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Dr MEGAN ROSSI: The simple quiz to get you on track to a happy gut!


You’re told to ‘go with your gut’. You might say you feel ‘sick to your stomach’. Excitement can manifest as ‘butterflies in your tummy’.

These age-old sayings stem from a truth since proven by science — that our gut, and the diverse micro-organisms within it (known as our ‘gut microbiota’) hold sway over almost every aspect of our health.

From our skin health to our mental wellbeing, cancer risk to our experience of menopause, the gut seemingly has a role to play in it all.

As a dietitian and gut health researcher at King’s College London and in my own clinic, gut health is my bread and butter — and in this new weekly column I’ll be sharing the fascinating things I’ve learnt, with plenty of practical tips, as well as answering your questions, based on the most cutting-edge science.

The aim is to keep you empowered with the latest findings, so you can take control of your health.

From our skin health to our mental wellbeing, cancer risk to our experience of menopause, the gut seemingly has a role to play in it all

From our skin health to our mental wellbeing, cancer risk to our experience of menopause, the gut seemingly has a role to play in it all

This is not about telling you that you must do this or that. There is a frankly concerning trend towards oversimplified, one-size-fits-all gut health recommendations. While well-intended, these may do more harm than good.

An example of this is to eat more prebiotics (plant fibres that our gut bacteria feed on, found in foods such as garlic). But research suggests that adding extra prebiotics to your diet can, in fact, trigger gut symptoms in about 15 to 20 per cent of the population, particularly those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

My hope is that this column will be like a reference book for your gut, to help you discover what’s best for you.

But first, let’s start by taking a look at your current gut health. Rather inconveniently, there’s no single measure to assess this. However, this simple self-assessment is a great starting point (take it again in a few months to check your progress).

For each question, circle the answer that applies to you.

1. How often are you bothered by gut symptoms (e.g. bloating, reflux, constipation)?

Less than once a month (0 points)

1–3 times a month (1 point)

1–2 times a week (2 points)

3 or more times a week (3 points)

It’s fairly normal to have these symptoms a couple of times a month — for instance, if you’re feeling tired or under pressure.

Research suggests that adding extra prebiotics to your diet can, in fact, trigger gut symptoms in about 15 to 20 per cent of the population, particularly those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). My hope is that this column will be like a reference book for your gut, to help you discover what’s best for you

Research suggests that adding extra prebiotics to your diet can, in fact, trigger gut symptoms in about 15 to 20 per cent of the population, particularly those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). My hope is that this column will be like a reference book for your gut, to help you discover what’s best for you

2. Do you take regular medication (including the Pill)?

No (0 points)

Yes (2 points)

It’s well-known that antibiotics can upset the balance of bacteria in your gut, but they’re not the only drugs that can do this.

A study of 900 non-antibiotic medications found that about a quarter (including the Pill and proton pump inhibitors for acid reflux) had a negative effect on gut bacteria, at least in test- tube research.

3. Do any health conditions run in your family?

No (0 points)

Yes (2 points)

Our environment (including diet and exercise) plays a big role in our gut health, but genetic factors are now known to play a part, too.

Immunity smoothie 

This was a staple in our house when we had Covid-19. It serves up 10g of fibre — a third of your recommended daily intake — in one glass, which nourishes the bacteria that ‘train’ your immune system. It is also packed with vitamin C, omega 3 and curcumin (in the turmeric), which have immune-boosting powers.

INGREDIENTS

÷ 1 orange, peeled and halved ÷ 1 carrot, halved

÷ ½ ripe banana

÷ 15g fresh ginger, peeled

÷ 20g walnuts

÷ 7 ice cubes

÷ 80ml soy milk, or milk of your choice

÷ Big pinch of turmeric

METHOD

Blitz ingredients for 1 minute or until smooth (add ice first for a smooth blend).

Taste and adjust ginger, turmeric and banana quantities for sweetness.

 

4. How many different plant-based foods do you eat each week? (These include vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, legumes, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices.)

30+ (0 points)

20–29 (1 point)

10–19 (2 points)

Fewer than 10 (3 points)

A study by U.S. researchers showed that people who ate 30 or more different plant foods a week had a more diverse gut microbiome compared with those who ate ten or fewer. As I’ll explain on another day, this sounds like a lot but is easy to achieve. Watch this space!

5. In an average week, how would you describe yourself?

Happy (0 points)

Neutral (1 point)

Unhappy (2 points)

Gut bacteria have a direct impact on mood and vice versa.

6. How often are you unwell (e.g. with colds and flu)?

Fewer than 3 times a year (0 points)

Once every 2–4 months (1 point)

At least once a month (2 points)

Did you know that 70 per cent of your immune cells live along the digestive tract? So, while you might not have any gut symptoms, if you’re catching lots of infections this could be a sign that your gut isn’t as healthy as you believe.

7. Are you avoiding any foods because of a food intolerance?

No (0 points)

Yes (2 points)

Avoiding certain foods because you have a diagnosed allergy is one thing, as there is a clear risk.

But avoiding certain foods because of an intolerance may have unintended consequences, not least reducing your gut bacteria diversity. It could even make you more sensitive to more foods in the long term, as I see in clinic.

8. How many hours’ sleep do you get a night on average?

At least 7 hours (0 points)

More than 5 hours and less than 7 (1 point)

5 hours or fewer (2 points)

It takes just two days of getting less sleep than we need to affect our gut bacteria. Sleep deprivation can also increase inflammation and stress hormones, which may explain why not getting enough sleep is linked with worse gut symptoms, particularly in people with IBS.

9. How often are you negatively impacted by stress?

Less than once a month (0 points)

1–3 times a month (1 point)

Every week (2 points)

Stress is a common cause of gut-related symptoms — and chronic stress can lead to inflammation and other problems, such as leaky gut, where the barrier of cells that lets in the good guys (nutrients) and keeps out the bad guys (pathogens) becomes weak.

10. How often do you exercise (for at least 30 minutes) to a level where you’d become short of breath if you tried to sing?

3 or more times a week (0 points)

1–2 times a week (1 point)

Less than once a week (2 points)

Research has shown that regular exercise (three times a week) can significantly improve gut bacteria diversity. Our microbes, like us, get a positive ‘hit’ from exercise. It also helps keep your bowel moving, which is important for health.

Add up your score:

0-6: Top marks. For you it’s about keeping your gut health in peak condition. Check out the tips and recipes every week in my column.

7-13: Not bad. With a few tweaks, we can get you and your gut microbes thriving — you’ll be feeling your best in no time!

14-22: It’s time to get to work. Using the practical strategies I’ll set out, we’ll get your gut back on track, restoring health and happiness from the inside out.

Email Dr Megan Rossi at [email protected], or write to her at Good Health, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT — please include contact details. Replies should be taken in a general context; always consult your GP with any health worries. 

askMegan 

I’ve been diagnosed with long Covid — but the symptom that’s really getting me down is the constant feeling of nausea. How can I manage it?

You’re not alone; around 10 per cent of people with Covid-19 report nausea as a symptom, and unfortunately it can persist long after the infection.

This may be because the virus attacks the body via ACE2 receptors, which are actually even more plentiful in the gut than in the lungs. These tips have helped many of my clients:

1. Opt for cold foods. This can help as it lets you avoid strong smells — a common nausea trigger. (Hot foods smell stronger because the energy in the heat affects the movement of scent particles in the air, agitating them more.)

Try cold roasted veg, veggie pasta, or fresh fruit (especially refreshing in smoothie form — see my recipe, above, which has proven stomach-settling properties. Sip it slowly).

2. Eat little and often. Try six to eight smaller meals. This means less for your stomach to cope with each time, and helps build up your gut’s tolerance to eating.

3. Don’t force a crunchy salad down you, or any other food that’s ‘good for you’, if it’s going to make you feel sick.

Choose comforting meals and add fibre goodness where you can — such as lentils and spinach in your pasta sauce. If greens are a struggle, hide them in cold, egg-based foods such as a frittata or quiche, which can be gentle on the stomach and provide energy without being too rich.

 

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