How to eat well in 2024: 7 essential strategies

Happy New Year! Thinking about extreme dieting this January? Think again. There are easy ways to eat well and support your immune system while still enjoying every mouthful. 

In today’s episode, Tim and Sarah break down seven essential strategies for eating healthily in 2024.

They also debunk common misconceptions, emphasize the importance of food quality, and encourage you to focus on the sheer enjoyment of what you eat. 

Dr. Sarah Berry is an associate professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at King's College London and chief scientist at ZOE. She’s also the lead nutritional scientist on the PREDICT program. Her research focuses on precision nutrition, postprandial metabolism, food, and fat structure. 

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Prof. Tim Spector is a professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, director of the TwinsUK study, scientific co-founder of ZOE, and one of the world’s leading researchers. He's also the author of Food for Life, his latest book on nutrition and health. Tim originally trained in rheumatology and epidemiology.  

Follow Tim on Instagram.

Mentioned in todays episode: The Big IF Study

Download our FREE guide — Top 10 Tips to Live Healthier.

Follow ZOE on Instagram.

Is there a nutrition topic you’d like us to explore? Email us at, and we’ll do our best to cover it. 

Episode transcripts are available here.


[00:00:00] Jonathan Wolf: Welcome to ZOE Science & Nutrition, where world-leading scientists explain how their research can improve your health. I’m your host Jonathan Wolf, co-founder and CEO of ZOE.

As we welcome the new year, I've got a really special episode for you today. Two of the world's leading scientists are here to give you straightforward, actionable advice on how to change your diet and what to eat in 2024, so you can feel better and improve your health.

That's right, Dr. Sarah Berry and Professor Tim Spector are back on the show. They'll share their incredible knowledge about nutrition and healthy eating with you. Sarah is a world leader in large scale human nutritional studies, Associate Professor in Nutrition at King's College London, and Chief Scientist at ZOE. 

And Tim is one of the world's top 100 most cited scientists. A professor of epidemiology and my scientific co-founder at ZOE. 
Sarah and Tim, thank you for joining me today on what is New Year's Day for everybody who is listening.  

[00:01:08] Sarah Berry: Pleasure. You got me out of my bed after a late night last night just to be here, but I'm very excited regardless. I didn't have all the tequila slammers that Tim had, so I'm doing a bit better than him today. 

[00:01:19] Tim Spector: My voice  is a bit More gravelly than usual. 

[00:01:20] Jonathan Wolf: All right, well, uh, we are doing a special episode today, which I'm really looking forward to, um, really tied into, I think, like the heart of our mission at ZOE. And our mission at ZOE is to improve the health of millions by helping them to change how and what they eat. And so I wanted to have this opportunity today to have Both of you, as incredible scientists who dedicated your careers to understanding how the foods that we eat could make us sick or support our health, really talked to us about like, what is the latest science? 

And, uh, what would the advice you would be giving to somebody who's waking up today and saying, you know, in 2024, I want to make changes that are going to ensure that I feel better, and in the long term, that I'm healthier. Based on actually like the real science, not something they just discovered that popped up on their social media and told them that the, uh, the answer was, um, you know, to just eat cucumbers. 

And so I know that you've pulled together seven essential strategies and we're going to cover each of those. But before we run, uh, into those, can I just, like, start at the beginning? Like, Tim, why does what we eat actually matter? 

[00:02:32] Tim Spector: Well, it's probably the most important Personal choice we can make for our health and also the planet as a side effect. 

And the data clearly show that if you got everyone to improve their diet to the top 10%, you would get rid of 60 or 70 percent of all common diseases. It doesn't matter when you started. Um, There's new data showing that if at age 40, even if you've had a really bad diet, if you shift yourself to the, an optimum diet of the top 10 percent of people, you're going to gain an extra 10 years of life. 

[00:03:15] Jonathan Wolf: An extra 10 years of lif? 

[00:03:17] Tim Spector: Exactly. So this is why it's worth it for everybody. whoever's listening at whatever age, whatever state of your, your health or your diet to really listen up and make those good choices because it's going to make a huge impact on the rest of your life. And Jonathan

[00:03:35] Sarah Berry: not only will it reduce your risk of diet related disease, You also feel better, and we know this from our own research, that if you follow a healthier diet, you have more energy, you have better mood, you feel less hungry, and I think that's really important that we don't forget that it also enables us to feel great. 

[00:03:51] Tim Spector: And it's not a  super strict diet, we're talking about these people that punish themselves, and so, you know, that extra years, you know, you're counting every minute of it, because you can't wait until you can get to something good to eat. Never allowed  

[00:04:02] Jonathan Wolf: a piece of cake for the rest of your life.  

[00:04:03] Sarah Berry: Exactly. And look, our seven top tips are going to make you feel great. 

And live a longer, healthier life, in my opinion. Now,  

[00:04:10] Jonathan Wolf: a lot of people listening to this may be saying, Well, actually, I think I'm, I already am eating healthily. Are most people in the West, in fact, already eating well?  

[00:04:23] Tim Spector: No. While people have been thinking they're eating healthily, you know, heart attacks, cancers, uh, Diabetes, all the mental health problems have been slowly increasing. 

So, for the last 20 years, we've been deluding ourselves that what we thought was a healthy diet actually isn't. And I think that's the tragedy. It's not like people weren't trying to some extent, um, they wanted to do the right thing, but they were given the wrong advice, they were in the wrong environment, and they ended up making the wrong choices. 

I do  

[00:04:56] Sarah Berry: think, no, there are a proportion of people that are eating good diets, particularly those that have listened to our podcast over the last few years. Um, but I think that the real challenge is in the current food landscape that we have in the UK, in the US and many other countries. It's actually really hard to eat healthily as well. 

I would  

[00:05:14] Jonathan Wolf: totally agree with that. One of the things I've been struck, you know, on my own personal journey with ZOE off over the last sort of seven years is. I thought I was eating healthily at the beginning, and now I've changed almost everything that, that I eat. But also that I have this experience, you know, as soon as I'm eating out, um, as soon as I'm looking to, um, you know, to buy something, how, how hard it often is to eat something that is healthy and how much thought I have to put into it. 

And in the past I would have thought it was trivial. What are the problems that come from this food? So you talked about living longer, but, but, but what is, uh, what is the negative? What's been happening to people's health as a consequence of this, this  

[00:05:50] Tim Spector: food you've been talking about? Uh, most of the common chronic diseases are in some way impacted by our bad diets and, uh, our increasing  

[00:06:00] Jonathan Wolf: weight. 

So if someone's listening and they, maybe their diet isn't so good, what are the risk factors they are exposing  

[00:06:04] Tim Spector: themselves to? Really, there's very few conditions that Sarah and I can think of that we know definitively are not related to a poor diet. So, I think there's a chance for everybody listening, even if they've got some obscure illness, uh, that no one's ever heard of, that, Uh, change, improving your diet is going to have some impact on that. 

And I think that's, that's a really new way of thinking, certainly compared to, you know, 20 years ago when I, when I was looking at this, when we thought it only had a trivial effect. I think we've totally underestimated the impact. of diet, because we didn't really know what the good advice was. So, you know, if it was just eating more muesli and orange juice, then obviously it didn't  

[00:06:45] Sarah Berry: work. 

And Jonathan, I think on a positive note, we also know that introducing a good diet as well as, um, giving us longer Life years can actually reverse some of these chronic diseases. And there's fantastic research coming out now in a real life setting of people with type 2 diabetes going on a healthier diet, losing weight and going into total remission. 

And so even for people already along that path, it's not too late. So listen to our top seven tips.  

[00:07:15] Jonathan Wolf: Hi, I hope you're enjoying the show so far and learning a lot about what science really says about eating healthily in 2024. If you're not already a regular listener, I hope you feel like you might come back. 

Make sure to hit the subscribe button so you know whenever a new episode arrives. We release, each week, ad free as part of our mission to improve the health of millions. Okay, back to the show. Let's go and, uh, start with, uh, the first strategy. And the first one, I think, is food is more than fuel. Don't count calories or macronutrients. 

So Tim, many people listening have been told that eating healthily is fundamentally about counting calories and making sure that they don't eat too many calories a day. Why is that wrong?  

[00:08:02] Tim Spector: That's rubbish advice, because Well at one level you can describe food in terms of calories by burning it and seeing how much energy it gives off. 

That's not a useful guide to what to eat because it totally ignores quality of that food. And we also know that following calorie reduction doesn't work for the vast majority of people. That's why calorie restricted diets, although they all lead to some short term, Weight loss virtually always lead to a long term, uh, failure of that plan and an overshooting. 

[00:08:44] Jonathan Wolf: And Tim, a lot of people are going to be completely shocked to hear this because they've been brought up, you know, in my case almost 50 years of advice saying like the fundamental thing you need to do is count your calories and if you are overweight it's like your fault and you just need to like reduce the number of calories you do each, each day. 

[00:09:03] Tim Spector: So are you sure? Absolutely. There are multiple studies now and meta analyses looking at these where they've done very carefully controlled, uh, trials of people on calorie restricted diets against, uh, control groups. And, yes, nearly everyone will reduce rate when you, you, you, you say half the amount of calories that they're eating and they can sustain that for a while. 

Uh, but then their body starts to react against it. We've had Uh, in millions of years of evolution to ensure that, um, we don't lose vital amounts of muscle and fat, that we still keep them. And so after that initial period of euphoria, Oh, this is easy, you know, I'm losing weight. Your body starts ramping up its defense mechanisms to stop you, uh, stop you losing too much of your valuable tissue. 

senses you're in this starvation mode and it goes to survival mode. And that means absolutely ramping up those signals to the brain saying to eat more. So your appetite signals, all the time you see food, you think about food, you can't, you're obsessed about eating more. And so it's really hard to, uh, not Go past that fridge and not dive in or have a snack. 

Then you've also got your metabolism which at the same time is slowed right down. So it is conserving your energy rather than burning it up. It's trying to keep every little scrap of fat and muscle in your body. So you are actually fighting against nature by doing that. If you are purely following a calorie. 

approach to this, and many people doing these low calorie diets are often taking junk foods and things that get into the system very quickly, may not have the right amount of fiber, all kinds of things they're ignoring because they're focusing just on this one measure of food. And help us understand, because  

[00:11:02] Jonathan Wolf: you mentioned food quality, so again, I think a lot of people thinking food is fuel, right? 

If it's not calories, then maybe it's like the macronutrient, like carbs and fat. What is this? Quality thing.  

[00:11:13] Tim Spector: Food. is, isn't just an energy source for our body, it's also an energy source for our gut microbes. And I think that's another way to, to look at food is get an idea of how we're discovering it's much more complex. 

And so as well as, uh, just, you know, providing, uh, sugar. Sugar, for example, for our cells to burn, it should be providing fiber for our microbes to feed off. For those of you who haven't heard about the gut microbiome, this is the community of a hundred trillion microbes that live in our gut. Most of them in our body are in this lower part of our intestine, and basically we have to nourish them every day with food for them to produce all the chemicals that keep our body healthy. 

really fit and healthy, keep our immune system, stop us from aging, stop us getting cancer, uh, and help keep us happy, send chemicals to our brain. So we need to send complex fibers down to those guys all the time to keep them happy. And that's really also one of the key factors of, of food quality that is totally ignored if we're only focusing on calories. 

[00:12:20] Sarah Berry: And I think Jonathan, it's important to add that as well as counting calories not being a sustainable way to lose weight is that actually back of pack calorie information is highly inaccurate. And so we know that for some foods it can overall underestimate the amount of calories by up to about 30%. 30%? 

Yeah. We also know that food is so much more than just the amount of energy that gives us. It's so much more than the macronutrients that I know most people are familiar with. You know, the amount of protein, fat, uh, carbohydrate, for example. Food contains thousands of chemicals and all of these chemicals have magical properties. 

in our body and have different kinds of properties in our body. If we become over focused on the nutrients or the calories, then we're not getting the correct diversity of these different kinds of chemicals, which is important. And also food's there to be enjoyed. I often say, as you know, Jonathan, if a food is too healthy to be enjoyed, it's just not healthy at all. 

And we have to remember that Eating is part of our culture. It's part of how we live our lives, our social setting, our lifestyle. And we need to make sure that in a quest to eat healthy food, we still retain that pleasure that we get from food. I  

[00:13:30] Jonathan Wolf: agree. And it's come up on a lot of podcasts actually, isn't it, about this idea that, um, our, our social lives actually have this hugely positive impact on our health. 

So clearly, what you want to do with your food is support that in the way we think we talk about Mediterranean diet. Quite often one of the things that I'm always struck by when you're in the Mediterranean is how long people sit down and eat their food together. And I know that you've shared some of this data. 


[00:13:53] Tim Spector: they're not stressed about eating. And I think this is the other thing, if people are on diets, there's some evidence to show that actually you're stressed when you sit down to your meal because you're worrying about counting things and looking at the pack and not overdoing it. And that probably offsets any potential advantage. 

And so we want to get people to sit down to a good meal that's based on quality. Not calories and absolutely each time really enjoy that moment. So if people  

[00:14:20] Jonathan Wolf: are, you know, they're waking up on, uh, on January the 1st and they're listening to this, should they now be saying I've got to restrict myself and cut out lots of foods from my diet in order to be healthy this year? 

[00:14:31] Sarah Berry: Absolutely not. I think that it's really important we focus on adding healthy foods in, increasing the diversity. of our plate, rather than worrying about taking specific foods out. And by adding in healthier foods, naturally you will displace some of the less healthy foods. All  

[00:14:49] Jonathan Wolf: right, let's move to the second strategy. 

Um, and this one is that fat is not your enemy. So Sarah, many of us grew up being told that actually fat is your enemy. It's bad for us. You should be looking to restrict it as much as possible. And that if you eat lots of fat, you will get fat. Is this all true?  

[00:15:09] Sarah Berry: Absolutely not. Fat is your friend.  

[00:15:11] Jonathan Wolf: Fat is your friend? 

Some people who have not been listening to the podcast are going to be a bit shocked. Tell us. So  

[00:15:17] Sarah Berry: fat's your friend firstly because it makes food taste great. And we want to enjoy our food. So fat carries the flavour in food. It also creates that beautiful creamy mouthfeel of food. I don't know if you've ever tried low fat cheese. 

But it tastes like crap and the reason is is because you haven't got the fat carrying the beautiful flavor.  

[00:15:36] Jonathan Wolf: Is that right? So the fat is required for you to get that that taste  

[00:15:41] Sarah Berry: Chocolate why does chocolate taste great? Because it melts in your mouth cocoa butter melts at 37 degrees body temperatures 37 degrees you put it in your mouth And you've got that beautiful Mouthfeel it's all about the fat. 

So firstly it makes our food taste great And it should  

[00:15:55] Jonathan Wolf: be pointed out that Sarah has been studying fat for 25 years. So are you quite a fat, you're a fat fan  

[00:16:01] Sarah Berry: girl? I have been teaching on the positive effects of fat the entire past 20  

[00:16:08] Jonathan Wolf: years. So why have we all grown up with this assumption that fat is bad for us? 

And does that mean that all fat is good for you? And we should go back to eating, you know, as much steak as So firstly,  

[00:16:21] Sarah Berry: I think the misconception is based around the energy density of fat. And so what we know is per gram of fat, there's twice as many calories as per gram of carbohydrate and protein. So there's this perception that therefore it will cause us to put weight on. 

It will call the fat will cause us to be fat because of how many calories there are per gram of fat Yeah, but this is wrong  

[00:16:45] Tim Spector: and most doctors like me, you know, we brought up like that and changed to low fat yogurts Without you know knowing really what we're doing just because it was seemed a nice simple story. 

Yeah, and therefore everybody followed it and the industry Gave people what they wanted and suddenly you're going to a supermarket and half the products are low fat.  

[00:17:05] Sarah Berry: But it's very short sighted. So in the 80s there was this explosion of low fat, no fat, reduced fat products. Obviously with the removal of fat we have to replace it with something else and we don't know the health effects often of what, um, has replaced the fat. 

We also know though quite clearly that actually increasing your intake from fat actually isn't associated with weight  

[00:17:29] Jonathan Wolf: gain. So it's all, it's, it's just not true. If you eat more fat, you don't end up putting on more weight compared to Within

[00:17:36] Sarah Berry: reason, Jonathan. Like, obviously, if someone goes and has like five slabs of butter every day Got it. 

But it's not because  

[00:17:43] Jonathan Wolf: it's But if you move to a high fat diet versus like a low fat diet, you don't put on more weight. So  

[00:17:48] Sarah Berry: if you go from a low fat diet to a high fat diet, you'll find that actually a large proportion of people might even reduce Some people will just maintain their body weight. But what's  

[00:17:59] Jonathan Wolf: quite clear crazy. 

Are you saying that I could eat a lot of fat and still could lose weight? So,  

[00:18:05] Sarah Berry: fat makes us feel full for longer. It delays the rate at which our stomach empties food, which again helps us create that feeling of fullness. So, it also controls our blood sugar levels as well, so that we tend to consume less calories. 

potentially later in the day. And  

[00:18:23] Jonathan Wolf: what about health? Because I think what a lot of people um, associate is um, this idea that it's linked to having heart attacks and you know, I think about my, I've talked about this on the podcast before, like my father being given this advice 50 years ago that he needed to eat a very low fat diet because he had high cholesterol and therefore he was at risk um, and that, is  

[00:18:45] Sarah Berry: this true? 

That's wrong. So what we know is there are some types of that are linked to increased risk of heart disease because it increases our blood cholesterol. So there's particular kinds of saturated fat, and so the kind of saturated fat that's found in many processed meats, for example, or other red meats, and often in quite processed foods, so from tropical oil sources, for example. 

There's other saturated fats that are found in fermented dairy that we know actually don't increase your cholesterol. And this is one of those big myths out there that people are told, you've got high cholesterol, don't eat dairy. Actually, that's wrong as well. You can eat dairy, particularly cheese, yogurt, for example. 

[00:19:26] Tim Spector: Yeah, fermented dairy is generally healthier than plain dairy.  

[00:19:30] Sarah Berry: And you don't need to go for low fat dairy either. So we know that there's some fats, the saturated fats, that are bad for us. We know that there's some saturated fats that actually aren't bad for us. But really important, we know there's some fats that are great for us. 

Great for our health. Great for our  

[00:19:44] Jonathan Wolf: health. What are they? If somebody's listening, they're about to go and stock up the kitchen for January. With fats.  

[00:19:49] Sarah Berry: So there's a type of A fact called essential fatty acids. And these are actually essential for our health. They're real important for normal physiological function,  

[00:19:58] Jonathan Wolf: meaning that you would basically die if you don't have them. 

You'd die without them. Okay? Yes,  

[00:20:01] Sarah Berry: they sound important. Um, and they have loads of really important functions, almost like pharmacological, like functions like in our drug. In our body. Yes. Um. But there's also, uh, lots of other fats that we call, uh, monounsaturated and other polyunsaturated fats that we know have really important functionings, actually they don't in that way. 


[00:20:21] Jonathan Wolf: how do I find this in the grocery store? Because I haven't seen the Monounsaturated fat aisle. Where do I  

[00:20:27] Sarah Berry: get these? So, we know that any unsaturated fat is good for our health. And there's loads of different sources of these. So, one that's a great source is olive oil. So, extra virgin olive oil, which I know Tim is one of your favourites to have. 

So, not only is it full of what we call heart healthy oils, it's also packed full of polyphenols. So, what you'll often find is that these healthy sources of fat also have lots of other fantastic nutrients in them as well. Anything else other  

[00:20:54] Jonathan Wolf: than  

[00:20:54] Sarah Berry: extra virgin olive oil? Nuts, avocados, oily fish. So many different plant based sources of oils. 

And I think this is one  

[00:21:02] Jonathan Wolf: of the things that, like, personally sort of blew my mind when I first really got involved, um, with ZOE, because I had moved to, like, avoiding all of those things pretty much because they're bad for you. And so this idea that you could actually pour a lot more extra virgin olive oil over almost any meal and make it healthier is slightly mind blowing. 

It's one of the big shifts that I've made, um, in my own diet, as is also thinking that eating nuts is really good for me. Versus thinking like, Oh, they're like really high fat. That must be something that I need to avoid. So I think those are two in my own personal case, like really easy shifts. I think have made a big difference in my, um, in my diet each week. 


[00:21:39] Sarah Berry: I would say avoid low fat, no fat, reduce fat products.  

[00:21:44] Tim Spector: Yeah, that's a very simple rule. If it says, uh, low fat, no fat, just leave it on the shelf.  

[00:21:52] Jonathan Wolf: Brilliant. Let's move to strategy number three, which is very simple. Eat more plants. So Tim, I know this was really your top pick for improving your health in 2024. 

Can you explain why?  

[00:22:07] Tim Spector: Yeah, it's a catch all that if you do eat more plants, then you're going to get so many extra benefits. And we know that plants are an incredible source of many things. including obviously everyone knows their source of fiber and we are as in the US and the UK massively fiber deficient only about 5 percent of us get enough fiber so 95 percent of us are not getting enough so you get that through plants and you get through your diverse fiber you don't just want the same fiber so getting multiple different plants into your diet is really important to feed your gut microbes, which feed the rest of your body. 

The, um, other reason we've come up with, uh, eating more plants is it also gives you enormous amounts of protein. And people forget. They think they've got to eat steak or, you know, whey powder. I think a lot of people would be  

[00:23:04] Jonathan Wolf: really surprised by that. You know, again, I was definitely brought up with, like, Protein is a piece of meat, or if you're being like, really healthy, maybe a piece of fish. 

No, I don't think that even counts. When I was growing up, I don't think even chee no. Really? That was, that was full of fat, so that's like, fat. Oh, of course, you weren't allowed that. Like, literally, protein is like, something that our ancestors might have hunted, and everything else is not protein.  

[00:23:27] Tim Spector: That's not right. 

That's absolutely not right. And that's, this is a whole failure of our education system and why we're not you know, teaching kids this and, and chefs and, and, and schools and even universities really the, the key that you can get protein everywhere. And there are certain plants have more protein than others, but there are, you know, some like the grains, for example, that, um, quinoas that have around 10 percent of it is actually protein. 

You've got, uh, your pastas at around. 8 percent and pulses. What is a pulse? Beans, legumes, chickpeas, lentils. Is there a lot of protein in a bean? There's masses of it, yes, so again, you know, often over 10 percent and it, they all vary, and you're getting different types of proteins. So let's  

[00:24:14] Jonathan Wolf: imagine I manage to convince my son to listen to this podcast, which is unlikely, but let's just say that I manage. 

He's just 16, he's starting to, um, uh, put on a lot of muscle. And he's really focused now on, like, making sure that he's getting enough protein. And he doesn't believe that, unless he's sort of gonna be eating lots of meat, that he can possibly get enough protein to actually, like, put on all those muscles and, you know, grow up to be a man. 

What would you, what would you say to him?  

[00:24:39] Tim Spector: I'd say, uh, there are many other ways to get muscle through purely plant based, uh, proteins. And there are many successful, uh, bodybuilders who are on a plant only  

[00:24:54] Jonathan Wolf: diet. And so you're not saying he has to be on a plant only diet, but you're saying he doesn't have to stress about eating meat in order to get this. 

No, you don't have  

[00:24:59] Tim Spector: to be on a meat only diet or egg only diet or only having these protein shakes and, uh, this stuff. You can do that with a healthy, uh, meal, uh, with even only just having occasional meat. Because there are so many plants and legumes and related. Uh, products like mushrooms that can, are going to give you protein. 

And so people just forget that, uh, this is very much a constituent of plants. And that, that's really why I want to just remind people that if they have a diversity of plants, they're going to be getting sufficient protein. Maybe just actually  

[00:25:34] Jonathan Wolf: just to help us understand what a plant is. Because again, I think, I think back to when I first heard that, it's like a plant is something I put in the garden. 

A plant is not something that I eat.  

[00:25:45] Tim Spector: So a plant. Coffee is obviously your fruits and your vegetables, but it's also a nut, it's also a seed, it can be a herb, it can be a spice, it can, uh, be actually, uh, dark chocolate because actually that's derived from a fermented plant. It can be,  

[00:26:08] Jonathan Wolf: uh, I love that dark chocolate might be a plant. 


[00:26:11] Sarah Berry: smirking here in the corner at  

[00:26:13] Jonathan Wolf: that one. Coffee is a  

[00:26:14] Tim Spector: plant. Coffee is a plant. And so I think it's really I'm  

[00:26:18] Sarah Berry: going on a plant based diet for, um, 2024 called the chocolate diet.  

[00:26:25] Tim Spector: And, you know, by that nature, yes, wine and cider are also plant based foods. So most of the foods we eat are plant based. I think that's what we seem to forget in this world where we get things out of packets. 

And, uh, uh, it's composite. So when we're saying we want to. Eat, people eat more plants, we mean the whole plant rather than just a small extract of it. So, uh, it's the difference between, uh, having a corn on the cob or having cornflakes. Um, the corn on the cob, you can, you can see exactly what it is. That's in its purest form. 

You boil it, you see it. There might be an intermediate one where you might've had it cooked and put in a, in a can, and then you've got the ultra processed version of it. which doesn't resemble the original one at all. There's none of the outer coating, none of the goodness, none of the fiber, none of the nutrients. 

See, it's still recognizable as, as the plant. I think that's the key. Um, there is one active exception here. Uh, mushrooms are not. Plants, and they're not, um, meat, they're another kingdom. But, mushrooms, I would definitely include in this group, so, I don't want them to feel, uh, if there are any mushroom lovers who are feeling, um, upset. 

They're allowed to as well. Yeah, they're in, in my, in my group. And I think we, our studies so far have shown that around 30 different types of plant a week is your optimum for gut health. I think we've probably been, we're going to be revising that number soon, but it's a reasonable. Something to bear in mind as a target. 

I think a lot of people who've listened to me before on this, and ZOE, have found that a useful target to get to, to try and not only, uh, eat more fiber and protein, but also get all the other polyphenols in these plants, because the more different ones, the different colors, the different flavors, the different levels of bitterness, you're getting more of these chemicals. 

There are 50, 000 chemicals in plants, and You want a diversity of chemicals in order to help your body both directly and indirectly via feeding your gut microbes. And the better the menu you're giving them, the more they, the happier they are and the more chemicals they respond with. And  

[00:28:39] Jonathan Wolf: this is why you want something that's, you know, not massively processed. 

So it's just down to something very simple like, um, you know, like a white rice or a white flour. It's because you've lost so many of these chemicals that were in the original plant. So I, I  

[00:28:52] Sarah Berry: would think about the healthiness of a plant using three key tips. One is, does it reasonably resemble the original plant? 

Are we having enough diversity? So like Tim said, are we getting a diversity of maybe 30 different plants? And what about the quality of that plant as well? Because if it is heavily processed, has loads of added chemicals, doesn't resemble the original plant. It doesn't mean it's healthy for us. Don't  

[00:29:18] Tim Spector: forget that frozen and canned, um, vegetables are fantastic generally in terms of nutrients. 

So it's not like it has to be the super expensive high end, uh, of plants. Many of them you can just get from the cheap freezer  

[00:29:33] Jonathan Wolf: aisle. We did a whole podcast on this about sort of being able to eat more cheaply and interestingly, again, one of the things I've really shifted actually just in the last 18 months since that is the amount of stuff that I'm eating from tins, particularly things like beans, and also the amount of stuff that's now in the freezer, which means that suddenly you can cook with a bunch of things really fast, which I'd never thought about. 

So I've definitely found those two tips. Great. And completely the opposite of what I thought, which is a fruit frozen and canned food is bad. And I think you guys have generally convinced me often it's got the best in terms of the things I've got. Yeah,  

[00:30:06] Sarah Berry: often it actually is more nutritious if it's frozen because it retains some of the vitamins that might be degraded from either air or light like vitamin C. 

So often it can actually be better for you. Let's move  

[00:30:20] Jonathan Wolf: to strategy number four, reduce ultra processed foods. So can we just start with what is an ultra processed food and why is it bad for us?  

[00:30:31] Tim Spector: There's no uniform definition of an ultra processed food. The simplest one is that it comes in a package and the back of the label includes ingredients you wouldn't find in your kitchen and don't resemble anything that you would cook with. 

So this means that it contains Bits of foods that have been extracted from real food and then combined together with glues and gums and colorants and flavorings and lots of fat and sugar to stick it together. It's then pressurized, baked and comes out in some form that is, looks like food like. So I call them edible food like substances and I think that summarizes it. 

Pretty well, there are some grading systems, which are complicated to go into, but I think the take home message, it's in a packet, um, it's probably got all these health halo labels on it, saying it's low in fat, or low in calories, or it's got extra vitamins, um, all these nonsense claims, and,  

[00:31:42] Jonathan Wolf: if, why are they not, Tim, lots of people are saying, oh, that's great, you know, it's great, it says like high in vitamin C, or High in fiber, why would that be nonsense claims? 

[00:31:51] Tim Spector: Because any small addition that they've made to it by reformulating it doesn't hide the fact that the underlying food is likely to be harmful for you long term. And so these, we call them health halos because it's a bit like, you know, painting a turd. You don't actually, uh, it's still a turd. Um, and you wouldn't eat it even if it's got a nice color on it. 

So this is essentially what the manufacturers are doing.  

[00:32:19] Jonathan Wolf: That's a poop for anybody who doesn't know what Tim is referring to.  

[00:32:23] Sarah Berry: So the reason that these are bad for us is because they tend to be higher in unhealthy nutrients. They tend to be higher in salt, higher in sugar, higher in unhealthy saturated fats. 

They tend to be lower in healthy nutrients, so lower in fiber, good quality fats, good quality proteins. They tend to be low in a lot of the really healthy chemicals. That come from natural plants. So these polyphenols, they also tend to have lots of added ingredients like emulsifiers and additives that we don't fully know how they impact our body. 

And then importantly, they also have a food structure. That has been destroyed and by destroying the original food structure. It changes how fast we eat the food So we know that we can eat our ultra processed food. For example 50 percent more quickly than an unprocessed percent more quickly and this can Go on to make us eat Up to 500 calories more over day, which is huge. 

So it means we're overeating the foods as well. It also changes where our body digests the food. So what happens is, is it's digested earlier up in our gastrointestinal tract, where we have less of these receptors telling us we're full. So we tend to not feel as full as quickly, again encouraging us to overeat these foods. 

[00:33:37] Tim Spector: Yeah, so it's the biggest disaster really, uh, in, uh, in Western countries is the rise of ultra processed food that's taken over since the 1970s from whole real foods. And as we're focused on just trying to reformulate them to, to reduce the total amounts of fat or, uh, Dial down the amount of salt or sugar. 

We've ignored all these, all the other facts that Sarah's been talking about. The structure, the way that these foods are designed to make us overeat them. And if we keep eating them regularly, that just means we will overeat more of them. And they're low fiber, so we're in a state of fiber deprivation continuously, but we want to eat more and more of these products. 

And we're now at a state where nearly 60 percent on average across the U. S. and the U. K. of our meals are ultra  

[00:34:35] Jonathan Wolf: processed. 60 percent of the food we're eating in the U. S. and the U. K. is ultra processed. Yeah,  

[00:34:39] Tim Spector: it's huge. And it's worse in deprived areas, so that's the average. So you think what it's like for poorer families and that explains why, you know, their life expectancy is 10 years less. 

Uh, there's a clear correlation between ultra processed food and, uh, longevity and all these multiple disease problems  

[00:35:02] Jonathan Wolf: we're having. And there doesn't seem to be any discussion about ultra processed food within the food guidelines, be that in the States or really across anywhere in Western Europe.  

[00:35:13] Tim Spector: I think some countries have introduced these, uh, these are countries that don't have the same political pressures on them, uh, to do nothing and the U. 

S. and the U. K. are heavily lobbied by these massive food companies that have a hundred billion dollar budgets they can spend on, uh, lobbying and making sure that the industry comes first, uh, the idea that You know, there's a manufacturing base that is important for each country. So they stopped this happening effectively like the cigarette companies did in delaying any legislation against them. 

Uh, finding incredibly profitable because they have long shelf lives, they can package them, it can last for two years and each year they're finding more innovative ways to automate the process, make it cheaper, doesn't require manual labor at all and they are, uh, really brilliant scientists behind making these, these, these novel products, uh, which are these edible Food like substances, whilst real food is getting more expensive. 

So the differential is clearer, and as many people are struggling with cost of living, they're buying more of these products, not less. And the profit margins are huge on them. So on cereals, for example, profit margins are around 30%. So they can afford to do huge advertising to children, and it's so easy to produce these products. 

It's unlike Poor old farmers, you know, making pears or apples or whatever. Um, they're not given the same sort of help, uh, that automation and industry and, and robotics and things can do for the, the food industry. So that's why we're in this mess and it costs individual taxpayers thousands of pounds or, or dollars a year, uh, that we're paying for all the health costs of, These junk food given to our populations. 

And so it does affect everybody whether you eat it or not. You're actually paying for it. I think that's the point.  

[00:37:22] Sarah Berry: I think, Jonathan, though, we can add a positive note here that, yes, we're eating far too much of these unhealthy, heavily processed foods, but actually even a small reduction can have a big impact on our health. 

And that's really important to remember because it's all very well us saying all of these reasons why they're so unhealthy for us, but the current food landscape is what the current food landscape is. And you go into a supermarket and, like I said earlier, it's very difficult to actually avoid These ultra processed foods. 

So what I would say to people who don't need to totally eliminate them, you could every month try and reduce by like 10%, try and swap out a few products that are heavily processed with unprocessed foods. That's still going to have a big impact. Okay, don't go cold turkey. We don't want to ever set anyone up at ZOE to fail, and that's why it's really important to say, look, even a small reduction is going to have a big impact. 

We need to think about the fact of, of what is accessible to us. I love  

[00:38:21] Jonathan Wolf: that message. Now, I think a lot of people will be listening to this and saying, but I don't eat any ultra processed foods. Are they right? Or what might be the foods that are like hiding that they don't even realize are ultra processed, Sarah? 

[00:38:34] Sarah Berry: So there's lots of ultra processed foods that we might not typically think are ultra processed. So a lot of the kind of cereal bars that you get that again have these like health halos, say high fiber, full of oats, they're actually really heavily processed. They don't resemble anything like the original food they came from. 


[00:38:50] Tim Spector: all breakfast cereals, I'd say, wouldn't you? Yeah.  

[00:38:52] Sarah Berry: And breakfast cereals, um, also many yogurts. So many of these, uh, fruit flavoured, sweetened, low fat, low sugar yogurts are actually also quite heavily processed.  

[00:39:04] Tim Spector: As well as most, most supermarket breads, um, biscuits. Cakes, most, uh, ready meals.  

[00:39:12] Jonathan Wolf: You know, again, this is one of those things that's been a relatively new discovery for me. 

Going to, like, the grocery store and looking at all the, the yoga or the yogurt, depending upon which country you're in, and realizing that basically almost every single one on something that might go on for the entire aisle is all ultra processed and maybe you can find, like, one or two things that are not, is a bit of an eye opener. 

So I find that this is one of those things where when you start to realize it, It really, um, changes the way you think about the food that we're eating for ourselves, giving our children. Have you found this interesting? If so, I'd love you to help us with our mission to improve the health of millions. Do you know someone who could benefit from hearing Tim and Sarah's actionable advice on what to eat in 2024? 

If so, please share it with them right now. Okay, that's it. Thank you, and back to the show. Let's talk about strategy number five. Reduce your blood sugar spikes. So, Sarah, um, lots of people have like heard this word, blood sugar, and blood sugar crashes, but like, what are they, and why would you want to reduce repeated blood sugar spikes? 


[00:40:23] Sarah Berry: when you eat carbohydrates, so this is a nutrient that's found in bread, in rice, in pasta, in nearly all of the foods that we eat. You have a short term increase in blood sugar, which we actually call blood glucose, and that reaches a peak around 15 to 30 minutes after you've eaten that food. 

What some people have, and we see this 25 to 50 percent of people, also about 2 to 4 hours after they've had, These carbohydrate, rich foods have a dip in their blood sugar and we know  

[00:40:53] Jonathan Wolf: For some people that can also dip down.  

[00:40:57] Sarah Berry: I think of it a little bit like going on a roller coaster. Now I'm scared of roller coasters, so it's not something I like. 

And what we know is if you have these peaks going up repeatedly, Excessively time after time throughout the day that they can predispose us to certain chronic diseases, predispose us to type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, so heart disease, um, and also increase our risk of developing, um, obesity as well. 

And this is because they impact the lining of our blood vessels. They impact inflammation in our body. What we also know, and we know this from our own research, and this is really interesting, that for those people that have a dip as well, so that's the dip in the roller coaster two to four hours after they've had this carbohydrate rich meal, they actually feel a lot more hungry than those that don't have a dip. 

They go on to eat a lot more calories, up to 300 more calories over a day than the people that don't have a dip. Um, a dip, they feel less alert, um, and, uh, they also might feel what we, you know, that kind of feeling of being hungry, um, because that you've got this low blood  

[00:42:01] Tim Spector: sugar. And they might reach for that choccy bicky at, at, at 11 o'clock. 

Yeah. And people might recognize that slight feeling, oh, I've got a bit of a low here. I need some sugar to get me going. And, uh, uh, I didn't ever link it to, uh, actually having a real blood sugar change. Yeah, totally seen these results, and these people who were blinded to their blood sugar, we did this in the Predict studies, they didn't know what was going on in their blood sugar, and they were reporting they were feeling low energy, um, and hungry. 


[00:42:34] Sarah Berry: were eating half an hour before the people that didn't have these dips, as well as eating what they're eating sooner. So you're  

[00:42:39] Jonathan Wolf: saying that, and this is like this blood sugar shooting up, crashing down below and starting, what was actually leading people to say, like, I've just got to go and eat this. 

Yeah. Actually as a consequence of what they ate before, so funnily enough, the first food they ate. It's sort of forcing them to eat the  

[00:42:51] Tim Spector: second food. It's commoner in women, interesting than men, and it obviously does depend on what, if they had a, a, a carby breakfast, you know, typical British breakfast of toast and marmalade or a muesli or, or some breakfast cereal, then get to work and then they'd have this dip. 

And I think many people listening will, will, you know, remember that, uh, and it, we think it's about one in three women. I mean, we're in that position and, you know, the science is now telling us it's for real. It's not just a psychological, uh, you know, thing, I'm a bit tired at work, I need to sit down on a, on a, on a bicky. 

Um, this is physiological and, uh, if you add up. All those events over 10 or 20 years, you can see why just, uh, because of this sugar dip, actually, you're going to be putting on a lot of weight. You'll have more mood problems, more energy problems, et cetera.  

[00:43:44] Jonathan Wolf: And so does this mean that people should just stop eating carbohydrates and just eat all the healthy fats you were telling us about  

[00:43:51] Sarah Berry: before? 

No, absolutely not. So what's really interesting is from our predict research, we also found that, uh, Some people have a dip one day depending on their breakfast, but actually can change the type of breakfast they're having to not have a dip. So you don't, it doesn't mean that you're always going to have a dip. 

After having your meal, it's about changing the type of carbohydrate that you have. So what you want to do again is focus on the quality of the carbohydrate. And what you want to do is slow down the rate at which your carbohydrate is entering your bloodstream, so that you don't get this sudden peak and then that's it. 

Sudden crash and nature has a wonderful way of doing that by actually having fiber with most carbohydrates if you eat, yeah, unrefined carbohydrates. So you want to avoid what we call refined carbohydrates. And these are the kind of carbohydrate that you'll get from white bread, white rice, white pasta, for example. 

The more fiber that is in the carbohydrates, so from whole grain varieties, that's gonna slow down the rate at which your stomach empties, and it's going to blunt that peak. Also adding. Other kinds of nutrients and foods to your meal will help. So if you add fat, if you add protein as well, that again, slows down the rate at which your stomach empties. 

So what are  

[00:45:07] Jonathan Wolf: the, because I think often people listen to this and like, Oh, I better give up all carbs. That's terrible. Could you give some more examples of like, what a. healthy carbs that are not going to cause these blood sugar spikes. And I guess it's still supporting some of the things that you were just talking about before about making sure you're eating all these plants when plants are basically carbohydrates,  

[00:45:26] Sarah Berry: aren't they? 

Yeah. I think also you can mix up your meals as well. So it's not about take, again, it's not about taking away your carbohydrates. So what you could do is if you like. I don't know, like, you know, a chicken curry, for example, you could have slightly less rice, more of the chicken, more of the healthy oils, and more of the vegetables, um, in that meal. 

Vegetables, pulses, have carbohydrates in, but because they have so much fiber in them as well, and for pulses, they also have the protein, you're slowing down, you're, you're Changing a fast carbohydrate to a slow carbohydrate, and that's what we want to do. Instead of  

[00:46:04] Tim Spector: the rice, you could have quinoa, or you could, um, have lentils, uh, which are also carbohydrates, but they have a very different, different profile. 

More fiber, you know, more protein, and so, rather than white rice. So, I think many, there's many swaps. I mean, I find, I have great with breads, but if it's basically a rye bread, I'm fine. So I think everyone needs to find out what suits them and experiment more and just not accept that the staple is the one they should always go for. 

But um, so yeah, so it's choosing different ones, adding things to it. You know, I was at cheese to most of my stuff, but it seems to do the trick as well because I love cheese, but I'm not realized not everyone will do that.  

[00:46:47] Sarah Berry: And also eating foods in their original structure. So if you take a whole apple or a whole orange versus apple juice or orange juice that has hugely different impact on your blood sugar. 

So help us on  

[00:47:00] Jonathan Wolf: saying, because I think a lot of people, you know, it. If anyone listening is a ZOE member, they'll say look, when I go and look up the score for my apple, it's really good, it says I can eat it sort of every day for almost everybody I think listening. Whereas, you know, everybody looking on their apple juice has seen that score is really bad. 

So, it's the same thing, right? It's just that apples are smashed up and turned to apple juice. How can they not have the same advice for  

[00:47:23] Sarah Berry: people to eat? So you've got two things happening. Firstly, you're changing what I would call a slow food. So a food that you can only eat at a certain pace into a fast food. 

And so if you were to have a whole apple versus a glass of apple juice, that glass of apple juice can be drunk in half a quarter of the time that you're going to eat that apple. So you've got this sudden flux of glucose coming into your bloodstream. Also, many of the juices that you buy don't have the fibre as well. 

from the food. And so again, not having the fiber means that your stomach empties really quickly. So again, you have this really fast surge of glucose going into your bloodstream. So you're going super fast on that rollercoaster. Yeah,  

[00:48:05] Tim Spector: there's virtually no fiber in most orange juice and there's more more fibre in coffee than orange juice. 

So I think all the good stuff has been taken away in that transition and all the cells have been, uh, broken up, etc. So the, exactly the structure of the food is really important. That comes back to this sort of ultra processing of foods. The more it's ground up and crunched up. It's going to have a faster effect, bigger effect on your blood sugar. 

Um, but, you know, everyone is different. When I was doing the ZOE test with my wife, you know, she could eat a croissant and have hardly any, a little flicker. Whereas mine was way over the top. It was really annoying. And so, um, there will be people out there, you know, with their partners ending up with quite different, uh, blood sugar profiles. 

Um, which, you know, if they have a glucose monitor, it's easy to spot. If you don't have one, it, you know, you have to sort of actually think about how your body's responding and, uh, as Sarah was talking about these dips, just think about what's happening two or three hours afterwards, maybe keep a log book, these kind of things to see if you can, uh, guess what your, your body's doing and then swap things around and see, you know, by changing your breakfast, can you change it? 

Yeah. That dip, which suggests you are, uh, quite sugar responsive.  

[00:49:18] Sarah Berry: And I think we can listen to our body. Our bodies are such incredible machines. And I know that Tim and I, um, about a year ago did this experiment where I made Tim have a full sugar coke, and I had a full sugar coke. I don't typically have fizzy drinks like that, although I'm, I do eat carbohydrates. 

About 30 minutes after having it, I actually felt sweaty and clammy and my heart was racing a little bit. Um, and then I had that crash as well. Now, normally I'd be too busy rushing around with my day to notice it. But at that point of time, I was just texting Tim all my metrics of my heart rate changing. 

Um, but actually you can feel. As well, what's going on?  

[00:49:57] Jonathan Wolf: And I think this is one of the amazing things, isn't it? When you you do something like ZOE and during the testing part as you're getting the data that then delivers the program You start to get this insight, right? And I know I have very bad blood sugar control That's one thing that really shocked me and so the first time that you do this and you say i've just eaten for example, like, you know, the um The breakfast i'd been eating for a decade that I thought was really healthy and you see your blood sugar go up through the roof And then come down as you say sometimes, you know, my case I was also dipping it's like wow I feel really bad an hour and a half later. 

I was just used to that. I thought that's just part of. Jonathan as a human being, I'm like, Oh, that's actually really driven by what I eat. And I guess it ties back to what you said earlier, Sarah, about how by changing your, you know, someone listening to this change in their diet could actually be feeling better in just a few months time. 

[00:50:41] Sarah Berry: Yeah. And my top tip is don't try and do everything all at once, just like we said with the ultra processed food. You don't need to go cold turkey with this. If you can make one change, which is changing your breakfast or your snacks, which actually of our energy and particularly your breakfast so that you don't set off on that rollercoaster is a really simple change that you can make by adding in fiber, by adding in protein, by adding in healthy  

[00:51:09] Jonathan Wolf: fats. 

My one tip from this is, I was drinking a lot of smoothies before this because I was, I understood that that was really healthy, right? It's got all of these fruit and vegetables and plants that I was hearing you both talk about. Um, And actually it turned out that basically I was just drinking a massive amount of sugar, spiking my, um, my, my blood and not getting the same benefits because you've sort of destroyed a lot of those fiber that you were talking about. 

So I think giving up the smoothies and just going to eating the underlying fruit, which still has just the same amount of sugar in it, completely changed what I saw happen to my blood sugar and has definitely changed the way that I, I feel. So I think that's quite an easy change because it's one of those It's, it's one of those many things that I think people are doing that they think is good for their health, and turns out not to be, which I always find like, is the most frustrating way. I was doing that because I thought it was the right thing to do. Yeah. I  

[00:52:01] Tim Spector: mean, there are some smoothies that are, can still be healthy, but the ones that are mainly fruit based, you, you'll get exactly as you described, um, but if you, you can put nuts and seeds and, uh, more, uh, vegetables than. Than, uh, sugary fruits and, and get some benefit. 

But I think it's just thinking about it in a different way. And I think that that's what we're trying to get across here is a, a new way of thinking about food that isn't just about, uh, you know, macronutrients and, um, it isn't just about calories. It's, you know, what about the quality of food? What effect is that having on your body? 

And start people thinking about it. How is it affecting me? And, uh, yeah, either they, they get the new technology or have a notebook and, and start thinking about it.  

[00:52:44] Jonathan Wolf: Brilliant. Strategy number six, nourish your gut microbiome with fermented foods. And this is definitely one for Tim, um, because we know you're really passionate about this. 

What are fermented foods? And why should anyone listening be eating any of them?  

[00:53:02] Tim Spector: Most people already eat lots of fermented foods, they just don't know they're called that. So these are foods that are essentially probiotic foods, where they have live microbes in them, and those live microbes normally live in that food and convey a health benefit to us humans. 

And the one that most people know is, say, yogurt, because you transform, you mix cow's milk with, uh, three bacteria and you produce yoghurt at a certain temperature because those bacteria multiply when that temperature drops from a high temperature down to the temperature which they love. And that, then it sets in the fridge and that's yoghurt. 

In its simplest form it only has two ingredients really, milk and microbes. And there, there are many others, so there's, uh, fermented, uh, Milk, which goes like a super yogurt called kefir, which you have usually over a dozen microbes and that process is drawn by kefir grains where you add to it rather than just three microbes and that's more powerful. 

Then you've got things like fermented tea, kombucha, which is a colony of about 30 microbes that grows like a little blob. Uh, and this, this blob of, uh, community of microbes and, and, and yeast eats tea and, and sugar and converts it into a nice drink. Then you've got kimchis, which are, uh, basically sauerkraut cabbage, which is another one, but this is the Korean version where they add, uh, chilies and garlic and celery and various other, um, and spices. 

So the four Ks is the other way to remember this. Um, Kefir, uh, kombucha, kimchi, and kraut. Let's not forget cheese, because I think everyone, uh, forgets that actually cheese is, uh, perhaps one of the original fermented foods. And they, they matter because multiple studies have shown that people who have regular fermented foods, uh, have less heart disease and, uh, less general other disease problems. 

And there's been some really detailed clinical trials now in humans showing that if you're having multiple portions of these a day, you can have a really big impact on your immune system. So what's,  

[00:55:35] Jonathan Wolf: what's going on? Just help us understand because you're talking about these fermented foods.  

[00:55:39] Sarah Berry: Look, you're giving your gut microbiome a great big party like Tim had last night for New Year's Eve, but without the hangover. 

[00:55:48] Tim Spector: Exactly. So basically you're, it's a party and you're inviting real party people, uh, to come down and, and add to the existing, uh, So party that's beginning to sort of fade a bit down in your, in your gut. Okay. So this is, you're bringing, you're busing in a whole load of new microbes to the party and they're bringing champagne with them and new gifts. 

And this is invigorating your existing set of gut microbes and they probably don't last there a long time. They don't stay there necessarily. They eventually. Pass through, but whilst they're there, they, they, they've livened that party up and they've really stimulated the immune system and that's what the biggest thing is, and dropped levels of inflammation. 

So demonstrably showing big changes in your, in your blood tests. So this is back to  

[00:56:35] Jonathan Wolf: this idea that the, the bacteria inside our gut are really important to our health, and this is a way to sort of improve what's going  

[00:56:43] Tim Spector: on with them. Yes. There's a belief that we sort of evolved the need to eat these extra microbes to enhance what was already inside our gut as a way of improving the whole health of our gut microbiome so that those microbes can really fine tune our immune system. 

Also help things like our moods to stop us getting depressed. And there's plenty of studies now showing that these probiotics can have an effect on our brains. And you just mentioned  

[00:57:15] Jonathan Wolf: probiotics, so a lot of people listening will have heard of probiotics as a sort of like a pill that you could pop. 

Would, would they be better to take the probiotic instead of this fermented food?  

[00:57:25] Tim Spector: The fermented food is basically, uh, uh, a probiotic. It's a set of microbes that live in your food rather than in a capsule in your chemist. And so they naturally live there. They can reproduce and that you know they're alive because you can smell them.

And they're in your cheese and your yogurt and those ones are going to do good for you. They're the same species that people bottle up and sell to you in a more expensive way in your chemist shop. And they probably have similar effects on the body except generally when you're having fermented foods, you're having many more of them. 

So you're getting, uh, if you have a variety of them, you're probably getting over 30 or 40 different species of these microbes, uh, every day if you mix it up. And that's what the studies are showing is that you need to have these fermented foods, uh, Little and often. So, multiple different ones in a day, um, so I like to have, uh, yogurt, I like to have kefir, I like to have, um, some kimchi, I like to have, um, some kombucha.

[00:58:31] Jonathan Wolf: I think for many people listening, the fermented food feels quite alien. It's not food that they are used to growing up with. You've mentioned quite a lot of, um, fermented foods that are, like, on, you know, kimchi. Like, who's heard of this, um, if you weren't, um, Korean? So it is a real shift, I think, for a lot of people. 

And I think what's interesting is this is also something, Tim, that I've heard you be much more keen about now than you were five years ago. So it's clearly Something I think that you're, you're getting access to sort of this, this cutting edge of science in this conversation. I think  

[00:59:01] Sarah Berry: as well, Tim, it would be nice to know some everyday products. 

So that doesn't sound kind of, uh, unusual. So what kind of cheeses could we have that we would consider more kind of everyday on the shelves in our fridge products?  

[00:59:17] Tim Spector: Well, I think virtually all the cheeses that aren't ultra processed, i. e. they don't come out of a tube or they're not in a, in a slice that lasts for five years on the shelf, uh, not pizza cheeses, but all the other regular cheeses, normal standard cheddar, for example, you get from a supermarket, uh, still is going to contain, uh, at least three, Good species of of microbe. 

You're going to increase that as you get to more artisan cheeses. But even the basic cheese, you know, the normal cream cheese you get from a supermarket has That's why it goes moldy. If it never goes moldy, that's a sign that actually there's the, uh, it does never changes its, its flavor profile or its shape. 

So, you know, a cheddar, a soft, um, the French cheese, uh, uh, you know, supermarket brie, they're all. Good. You go up to another level if you pay a bit more and you get those artisan cheeses or you get one's blue cheese because they've got extra bits of, uh, little fungi in there that, uh, increase the numbers of different microbes. 

And if you go to unpasteurized, uh, cheese, you get a few more, but I definitely don't want to give the idea you only have to eat unpasteurized raw milk cheeses, although I prefer them. Um, Pasteurized cheese are still really a good source of these, um, probiotics and as a great source of fermented  

[01:00:46] Jonathan Wolf: food. And we're definitely hitting time on this strategy. 

There is a whole podcast that we did with the father of modern fermentation and, uh, it even inspired, uh, my wife and I to try this at home. It turns out fermenting your own, like sauerkraut, is incredibly easy, um, and actually lots of fun. So, uh, I reckon, recommend. We are now on the final strategy number seven stick to an eating window So I have a window in my house But what is an eating window and do I have one of  

[01:01:19] Sarah Berry: those so when we talk about eating window? 

We talk about the period in time from when we have our first meal of the day to when we have our last meal of the day. And generally I think we're actually having an eating window that's too long. So generally I think lots of people are starting to eat very early in the morning and more importantly just keep snacking until quite late in the day. 


[01:01:39] Jonathan Wolf: this is like my breakfast at 8 in the morning and I finish my last bit of chocolate and maybe a glass of wine at 10. So that's 14 hours that I've been  

[01:01:49] Sarah Berry: eating. That's a 14 hour period. And what we now know is that if you can reduce your eating window, even if it's just by a little bit, that it can actually improve your health. 

It can improve your levels of cholesterol. It can improve your levels of blood sugar. It can improve your inflammation. And it can also, um, result in weight loss as well for some people. Now there's lots of trials that have shown that having an eating window of, let's say six hours, have some really. Quite strong favorable health effects, but we now know from our own research where we did the big if study that actually even going down to just a 12 or a 10 hour eating window. 

So that means, for example, having your breakfast at 10 in the morning and finishing your last eating events. So your dinner or your last snack at 8 in the evening that can have significant impacts on how you feel your mood, your energy, your hunger. It can also be associated with weight loss as well. And this is. 

Against the backdrop of not telling anyone how else to change their diet. So we know from clinical trials in our own work, that if we say, look, just change when you have your first or your last meal of the day, that unintentionally they reduce their energy intake from anywhere from two to three hundred calories. 

And also in addition to that, there's all of these other favourable health effects as well.  

[01:03:06] Jonathan Wolf: So what's going on? Because it sounds sort of crazy, right? Most of us are thinking food is really fuel, that's where we started. So just saying to like, only eat for 12 hours and not eat for 12 hours sounds totally irrelevant. 

[01:03:18] Tim Spector: Well, I think a way to think of it is the same way as we get sleep. Uh, all humans need sleep. We have a circadian rhythm once, you know, we all know after, you know, uh, hard partying over the, over the season, uh, we're not feeling up to it. And so it's the same for our gut microbes and our gut. If. We don't give it time to rest if we're eating late night snacks, then it's always working. 

It hasn't got time to repair itself, hasn't got time to get things back in order before the breakfast is coming down in the morning. Oh, we've got to deal with that again. Why doesn't Jonathan give us a break? You know, I mean, he keeps putting stuff down here. We're trying to keep up. Why can't he be like Tim? 

I am a  

[01:04:00] Jonathan Wolf: famous late night, uh, dark chocolate snacker. So yes.  

[01:04:03] Tim Spector: So I think we're working out that the whole body needs a circadian rhythm. It needs regularity, it needs, uh, an activity time, it needs a quiet repair time, and studies have shown that if you do rest the gut microbe biome by not putting food down there for, uh, 12 to 14 hours or 16 hours, you're going to get a much healthier, uh, set of gut microbes, the immune system is going to be better, the gut barrier.

Which we rely on to, uh, keep the bad bugs out and also really important for our immune system is much stronger in those cases. So, that's the, that's what's going on in the gut microbes and they're producing then, sort of healthier chemicals in response and they're not, there's got less inflammation. So I think the idea is rest your gut microbes just like you would, you need sleep, don't have those late night snacks, don't keep throwing things down that, that tube. 

You want to give them the, the time to recuperate so they're really ready to go in the morning and they can really help you.  

[01:05:08] Sarah Berry: And this is the same for all of the cells in our body. Every cell in our body has And that clock isn't designed to cope with being fed 24 hours a day, and I think more and more we're eating for longer periods of time, and importantly eating quite late into the evening. 

And we know that that's probably particularly bad for us, that if you eat later in the evening, you actually wake up more hungry the next day. We also know from our own research, if you eat late in the evening, it's associated with lots of unfavorable effects in our bodies, such as inflammation, such as high, uh, blood cholesterol, such as higher weight as well. 

[01:05:49] Tim Spector: Everyone's different. I think that was the other thing we did in this massive survey. Uh, I think we've got people, there's some notes on this we can look at, but the, um, Big If study showed that A third of people did this really successfully, um, so over a, over a hundred thousand people signed up. Over 34, 000 managed to do this really successfully, but there was a difference about a third of those people found it more beneficial to, um, finish eating earlier in the day, had an early breakfast, like you wake up hungry in the morning, said, I've got to get my breakfast. 

I can't do this without, and then ended up finishing. Um, eating at about six o'clock and two thirds of people, uh, went the other way and said I'd rather, uh, not eat anything before 11 o'clock in the morning and go later. So I think it's, there isn't one size fits all. It is about personalization and this is a great way people can, uh, experiment at home, uh, by themselves. 

[01:06:47] Jonathan Wolf: It's really interesting. It's one of the places where I think I've seen massive. Personalization between people where some people find this almost transformational, right? And often using it as part of trying to really improve their health along with shifts shifting food going to quite a narrow Eating window and finding that it's great and has this huge impact I'm someone who finds it awful to have this really narrow eating window But it has really changed my view because I think I was definitely brought up with this idea You must have breakfast and I see this even with our children and sometimes Justine and I are like, oh, well, you know, it's really terrible, um, if they leave without breakfast. 

But actually, I've now come to people, if they're not hungry, actually it's fine. And I am myself now more flexible, because I think we've also had some very interesting conversations about, you know, sometimes doing exercise, potentially fasted, as well as having eaten breakfast. It actually just, like, we were told a lot of things you just have to do, and it turns out that a lot of this was not  

[01:07:41] Tim Spector: based on a lot of science. 

No, all the rules are going out the window, really. I mean, I think this is, this is the, The really thing we, you know, every time we do another podcast, we sort of throw a few other, uh, those rules out the window that our parents had taught us. And, uh, yeah, it's, it's, uh, it's a, it's a fascinating time for self experimentation and, uh, as Sarah was saying, really trying to listen to your body. 

And I think this is a perfect example of how everyone's different. There isn't one, one recommendation for everyone other than, you know, try it.  

[01:08:11] Sarah Berry: Yeah, I think it just gives us another tool in our toolbox. That's how I like to think about it. It's not going to be for everyone, but I think to recognize you don't need to do extreme time restricted eating. 

Just giving your body a 12 hour rest is good enough. And we know from our own research that most people will feel better doing that and it will improve. prove your health as well. And I think it's really important that people listen to their bodies like Tim said and make it work for yourself. I know that I do like my glass of wine, my bit of chocolate late in the evening. 

So I know that actually for me, it's better to start Or have my breakfast a bit later in the day. What is important to say is for people whom it doesn't really matter when they start and stop, is the evidence does show actually finishing your last meal before 8 o'clock in the evening is probably the best way to do it. 

But again, it will differ for everyone. And just listen to what works for you.  

[01:09:03] Tim Spector: What about no wine after 9? Sarah, are you going to do that?  

[01:09:09] Sarah Berry: I don't know if I'm going to take you off on that challenge,  

[01:09:11] Jonathan Wolf: Tim. And this is how you know that they're all telling you the truth, because even on the podcast, Sarah wasn't committed to something that she wasn't sure she could follow through on. I'll  

[01:09:20] Sarah Berry: try no wine after nine, three nights a week. How about that? There you go.  

[01:09:25] Tim Spector: Can't say fairer than that.  

[01:09:27] Jonathan Wolf: Tim and Sarah, thank you so much. I think that was a brilliant sort of whistle stop tour of, The latest science in 2024, and I think we talked about, uh, seven strategies. The first is that food is more than fuel. 

So don't count calories or macronutrients. It doesn't work. Food is so much more complicated than that. Don't choose restriction. Choose abundance. Choose what you can add into your meal. Secondly, fat is not your enemy. And we talked about how actually there's these amazing things like extra virgin olive oil and nuts and avocados that you can add into your diet. 

Thirdly, eat more plants, and plants are a lot more things than maybe, uh, we had imagined, but you should be looking for 30 plants a week, you should be eating the rainbow, because there are 50, 000 chemicals out there and you want to get as many of them as you can for your gut microbes. Number four was reduce ultra processed foods. 

This is something that many people will not even realize, um, that they are eating. Look at the back of the pack if this is something that doesn't exist in your kitchen. This is probably an ultra processed food. And even a small reduction, Sarah says, can really help to improve your health. Number five, reduce your blood sugar spikes. 

This can have a big, uh, impact in the long term, actually on leading to things like diabetes, but also have a big impact on how you're feeling. There's a big variation amongst people, and so you can't really understand this without doing some sort of personalized test like ZOE, but there is very clear advice you can do. 

So, basically, you're looking for whole grain foods rather than very refined, like white rice and bread, and you're also saying that an apple is much better than an apple juice, and these things will have a big impact. Number six, nourish your gut microbiome with fermented foods. Tim is adding fermented food into his diet every single day. 

Some of them are like weird sounding things like kefir and kombucha, but actually, you know, cheese and yogurt are fermented foods that we've all been familiar with, um, and probably been eating since childhood. And then number seven, last but not least, stick to an eating window. There's this fascinating new science that suggests that, you know, you, at least for 12 hours, you should be resting your gut and that can have a real impact on your health. 

And that actually, if you're one of the people who finds it easy to further restrict it, that can have even more beneficial impact on your health and also potentially in terms of being able to manage your weight better. Spot on. Wonderful. Well, we will explore more of those topics throughout the podcast this year and many new things that are happening in science. 

So I hope that you enjoyed this. I hope that you are now recovering from New Year's Eve and the festive season. And we hope that you will choose to, uh, to join us on this podcast throughout the year. We will. Thank you. I hope you invite us back. Indeed. We hope to be invited back.  

[01:12:18] Sarah Berry: You behaved yourself, Tim. 
You're allowed back. Happy New Year, everyone.

[01:12:21] Tim Spector: Happy New

[01:12:26] Jonathan Wolf: Thank you for joining me on ZOE Science & Nutrition. I hope that you'll try Sarah and Tim's strategies to eat a healthier diet in 2024, so you can improve your health this year.

Now, if you want to go one step further and get personalized advice and support on how you can eat the best foods for you, to help you feel better now and in the years to come, then you can learn more about ZOE and get 10% off your membership. Simply go to

As always, I'm your host, Jonathan Wolfe. ZOE's Science & Nutrition is produced by Yella Hewings-Martin, Richard Willan, and Tilly Fulford. See you next time.