One of the big problems with the way we treat stress right now is that we often try to tackle it from a single direction. Attaching psychological stress by practising meditation or by booking and going on a break, for example, might only have a limited effect if the lifestyle choices we’re making in the kitchen, or the fried-chicken shop, are generating constant stress signals in our body through our gut.
I recommend that all of us try to eat our food within a twelve-hour window each day. Of course, you can shorten this eating window if you wish, but for most of us twelve hours is sufficient to reap most of the benefits. Hopefully you’ll be sleeping for about eight of those twelve hours. I regard time-restricted eating to be one of the most important things anyone can do for their health.
Then, eating a diverse diet rich in fibre is one of the best things we can do to live a more stress-free life. A diverse diet means a diverse and resilient microbiome. If we increase the variety of vegetables, low-glycaemic fruits (such as blueberries and cherries) and fibre-rich foods such as beans and legumes in our diet, we’re increasing the amount of fibre we’re eating. This will encourage the growth of different and happy gut bugs, sending signals to your brain that everything is good.
Here are seven food-related tips that can improve our gut health, and our mental health:
1. When you are eating out, try something new from the menu. This will help you diversify your diet and help you eat the alphabet.
2. Look for new foods to buy. When in the supermarket, be on the lookout for a type of fibre-rich plant food that you have never tried before.
3. Give yourself a twelve-hour window every day without food, for example, if you finish your evening meal at 7pm, don’t have your breakfast until 7am the next day.
4. Try to limit eating snacks between meals – research suggests that our gut bugs thrive when they get a break from food. A new set of gut bugs comes in and cleans up the gut wall.
5. Skip a meal now and again. We do not need to eat three meals a day. Many of us do very well on only two. If you’re not feeling hungry, don’t eat. It is not harmful to miss breakfast, or dinner, now and again. If you are on medications that can lower your blood sugar (e.g. gliclazide for type 2 diabetes) it is best to discuss with your doctor.
6. Eat fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut or kefir. These are foods that introduce beneficial bacteria into your body, thus improving your gut health.
7. Avoid artificial sweeteners. Research suggests that they are detrimental to your gut bugs.
Dr Rangan Chatterjee is one of the most influential doctors in the UK and wants to change how medicine will be practiced in years to come. He tries to find the root cause of illness, and work holistically to better manage our health and wellbeing.
The Stress Solution looks at all of the different ways that stress can creep into our lives and provides practical ways we can all de-stress our lives. One of which is how we eat.