want, when they want, an increasing number of people I see in the clinic are basing their meal times on “the rules”.
Hearing some of these “rules” makes me want to bury my head in my hands.
Take the idea that fruit should only be eaten on an empty stomach, because otherwise it “slows down” digestion – there is no basis for this in science. It is just one example of many.
Here, I focus on some food spells that you can ignore. By doing this, I hope to help ensure that your meal times are healthier and happier.
Wait for a drink
The idea of taking a 30-minute break between your meal and a drink has been around for years, based on the belief that drinking water even with meals will dilute digestive enzymes.
But your body is smarter than that. While drinking water will likely dilute the concentration of stomach enzymes temporarily, there are sensors in the stomach to ensure that as many enzymes as you need to digest the meal are produced.
In fact, drinking water with meals is a good idea if you eat too quickly, as it can reduce the likelihood of overeating.
How strictly do you control your eating habits? While some eat what they want, when they want, an increasing number of people I see in the clinic are basing their meal times on ‘the rules’
Carbohydrates have gained a bad reputation — they are blamed for raising blood sugar levels and causing weight gain — and as a result, many people get rid of them entirely.
But for most people, high-quality carbohydrates – such as oats – are a valuable addition to the diet. They provide beneficial amounts of fiber (we need 30 grams per day), and eliminating them can have a negative effect on your gut microbiome, which uses fiber as a food source.
Moreover, a review by Tufts University in the US, published in 2019, showed that eating higher amounts of whole grains may actually reduce the risk of weight gain.
The results were based on studies with more than 130,000 participants, making them very compelling evidence.
So, by all means say no to highly processed white bread, cakes and crackers, but don’t worry about including whole grains like quinoa and rye, and legumes like chickpeas, lentils, and other plant-based carbohydrates.
… and sugary fruit
Many people seem to have taken the idea that fruit is just another source of sugar and therefore does not play a role in a healthy diet. But research shows that the opposite is true.
Fruit is full of fiber, vitamins, and other plant compounds (called phytochemicals) that are beneficial to your gut microbes, including one group called bifidobacteria.
Low levels of this particular bacteria have been linked to lower moods — and that may help explain the results of a review published last year by researchers at the University of Sydney, which showed eating fruit is linked to a lower risk of depression.
The other thing to know about fruit is that sugar is locked in with fiber, so it won’t lead to the spike in blood sugar that fruit juice (which doesn’t have this fiber) can cause.
I suggest eating two pieces of fruit a day, aiming to have at least five different types throughout the week. The more variety of fruit you eat, the more different phytochemicals your gut microbes will enjoy. Keeping them happy makes us happy.
Did you know?
The liquid part of the yogurt that often breaks down and reaches the top – the whey – contains key nutrients like protein, calcium and potassium. So don’t spill it too far: mix it up or add it to a smoothie for extra nourishment.
Banning processed food
It is certainly best to avoid any food that has a very long ingredient list that includes many words you do not know.
We know that ultra-processed foods — that is, those made primarily with extracts from other foods and containing high levels of fat, salt, sugar and additives — can affect the gut microbiome, encourage overeating (due to their low fiber content) and may even affect your gut microbiome. on our mental health.
But there’s no need to demonize all processed foods, not least because our busy lives mean we can’t always make everything from scratch, but also, frankly, good Greek yogurt can be considered processed by some (the definition being that food has changed from its natural state, often by adding other components).
Focus instead on buying food with ingredients you know, rather than additives, in the first four places on the label (the ingredients are listed by weight, with the largest amount first).
Stick to fresh…
Canned or frozen foods can sometimes contain more nutrients than fresh produce left on shelves or in the back of the refrigerator.
A study by Penn State University in the US, published in Food Science, found that fresh spinach lost nearly half of its folate (a B vitamin) after eight days in the refrigerator.
Frozen vegetables lose a fraction of their nutrients when boiled before freezing, but otherwise they burst with goodness. Similarly, a drop in nutrients occurs when vegetables are heated during the canning process, but the vast majority of them are preserved.
Canned tomatoes, black beans, and chickpeas are all staples in my store cupboard.
Furthermore, using canned or frozen foods can help you create more plant variety in your meals more cost-effectively, while reducing the risk of waste.
Canned tomatoes, black beans, and chickpeas are all staples in my store cupboard. Canned tomatoes are seen above
… or home-cooked
Well, a homemade casserole will be better for you than a ready-made meal, but that doesn’t mean that all homemade foods are good for you — or healthier than store-bought products.
Homemade biscuits that contain 50 percent butter and 30 percent sugar are arguably worse for you than mass-produced biscuits like oats, which are made up of about 40 percent oats.
I’m not saying either is good for you, but don’t assume that what comes out of your kitchen is automatically healthier than what’s available in stores. it’s not like that.
And last but no way is this rule likely to be the rule most people care about – but it’s a rule ripe for disregard.
That’s because first, the calorie count on labels is often not accurate – it’s based on what’s going on in the lab, not what’s going on in your body.
Second, not all calories are created equal when it comes to digesting them. For example, a study published in Food & Nutrition Research in 2010 found that digesting a processed meal consumes approximately 50 percent fewer calories than the amount used to digest a whole meal meal (i.e. one based on vegetables, nuts, and whole grains).
So my advice is to try to focus your meals on whole plant foods that have been as minimally processed as possible (so no to those highly processed veggie burgers and yes to homemade hummus burgers), as this will naturally limit your intake of foods that encourage weight gain.
This will ensure a healthier and more effective approach to eating and weight management.
Try This: “Live” Breakfast Parfait
Don’t let those busy people start getting in the way of a delicious, nutritious breakfast for you and your gut microbiome. This is one of my favourites.
- 200 gm thick live yogurt
- 50gm berries of your choice
- 40g granola without sugar added
- 1 tablespoon dark chocolate, shaved
Put ingredients in a serving cup – first spoonful into half the yogurt, then half the fruit, then half the granola and repeat. Put dark chocolate chips on top.
My daughter has had stomach cramps, bloating, nausea and has lost weight since she contracted norovirus five years ago. Despite tests (including blood and stool tests and an endoscopy), she was not diagnosed, but for the past three years, antidepressants have been prescribed for stomach cramps. Whenever you try to get rid of them slowly, the cramps come back.
It’s as if your daughter may have post-infectious irritable bowel syndrome (PI-IBS), a very common cause of irritable bowel syndrome. It occurs when an infection affects the enteric nervous system, which connects our gut to the brain. As a result, even long after the infection has cleared up, gut symptoms persist.
Certain types of antidepressants, which are prescribed at lower doses than used to treat depression, can help because they target the gut, not the brain itself.
I recommend that you request that your daughter be referred to a dietitian who specializes in IBS, who will be able to review her diet and determine if there are any major triggers.
It’s also worth considering cognitive behavioral therapy or gut-guided hypnotherapy, as they’ve been shown to help target gut-brain dysfunction in irritable bowel syndrome – and are often used for patients who want to avoid drug dependence. Buscopan, which you can buy at pharmacies, can help with severe cramps during the short-term transition from medication to treatment.