Eating healthily can be difficult for busy lawyers, particularly those who have to wine and dine clients regularly. The Brief presents some tips that involve more than salad.

There have been many reasons to be depressed in 2023, not least the almost complete absence of summer in the UK while, at the other end of the spectrum, around much of the Mediterranean you could fry an egg on the pavement.

Adding further to the gloom has been what seems like an even great than usual volume of stories about how just about every foodstuff is going to halve our life expectancy. Particularly in the firing line are “ultra processed foods”, a category you might be forgiven for thinking meant things like Monster Munch and Haribo, but actually includes plenty of foodstuffs you might think of as borderline natural – just about any bread you buy from a shop, for example.

Eating a healthy, natural diet is particularly tricky for many professionals, who suffer from a combination of long hours and eating out regularly with clients and business contacts. The latter obviously has its compensation but, unless you’re going to order the “steamed seabass with broccoli, hold the potatoes”, every time, it can make it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Fortunately, for every story about death by E numbers, there are dozens more promoting cunning dietary tricks. Some seem more plausible than others but one relatively simple idea which seems to be taking hold can be implemented by even the busiest professionals: eat your vegetables first.

Spike the glucose

The theory, propounded by French-born biochemist Jessi Inchauspé, is that if you line your stomach with high fibre and high protein foods before eating the more carbohydrate-heavy stuff then the carbohydrates will be absorbed more slowly, and won’t cause a spike in blood glucose.

Spikes in glucose not only then lead to the kind of sugar crash many of us experience as mid-afternoon drowsiness, but also cause the body to release insulin – and, when insulin is present, the body doesn’t burn fat.

Inchauspé recommends having a savoury breakfast, with little or no carbohydrate. What is important, though, is that she doesn’t say you can’t have carbohydrates during the day – it’s the order in which you eat things that matters.

So, for example, by all means have risotto for lunch – but have a salad as a starter so the rice isn’t hitting an empty stomach.

Another thing she recommends, and apparently has actual science behind it, is consuming a tablespoon of vinegar once a day, ideally before your most carb-heavy meal. This, she says, can reduce blood sugar spikes – so a dressed salad before your main course, or maybe a couple of pickled onions before fish and chips, might be advisable.

No guts, no glory

Managing carbohydrate intake is a perennial of the nutrition sector, but another area increasingly coming under the spotlight is gut health – in particular maintaining a healthy, diverse community of “good bacteria” in your digestive tract.

Good gut health not only helps avoid or mitigate serious conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, it also helps minimise inflammation throughout the body.

The award-winning nutritionist and gut health expert, Lucy Williamson, told The Brief, “Our gut is complex, and it reacts not only to the food we eat but also to what life demands from us.

“It might be a stressful job, a breakup, a bereavement or even going on holiday with a change in diet that can adversely affect your digestion and gut. This then often begins to impact sleep and emotional health too.”

Here are Williamson’s top tips for gut health: 

  • Consider FODMAP – great gut health needs fabulous fibre from a big variety of plants. But certain types of fibre can cause gut flare ups. One way of checking which ones may be a problem for you is to follow a FODMAP diet for a few weeks. It’s important to do this with the guidance of a dietician or a registered nutritionist. This might involve, for example avoiding foods that are not easily broken down by the gut, such as some types of fruit and veg, milk and wheat products.
  • Sourdough Bread – traditional sourdough made with just whole flour, water and a little salt, is full of goodness thanks to its slow fermentation, is easily digested with almost no gluten and natural yeasts and is a truly health-giving food. Compare this to a mass-produced sliced loaf, even wholemeal, with added preservatives and industrialised yeast which can be a prime cause of gut discomfort.
  • Fermented – try to eat small amounts every day – these are living foods (natural probiotics). Their good bacteria don’t live for long which is why it’s important to include them every day.
  • Dairy – lactose, the natural sugar in dairy, may be a problem for you but certain dairy proteins can be a hidden cause of discomfort too. Not all dairy is the same – for example you may be fine with fermented dairy like yogurt, Jersey milk instead of that from the traditional black and white dairy cow, or goat’s milk instead of cow’s. Simply cutting out dairy altogether means you are missing out, not only on some valuable nutrients but also delicious foods that could actually help, like naturally probiotic dairy Kefir, so it’s worth experimenting until you find what works for you.  Many people find goat milk kefir a fabulous, healthy alternative too.
  • Avoid Processed Foods as much as possible - this is always part of the story to a happy gut so try to go homemade if you can. A good rule of thumb is to check labels – are there ingredients on the list that you don’t recognise as ones you have in your kitchen cupboard? Some of these may interfere with our gut microbiome making our gut more prone to inflammation.
  • Stress – many of us carry tension in the background all the time because our lives are busy, with many plates to spin. It’s important to recognise these tense feelings – tight shoulders, shallow breathing, an elevated heart rate, or even just a growing awareness of poor sleep for example. Build in daily calming “tools” like a 10-minute meditation or try some breathing coaching. This helps our parasympathetic nervous system to calm our gut right down. Self-care is THE most important part of managing gut issues.
  • On Holiday – Try to stick by these same rules for a happier time! And, just as at home, keep hydrated, continue to take regular exercise, enjoy alcohol in moderation or try a non-alcoholic sparkling tea like fermented Kombucha instead. It may be helpful to pack in your suitcase some foods that you know work well for you too (though check the rules on bringing foodstuffs into your destination first).
  • Sleep – our gut microbiome is happiest when it also has a period of rest with no food. The easiest way to do this is overnight – not eating between 10pm and 8am gives a ten-hour fast which is linked with a happier gut.