Lockdown Nutrition: Gut health!
What you eat isn’t just nutrition for you, it also feeds the trillions of bacteria that live in your gut. We know from the science that if you want to improve your digestion, lose or manage your weight, boost your immune system and look after your general health, you need to look after your gut health. Now, every person is different however there are some broad principles that apply to everyone, including upping your fibre intake.
Why is it beneficial to focus on fibre?
Whilst there are no miracle foods or ingredients when it comes to nutrition, a key nutrient that you will need to focus on during lockdown is fibre. Fibre is a type of carbohydrate and refers to the parts of plant-based foods that are not broken down or used by the body. Instead, these non-digestible parts make their way through the gut contributing to our health in different ways.
UK guidelines recommend that we should be aiming for 30 grams of fibre every day, yet few of us are actually eating enough of it. Vegetables, fruit, pulses, nuts and wholegrains all count as fibre and all feed healthy bacteria in our guts – so aim to eat more of these!
During lockdown, eating more fibre is good strategy to help manage your weight. Fibre keeps your appetite in check as it keeps you fuller for longer and also helps with your blood sugar control.
Top tips to incorporate more fibre into your diet:
- Try to eat an additional portion (80g) of vegetables each week as well as aiming for 20-30 different types of plant-based foods weekly.
- Don’t always eat the same thing. A healthy gut has a diverse community of microbes, each of which prefers different foods. Recent research suggests that you need to aim to eat at least 20-30 different plant-based foods each week. Include more plant protein such as beans and lentils in your diet and have a meat-free meal or a meat-free day each week. If you regularly eat rice, try another ancient grain like barley or quinoa or buckwheat or wholegrain cous-cous. Better still buy a mixed grain. The same goes for cans of beans. Great if you always add a can of chickpeas to your weekly shop – but how about swapping this for a 4-bean mix? You can also try lentil, bean or whole-wheat versions of pasta. And in cases where you can’t find the thing you are looking for in the supermarket, adapt and use it as an opportunity to try something new.
- Limit intake of highly processed foods. Very processed foods like shop-bought biscuits, cakes, crisps and confectionary often contain high levels of sugar, fat and salt as well as additives that either suppress “good bacteria’ or increase “bad” bacteria. In addition, eating too many of these foods can cause weight gain and increase your risk of obesity. The best tip is to just not buy these foods during lockdown so you won’t be tempted to eat them.
- Go easy on the booze. Too much alcohol can also cause an imbalance of gut bacteria with an overgrowth of potentially harmful bacteria and reduction in beneficial bacteria. It is therefore important to keep within the recommended amounts in terms of alcohol intake – limiting yourself to 14 units a week for both women and men. Why not try having a ‘dry’ period during this time? Your gut and waistline will thank you!
- Try fermented foods. Probiotic foods, such as live yoghurt, kefir and sourdough bread are not only delicious but they might also encourage more microbes to grow in your gut. Scientific research has found fermented foods to be beneficial to your gut health – foods such as miso, tempah, pickles and kimchi are all classified as fermented food so why not add them to your weekly shop? Also, now that you’re at home with perhaps more time on your hands, why not try and make your own yogurt, kefir or pickles? Now’s the time to get adventurous and introduce a portion of fermented food into your daily diet!
Guidelines for increasing fibre in your daily meals:
- Start with whole oats. A medium bowl of porridge topped with a handful of berries give you 8g of fibre. Boost your fibre further by adding 1 tbsp of chia or ground flaxseed (4g fibre).
- Try baked beans on toast. A snack pot of baked beans on 1 slice of granary toast gives you 14g of fibre.
- Make a vegetable omelette. Try and add 2 portions of vegetables (2 x 80g) to your omelette and this will give you about 8g of fibre. Use whatever vegetables you have in the fridge or freezer – Fresh, frozen or tinned are all good!
- Lean on lentils or beans and veggies. Try having lentils instead of rice or pasta (120g of legumes can supply you with 10g fibre). Or if you’re not a bean fan why not add some veggies to the rice or pasta while it boils (add 80g veggies to get 3-4g fibre).
- Choose wholegrain. Where possible opt for wholegrain varieties as they will have a higher amount of fibre per serving. Think wholegrain bread, pasta, brown or red rice, wholegrain cous-cous, quinoa or oatcakes. If you have potatoes. Keep the skin on.
- Base your dinner around veggies. A 250g mixed vegetable stir-fry with 120g chicken will supply you with 10g of fibre.
- Have soupy dinners. Cook up a vegetable soup using the leftover vegetables you have. This includes fresh, frozen or canned. One serving (250ml) of mixed vegetable soup can give you up to 5g fibre.
- Snack smart and snack on fibre. What raw vegetables do you have in your fridge that you can you snack on? 150g of sugar snap peas or raw carrots provides you with 4g of fibre. While 150g raspberries provides 10g fibre. And a medium apple as well as 30g unsalted nuts provides 6g of fibre.
There are of course many challenges we are all facing during the COVID19 lockdown period; but the new, slower pace of life could be an opportunity to re-evaluate your lifestyle and finally kick those bad habits you’d been attributing to lack of time. For example how about using the extra time you have from not having to commute to rethink and plan ahead your eating routines? You never know, once the world is back to normal, this new approach may become your everyday way of eating – and no doubt both your gut and waistline will thank you for it!