Throughout August I’ve been taking part in the Zoe study, a personalised nutrition programme from Tim Spector, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College London.
I wanted to learn how my body responds to the food I eat and to my exercise routine. I thought it would not only help me, but the additional knowledge could be useful for my clients too.
Zoe is an experiment that anyone can sign up to (at a cost) which aims to help you understand how your body works. It’s a continuation of a previous study called Predict, billed as the largest nutrition study in the world, which showed that that there can be up to a tenfold variation in responses to the same meal for different people. The Zoe study is reaching out to an even larger audience by sending volunteers a series of tests to help them understand how to reduce dietary inflammation and improve gut health naturally.
At the end of the testing period, they analyse your results and send you a personalised diet plan tailored to your biology.
A few days after signing up and filling in an extensive online questionnaire, a big yellow box of goodies arrived in the post. It contained three test kits – for microbiome (gut bacteria), blood fat and blood sugar levels. And three packs of muffins!
The programme started by testing my reactions to different foods, by sampling my gut bacteria and blood fat levels after eating a prescribed breakfast and lunch of muffins. This set a baseline reading, and I was given further experimental meals – cheddar cheese, and rice and bacon for breakfast were just two!
Overall the programme was very easy to follow, as step by step instructions were sent to my phone several times a day. Sometimes the foods I had to eat were challenging – especially three muffins for breakfast! – but overall it was manageable, even on mornings where I had early starts.
The best bit was the real-time blood sugar sensor – you press it into your arm and for two weeks it gives you live readings. It was fascinating to see that drinking a beetroot smoothie shot my blood sugars up into the warning zone within seconds! On the other hand, half an hour on the bike brought my sugar levels down to below average. It made me change what I ate, cutting down on high GI foods or eating them with another food that would reduce their impact, like spreading peanut butter on a toasted crumpet.
Combining this data with other information I gave them, such as the fitness and diet goals I want to achieve, the programme will help me to improve my responses to the food I eat in future. It’s also rewarding to feel that I’m contributing to a wider scientific study.
It’s important for all of us to balance our food choices throughout the day so that we nourish our body as well as we can. Connecting more with how and what you eat, and how it makes you feel, can help you with hunger and energy issues.
So why do we care?
- Maybe it’s because some of us are keen to :
- Feel fuller for longer
- Feel more energised
- Sleep better
- Reach a healthy weight
- Improve long-term health
- And feel more confident about the food choices we make.
Understanding the effect our food has on our wellbeing is surely of interest to most of us.. We can still have the occasional blow out, but if we can understand how sometimes even the healthy-looking food can have a negative impact, then we’re able to make better day to day choices. The ‘healthy’ beetroot smoothie sent my blood sugar levels a lot higher than even I expected. My banana before exercise had the same dramatic effect, but when I followed it with a bike ride my blood levels came back down to some sort of normality. It’s not possible for all of us to monitor every response to our diet or exercise, but it’s helpful to be aware that everything we eat and how and when we move does shape our health, body and mood.
My experiment is ongoing and discovering how food impacts my body in real time has been fascinating as well as surprising at times.
Learning by doing is incredibly powerful.
With the knowledge I have picked up so far from Zoe I’m going to increase my already extensive consumption of plants by eating more fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes.
I have improved by ability to combine carbs with healthy fats, protein and more vegetables. I am moving my body more after eating too.
I will share my results as I go on with the programme. For now I suggest:
- Increase the diversity of the plants you eat
- Choose good quality sources of protein and fat
- Be aware that eating simple carbs on their own will affect your blood sugars
- Exercise really does help balance some responses to the food we eat.
If you do nothing else, stop and consider when you eat and when you exercise, especially if you are looking to feel better, more energised and happier in your skin.