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Sort your s**t out: 6 nutritionist-approved tips for better gut health

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Moya Crockett
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Gut health is essential for general wellbeing, so check out this advice from the Mac Twins: DJs, sisters and founders of The Gut Stuff. 

Let’s face it: the gut isn’t glamorous. But a happy digestive tract is essential to our overall wellbeing. Research has linked poor gut health to autoimmune conditions, heart health, respiratory issues and chronic illnesses such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Not only that, but many scientists even believe there is a connection between the state of our gut and mental health.

The Mac Twins, aka DJs Lisa and Alana Macfarlane, first became interested in gut health when scientist Tim Spector asked them to serve as ‘chief guinea pigs’ for a study he was doing on gut bacteria. Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology, is the director of the TwinsUK research centre at Kings College London. As identical twins, the Macfarlane sisters have 100% the same DNA, and Spector was keen to investigate whether this meant their guts had the same microbiota.

To the Mac Twins’ surprise, Spector discovered that they share just 40% of the same microbiota, meaning that their guts respond to certain foods and stimuli very differently. Participating in the research left the Mac Twins fascinated by gut health, and last year they launched The Gut Stuff, an online resource and YouTube series designed to make education about digestive health accessible to the general public.

All of the advice shared by the Mac Twins is approved by nutritionists and based on reputable scientific research (they’re particularly wary of drawing conclusions about human health from studies done on mice). There’s even an interactive ‘Ask A Nutritionist’ section on their website.

The Mac Twins appeared at Stylist Live 2018 to discuss what they’ve learned and share their advice for a happier gut. Remember, if you’re having serious digestive problems, it’s essential to make an appointment with your GP. But if you’d simply like to know how to maintain a happier, healthier gut, follow the Mac Twins’ advice below. 

Lisa and Alana Macfarlane, aka the Mac Twins

1) Keep a food diary

This emphatically isn’t about calorie counting – Lisa stresses that the Mac Twins’ dedication to digestive health has nothing to do with losing weight. Rather, it’s about monitoring how certain foods make you feel, and developing a more intimate and informed relationship with your gut.

“I don’t think we ever check in with our bodies nowadays unless we’re ill or hungover,” says Alana. “If we feel like we have a bit of a dicky tummy, we usually just brush past it. But it’s a super-important indication of what’s actually going on in your body.”

If you’re having digestive problems, Lisa recommends keeping a food diary before shelling out lots of money on online tests or so-called experts. “Some people will try and charge you thousands of pounds to take products and supplements that don’t actually work – there’s no scientific efficacy behind them,” she says.

Write down everything that you eat, including the time that you ate it, and record how it made you feel (as well as how it affected your poop). Over time, this will give you a clear picture of how your body responds to certain foods – and help you tailor a diet that works for your gut.

2) Chew, chew and chew some more

Taking the time to chew your food can seriously improve general gut health, according to the Mac Twins. “We’ve always been absolute hoovers – food barely touches the sides when we eat,” says Alana.

But chewing properly, rather than wolfing meals down, means that “your mouth is doing a lot of the work of your gut,” she explains. “By the time [the food] gets down there, it’s already been broken down.”

3) Cut back on processed foods

Processed foods can impact the balance of your gut flora by damaging good bacteria. So while there’s nothing wrong with having a takeaway every now and again, try to eat fresh, natural food where possible.

“We are not angels, we’re DJs, we love a drink,” says Alana. “But it’s just making little conscious decisions. We’ll still eat processed foods, but if there were two options in front of me, I’ll take the healthier one.”

Eating a wide variety of fruit and veg will help maintain good gut health 

4) Variety is key

Eating as many different kinds of fruit and vegetable as possible will nurture the good bacteria in your gut, so try to mix up your weekly shop to include new foods.

“A lot of fibres in vegetables will feed the good microbes in your gut,” says Lisa. “And until scientists are able to figure out the exact microbiota in every individual’s gut, it’s a case of metaphorically throwing s**t at the wall and seeing what sticks.”

Alana recommends ordering an affordable veg box and propping up a mini blackboard in your kitchen, where you can keep track of all the different kinds of fruit and vegetables you’ve tried in any given week. Try as many different kinds as possible and make a note in your food diary of which ones make you feel at your best.

5) Get lots of fibre

As a nation, we consume only half of our recommended allowance of 18-25g of fibre a day. Lisa recommends focusing on sources of fibre containing prebiotic inulin, a noncaloric carbohydrate that’s essential for digestive health.

“You can buy prebiotic inulin powder, but Jerusalem artichokes and chicory are the king and queen of fibre,” she says. “Just remember to introduce them slowly into your diet.”

6) Know your probiotics from your prebiotics

In a nutshell, prebiotics are compounds in food that feed the good bacteria in the gut, while probiotics are live microorganisms that some (but not all) scientists believe improve or restore gut flora.

“In a way, prebiotics are a bit of a safer message, because it’s quite simple: they just feed the [good bacteria] that’s already in there,” says Lisa. Foods containing prebiotics include garlic, leeks, onions, bananas, oats, asparagus and flaxseed.

Alana cautions against buying expensive probiotic products, as the science behind them might always be solid. “There are a lot of companies out there that make probiotics that don’t work, even though the guidelines really are quite strict,” she says. “And we’re still quite a long way away from knowing exactly what works and what doesn’t.”

Rather than forking out lots of money on probiotic products, Alana recommends buying simple food that contains probiotics, such as live yoghurt, miso paste, kefir and sourdough bread. You can also try making your own fermented products, like kombucha, sauerkraut and kimchi.

To get more insider insights from Stylist Live 2018, click here.

Images: Getty Images / Courtesy of the Mac Twins / Pexels

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Moya Crockett

Moya is Women’s Editor at stylist.co.uk, where she is currently overseeing the Visible Women campaign. As well as writing about inspiring women and feminism, she also covers subjects including careers, podcasts and politics. Carrying a tiny bottle of hot sauce on her person at all times is one of the many traits she shares with both Beyoncé and Hillary Clinton.

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