Dr Michael Mosley has changed lives with his revolutionary approach to weight loss. The creator of the 5:2 diet – a programme that involves intermittent fasting – he also helped many reverse type-2 diabetes with his 8-Week Blood Sugar Diet.
Now the dad-of-four, who lost 10kg and overcame his own diabetes by practising what he preaches, has launched another eating programme, this time focusing on the gut. It’s a part of the body that the host of acclaimed TV series Trust Me, I’m A Doctor has become fascinated with – to the point that five years ago he swallowed a tiny camera to explore it.
Since then Mosley has learnt more about the microbiome – the community of around 50 trillion microorganisms that live within each of us, and discovered how it can be manipulated to dramatic effect.
His research, which draws on leading studies from around the world, has convinced him that if you feed it correctly, a healthy gut has the ability to regulate weight loss, control sugar cravings, reduce stress and anxiety, and help you sleep. It could even reverse formerly ‘incurable’ conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome.
Good Health Choices caught up with the 60-year-old while he was on this side of the world promoting The Clever Guts Diet, to find out more.
How does this diet differ from earlier eating regimens you created?
It’s a continuation; I’m adding to and supplementing what I’ve done before, but also developing into a different area – that of the gut.
I wrote the 5:2 diet without paying a huge amount of attention to the foods I was eating, and since then I moved on to a Mediterranean-style diet because of the many proven benefits of that.
Now I include things like seaweed and fermented foods because there is a huge body of scientific evidence emerging about their benefits. For example, I’ve been a terrible insomniac for the past 20 years, and since I started adding these foods to my diet my insomnia has improved enormously.
So could fermented food have a major impact on sleep?
Definitely. There is also some decent evidence about the [positive] impact of fibre on deep sleep – and that is exactly what I have found. Sleep and weight are intimately linked.
We’ve cut down on average about an hour and a half in sleep since the 1960s, and that may well have contributed to the surge in type-2 diabetes and obesity, because when you sleep less you tend to eat more sugary, carby things. Drop an hour’s sleep and you’ll probably eat an extra 300 calories.
What was the most surprising fact you discovered when writing The Clever Guts Diet?
I think it was the range of activities the microbiome are involved in and the range of your systems they can affect; just the fact nine-tenths of dopamine – the stuff we associate with brains and happiness – is in your gut.
Research is always coming out; I saw just the other day they discovered that a common condition which frequently leads to strokes is caused by bacteria in your gut sending a signal to your brain. You can block it from happening simply by altering the mix of bacteria in your gut.
The whole area of psychobiotics [the link between microbes and mental health] is unbelievably hot; psychosis, schizophrenia, autism and the gut, they all appear to be linked. Our microbes are really, really busy and the fact we barely understand what they’re doing is extraordinary.
There seems to be a sudden overload of quite contradictory research into gut health and nutrition. How do we know what is genuine?
The reality is it’s tough. Ideally you need to look for research which has come out of a decent university and has involved a decent number of people – those are the criteria. I always go with the best science, but after 30 years of doing it I know how to evaluate it. For most people it’s bloody hard.
So from all your research, what are the most valid diet messages?
There is very clear evidence of the benefits of a Mediterranean style of eating. So that means olive oil – which is brilliant because it contains all sorts of good things for your gut – nuts, a bit of red wine and dark chocolate, and as many different coloured veges as you can cram in, while holding back on the processed foods and sugar. And beyond that, try introducing some fermented food, kombucha [fermented tea], full-fat yoghurt, and full-fat cheese.
Where do you stand on the full-fat versus low-fat debate?
The evidence is quite strong now, particularly when it comes to dairy, that full-fat is healthier; it will keep you fuller. The problem with the low-fat stuff is it is unbelievably processed.
When they take out the fat they take out a lot of the taste – so they tend to stick other things in instead. I’m a big fan of full-fat Greek yoghurt – with a few nuts and berries, it’s a much better breakfast for you than any form of toast or sugary cereal.
We are constantly told how important omega-3s are, but you don’t take fish oil capsules yourself. Why not?
The trouble is most of the big randomised control trials have not been able to show any consistent benefits from consuming fish oil capsules. It doesn’t mean there aren’t individuals who get benefits, but it’s not scientifically compelling.
One reason may be because not all fish oil capsules are the same; some appear to be off, as it can take up to three years to get from the fish to the shelf. I would much rather eat a decent piece of salmon or tuna, and if not that, then cod liver oil – because at least in the bottle you can smell if it is off.
You have some interesting things to say about the relationship between probiotics and their role in combating the effects of antibiotics. Can you tell us a little about this?
Probiotics is an unbelievably interesting area, but it’s early on and it’s changing all the time. When it comes to antibiotics, there is mounting evidence [probiotics can help the gut], but only with specific types; the benefit of just taking some generic probiotic is zero. For any given condition there appears to be a particular strain of beneficial bacteria, so there is no probiotic which is going to deal with everything.
If I have to take antibiotics I eat fermented food, because I know that way I am getting a whacking great load of beneficial microbes – and I am enjoying eating it a lot more than I would swallowing a capsule. And if you make it yourself, it’s also a hell of a lot cheaper!
What are your thoughts on multivitamins?
I measure it on whether you feel good or bad on it – does it perk you up? I think if you have a poor diet then there are benefits to multivitamins. There are a lot of people who are gluten-intolerant and therefore have cut out breakfast cereals and bread; both foods which are absolutely rammed with added vitamins, and if you remove them, you’re actually going to be deficient.
On Trust Me, I’m A Doctor we looked at the difference between the really expensive ones and the cheap ones, and found it is fairly negligible; these vitamins are chemically pretty much the same.
Many sceptics insist that diets don’t work. What is your response to that?
The reality is there are 50,000 diets out there and most of them are appalling and that’s why they don’t work. Good diets do work; people lose weight and keep it off. It’s not easy, certainly in the early bit, but it becomes much easier as time passes. Everything resets and the body will start to work with you rather than against you.
That’s why it’s so important to try and follow something that is proper and scientific rather than something that was made up by a celebrity and printed on the back of a cereal packet.
What is the main message you hope readers will take away from *The Clever Guts Diet?
Your guts really matter. Look after them and they will look after you. They are up there with the heart and the brain as an organ you should be nourishing.
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