Lisa and Alana Macfarlane (aka The Mac Twins), are identical twins who discovered that even with 100% identical DNA, their guts only have 40% the same microbiota. This week we spoke to the ladies to understand how we can all take better care of our own unique guts.
Could you give us an overview of The Gut Stuff and your mission?
The Gut Stuff was born in 2017 after an organic but slightly sideways entry into the world of science and nutrition. As you may know twins are a great constant for medical research and we became the “chief guinea pigs” for Prof Tim Spector and the Twin Research department at Kings College, where they discovered that despite having 100% the same DNA, our guts have only 30/40% the same microbiota.
After learning about the incredible power of the gut and microbiome and everything it affected, we made it our mission to bring everything we were learning to the masses (not just the “wellbeing aware” middle classes), and our fantastic team have since made www.thegutstuff.com: the global millennial thought leader in the space.
We knew that as people devoured the information they’d want to know which products to bring into their lives that were efficacious, delicious and affordable, so we set up an online shop. We created gut diaries, gut starter boxes, information downloads, and have lots more to come in 2020. We’ve also taken over tube stations, city centres and buildings all over the UK and Ireland to “gut” the word out.
Where’s a good place to start for someone who has never considered their digestive health?
It’s really all about ADDING things. Variety is a good place to start. Basically, you have trillions of bacteria in your gut (over a thousand different species!) and they all thrive on different foods, so variety really is key to having a happy gut. Pack in as many different plant-based foods as you can (the more colourful the better) to feed your gut bugs and get a nice diverse community in there. By doing this, you’ll also get plenty of different fibre. Aim to get at least 30 different plant-based foods in your diet a week. We like to create a list of every vegetable we can think of and cross them off. There’s a downloadable version on our site if you want a challenge.
How do you make gut health a more appealing conversation topic and break through the taboo?
You really have to be direct and stop using euphemisms, the word “tummy”, and images of perfectly manicured cupped hands over toned midriffs. We have to avoid patronising people whilst making the science relatable and for EVERYONE – it’s a tricky balance. Nutrition can be complex, and at times the products and information can be elitist. We’re trying to democratise that.
What are your top tips for nurturing a healthy gut?
Everyone’s unique so it’s about finding what’s right for you. There are loads of tips on our site to try, but we’ve listed a few below:
Often, we don’t tune into our bodies unless we’re ill (or hungover!). Tuning in can be useful for tracking poos, mood and so much more. This is NOT a stand-alone food diary for calorie counting but to monitor what you’re eating, to start understanding and listening to your body.
Experiment by taking different foods out and putting them back in and seeing what happens.
If you do have gut symptoms, you can take your ready-made diary to a nutritionist/dietician/GP. They’ll be sure to thank you for it.
We offer a useful version of these on our site that we created with fantastic professionals – it’s even got little poos to circle.
Did you know you need 30g of fibre per day? To put this into context, an apple is only 4 grams! Most of us aren’t getting nearly enough. But why is it important? Fibre is the unsung hero of the food world. Getting enough fibre can reduce the risk of developing high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes and bowel cancer.
Dietary fibre (or roughage as your relatives may have called it) is the component of plant-based foods that cannot be digested. Think of fibre as the food for your gut bugs. Your gut bugs ferment this and produce more food for the cells in your gut. Fibre also helps increase the bulk and softness of your poo, which helps keeps you regular, which we all know is super important.
There are lots of different types of fibre which can be a bit confusing, but the main thing is to make sure you are getting enough along with a variety of different types. Load up on veggies and fruits in their whole forms, include skins where edible (not kiwis – ew), along with wholegrains, nuts, seeds and legumes.
Remember, if you don’t think you are getting enough fibre, increase the amount you consume by around 5g a day for a week to limit adverse effects. Some medical conditions mean that increased fibre intake isn’t advisable.
We’ve got lots of recipes to incorporate them on the website too.
Limit ultra-processed foods
We’ve all been hearing this since we were kids, but now we have the “why” piece, and to put it simply, they can seriously impact the balance of your gut bugs, making your gut a more favourable environment for those less helpful gut bugs.
Most importantly, if our guts are unique, YOURS are too, so arm yourself with the facts and go on your own journey of exploration. If someone is trying to peddle a “magic bullet” or claims to have all the answers, run for the hills, because *spoiler* neither exist.
What food are you and your body loving at the moment?
Alana: I’m currently obsessed with sauerkraut. I’ve always liked it, but I’m putting it on EVERYTHING including salads, sandwiches and just plain old munching it straight from the jar.
Lisa: Figs, I’m not sure why. It’s so random but I’m eating them every day. I’m trying to get my fibre up; it’s so important and hardly any of us get enough.
And finally, what can we expect to see from The Gut Stuff in 2020 and beyond?
Firstly, we’ll be continuing to build out all the resources and information on our site. We've got a fantastic new team of writers and expert contributors - all of it is fascinating. We also have a product range launching soon, and we’re building out ways to bridge the gap between GPs and expensive nutritionists. Oh, and we’re also going on a massive bus tour! ;)
To learn more about The Mac Twins, visit their website here.