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A New 5-Second Rule

Learn about something you’ve all heard of—the five-second rule. Only this five-second rule comes with a twist.

I’m Dr Ramy Saad, a doctor and scientist making intuitive nutrition equitable, informative and engaging*.

I don’t normally get inspiration for nutrition science-writing from London’s Imperial War Museum - but bear with me.

Somewhere nestled between the tanks stood an unassuming WW1 poster that caught my eye - not for its expertly chosen font, nor for having a bright snazzy slogan. It didn’t even have a grey-haired professor advising you to look at your poo more often.

Instead, it clearly delivered the message we need to hear in 2023:

Dr Ramy Asset

Food: Buy it with thought. Cook it with care. Use less wheat & meat.

Nutritional advice has gotten a bit complicated these days, but our bodies haven’t changed much since 1917. Yes, food intolerances and allergies have increased and sure, the soil is a tad more depleted of nutrients (like the mineral selenium, which I have worked on showing has real world implications for how we respond to infections ).

The real concern should be that the food itself has changed much more. The advent of ultra-processed foods (UPFs) has had significant consequences for our health - and we need to talk about it.

We know that UPFs wreak havoc on our gut microbiomes. We think this may contribute to malnutrition and even cancer risk . We also know they’re good bang for buck for supermarkets, designed to taste moreish and take pride of place in adstreams, held (and probably never eaten) by insert-your-favourite influencer.

So how can you spot them? There are a few rules people use, but I suggest the ‘taste and shape test’. If there are ingredients you can’t imagine the taste of on the label and the shape has corners then consider putting it back down.

We also see that bowel cancer rates in young adults are increasing (5). Scientists are still trying to understand why, though many suspect this is related to the modern decrease in fibre consumption . This starves the microbiome bugs we know can produce useful short-chain fatty acids that might be protecting the bowel lining. Worse still, increasingly consumed processed meats produce toxic byproducts (like trimethylamine also known as ‘TMA’) and getting rid of these processed meats in our food may reduce the risk of various cancers .

Looking a few decades back, we find more evidence behind this. Eating less meat and more fibre is a core part of the Blue Zone Diet — the diets found to align with the longest lived societies on the planet. What do they have in common? A lot less meat and a lot more veg.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that following advice on rationing — and being frugal and mindful with your purchases — is good for your health… So, I present:

Ramy’s 5 Second Rule.

No, not the one about dropping food on the floor.

5 seconds to hold each food item and consider: Is this what I want or need? How will I cook it? What goes well with it? What keeps the nutrients in?

Am I feeling run down; do I need something with a bit more colour and vitamins? Is my energy low; do I need some hearty fibre? Am I reaching for sugar because of stress or lack of sleep? Am I simply holding this because the packaging made me chuckle?

Just 5 seconds, and I suspect we’ll all find ourselves returning to the vegetable aisles, as we imagine something closer to what we need.

The UK has quite a heritage in two things - science and common sense. We’d do well to sprinkle more of each when making our meals.

These 100-year-old tidbits, born from a place of responsibility and scarcity, are a great start. In fact, I’d say they’re the best nutritional advice I have seen all year.

Find more evidence-based nutrition tips & recipes at ramysaad.com

More about Dr Ramy

Dr Ramy Saad is a physician and researcher, focussing on the microbiome and epigenetics.

Ramy studied medicine at UCL and is a medical doctor in Clinical Genetics, with a background in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Ramy’s scientific research has been around the impact of micronutrients, vitamins and polyphenols in inflammation and immunity and he has been published in New England Journal of Medicine and the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Ramy also holds academic and industry experience in nutrition, ingredient and supplement development and adapting medical policy.

Ramy is also the co-founder of kojikins.com , creating award-winning fermented sauces for homes and chefs.


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