Is there a quick-fix, one-size-fits-all solution to achieving optimum health, or can we take a more scientific approach? Beauty and lifestyle journalist Mitra Wicks finds out how to radiate health from the inside out — without all the hot air.

If our gut isn’t happy, the rest of our body isn’t either — including our mind. We are bombarded daily with the latest fad diet, superfood or innovative workout promising ‘fast results in time for summer’. Mitra Wicks explores the issue to find out if there’s a new way to approach it.

Be good to your gut

Perplexed about the best dietary approach? Keeping our beloved gut happy is the long-term key to a happy and healthy life. Nutrition and weight-loss coach Pippa Campbell explains, “What you eat can directly affect your gut bacteria, for better and for worse, and changes in your gut bacteria or microbiome can cause weight gain.” The link between weight and gut bacteria is an expanding area of research, and the links with weight are shocking.

Campbell elaborates, “Scientists know that if they insert the faeces of slim mice, which have lots of good bacteria, into obese mice, the obese mice become slim. When they insert the faeces of the obese mice into the slim mice’s guts, the slim mice become obese.”

Can gut problems be detrimental to our health in other ways? Obese people have been shown to possess a lower variety of good bacteria in their guts than people of a healthy weight, and they also have a higher incidence of gut problems. Campbell states that many symptoms can occur as a result of an unhealthy gut, such as “bloating, wind, catching colds, feeling emotionally low, sleep problems, acne, eczema, heartburn, muscle or joint problems.”

It appears that if our gut isn’t happy, the rest of our body isn’t either — including our mind, so maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle is essential for top-to- toe wellness. Registered dietitian and consultant nutritionist Hala El-Shafie of Nutrition Rocks offers a simple approach. Famed for her appearances on Channel 4’s How to Lose Weight Well and BBC 1’s Eat Well for Less, El-Shafie believes the key to health is the “rainbow plate” — a vibrant dish of balanced food groups primarily made up of colourful vegetables. “The key to a healthy diet is combining fibre with a good mix of nutrients,” she says. “Simply work on ensuring that half of your plate is filled with vegetables, a quarter with complex carbs and the other quarter with lean protein.” 

 

Probiotics and prebiotics

We’ve all heard about the merits of probiotics and prebiotics in helping to improve our gut function, but what exactly are they and how can they help us?

Probiotics are “good” bacteria that help keep the digestive system healthy by controlling the growth of bacteria that cause harm. These can be taken in supplement form or by consuming live yogurt containing lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium bacteria. Prebiotics are food for the probiotics — the more prebiotics we have, the better probiotics can do their job. Foods rich in prebiotics include asparagus, oats, legumes and bananas — a handy, office-friendly snack.

Nutritionist Cassandra Burns explains, “Our digestive tract contains trillions of bacteria — more than the total number of cells in our body. They start to colonise the gut as soon as we are born, through contact with bacteria in the birth canal and subsequently through the mother’s milk and other food and drink that is consumed. Some are beneficial, and some can be pathogenic (able to produce disease). If there is an imbalance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria or other organisms [such as] yeasts, this is known as dysbiosis and may be linked to some common digestive disturbances, as well as other health problems.”

It appears that a healthy diet is key to a healthy gut and that we need to ensure the correct balance of good and bad bacteria, but what exactly do the scientists think about this? A 2014 scientific study, “The impact of diet and lifestyle on gut microbiota and human health”, found that, although dietary intervention can induce significant change, it may not always be enough to engineer the changes in microbial populations that are conducive to better health. The study concludes, “the use of probiotics and other strategies may be required.”

 

Fitness fads or game changers?

A healthy diet is one piece of the health puzzle, but fitness is just as important. However, with many of us stressed from high workloads and with little time to spare, we want solutions that work. DNA testing is fast becoming one of the most highly sought-after fitness assessments, with start- up companies promising bespoke nutrition and fitness regimes specifically tailored to your body’s needs.

Parkhall based Workspace customer Leanne Spencer, Founder at Bodyshot Performance, explains that DNA testing can help remove the guesswork about the type of nutrition plan that suits you and the type of exercise to which your body best responds.

She says, “Prior to this technology, you had to go through a process of trial and error, often taking weeks or months and leading to frustration. Most of our DNA is predetermined, but our genes can be influenced by our environment, the food we eat, the air we breathe and the levels of stress we are under. Understanding this, and our own unique genetic make-up, means we can personalise our lifestyles to work with our genes and not against them.”

For those desiring a more bespoke, scientific approach to health and fitness, DNA testing may be the way forward, but what does it involve, and what is on offer in terms of solutions? Bodyshot Performance has created a series of products all based on the DNA test by partnering with DNAFit to offer an oral swab test that looks at 50 genes that relate to diet and fitness.

“Once we have the results, we can relate them to everything else we know about you — whether you’re vegan, for example, and your current fitness levels — and put together a personalised action plan that’s easy to follow.”

Bodyshot offers the DNA test as a stand- alone product, but it also includes blood testing (to be done at home using a finger- prick test) and wearable technology to track sleep and activity data. DNA testing may be the answer for some of our problems, but other solutions to common problems are more straightforward. Slouching over glaring computer screens and hunching over our smartphones day after day can lead to back problems, poor posture and high stress levels. A fitness routine that can help alleviate such problems is a true godsend.

Trending practices such as yoga and Pilates can address both concerns — and help you end your hectic weekday with a mood-heightening boost. Back pain and stress are two of the most common health issues today, says Justin Rogers, Creative Director of Ten Health & Fitness, based at Workspace’s Barley Mow Centre in Chiswick. He says, “Ten’s trademark Dynamic Reformer Pilates is really effective against both. Not only is the workout ideal for correcting postural issues and strengthening the core, but the focus and concentration required make it an absorbing and empowering time-out from the pressure of work.”

Ten Health & Fitness has eight studios across London. Rogers says, “We keep class sizes deliberately small, so there’s plenty of personal attention and hands-on correction from the trainer. We’re able to regress or amend exercises to accommodate injuries or issues that a client may have.”

Dominika MinarovicCo-founder at Clean Beauty Co

Stay moisturised, naturally

In today’s toxin-bashing, clean-living society, we don’t just care about what we put into our body, we’re concerned with what we slather all over it too. Dominika Minarovic, Co-founder of natural beauty platform Clean Beauty Co, based at ­The Record Hall, Workspace’s new centre in Farringdon, believes that the rise of health-aware, savvier consumers has led to an increase in “cleaner”, natural beauty products. “Consumers are seeking more natural, unprocessed ingredients in their cosmetics, which has given rise to cleaner formulations and more independent brands that aren’t held to a commercial bottom line,” she says.

Scientific studies show that fragrance and preservatives are a major cause of contact dermatitis. ­e preservatives to watch out for on your skincare product’s ingredients list include methylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben. Minarovic says, “­ere are still many conflicting narratives around synthetic chemicals and their long-term usage effects, but it seems consumers are moving away from the conversation to natural alternatives.”

Moreover, natural brands over environmental benefits. Mel Turkerman, who founded organic skincare brand DermaNutri, explains the difference, “Natural brands tend to be more ethical and better for the planet, whilst being more compatible with the skin and less likely to cause reactions.”

Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the impact of skincare products on the environment. ­is year, the UK banned manufacturers from adding plastic microbeads from everyday personal care products like face scrubs and toothpaste. ­ese tiny pieces of polyethylene plastic pass through water-treatment processes and make their way into the ocean, harming marine life.

It seems that diet, fitness and skincare fads come and go, but the one factor that remains consistently important is the underlying science. As our understanding of science grows, so too does our approach to achieving optimum health from the inside out.

Top 5 Healthy Snacks

1 Hazelnut-butter-topped oatcakes drizzled with Hive & Keeper. This is a balanced combination of protein, slow-release carbohydrates and honey — a good prebiotic.

2 Bol Foods’ Japanese Salad Jar is a colourful, nutrient- dense powerhouse that provides two of your minimum five a day. Based at Westbourne Studios, Bol Foods’ motto is “Eat plants love life”.

3 Batch Organics’ Blueberry and Almond Butter Breakfast Bowl. This Workspace customer at Exmouth House has come up with the ultimate grab-n-go breakfast: antioxidant-rich blueberries combined with heart-health-promoting oats and protein-rich almond butter.

4 Gato & Co’s Chocolate & Aubergine Fondant. Enjoy this indulgent but healthy sweet treat made with gooey aubergine, spirulina, cacao and a touch of honey.

5 Nix and Kix’s Mango and Ginger. Bored of plain water? This Southbank House-based Workspace company has the answer. Try a refreshing concoction of sparkling water, vitamin C-packed mango, cayenne pepper and digestion-aiding ginger.

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