According to Dr Michael Mosley, creator of the 5:2 Diet, the recent outbreak of the coronavirus has shown us just how vulnerable we are to the emergence of new infectious diseases: “The spread of this novel virus is a particular problem because currently we have no reliable drugs to combat it and no vaccine,” he says, “so currently one of our best forms of defence, alongside following government advice on social distancing and hand washing, is a fully active immune system.

“Your immune system is a complex army of cells,” says Dr Mosley, “which are there to identify and destroy any potentially dangerous invaders. But to do this effectively the army needs to be in the best possible condition for combat. 

“As we get older our immune system tends to get weaker and less effective, but there are things we can all do to keep ours in good shape and ready to take on all comers. One way is to bolster your microbiome, the microbes that live in your gut. They are central to our health, our mood, better sleep, allergy prevention, and importantly at the moment, immunity. Along with the gut’s ability to help manage a healthy weight, it’s clear that for long-term health, we need to start from the inside.”

The microbiome is a community of trillions of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microbes that live mainly in the large intestine or colon. Our personal microbiome is shaped by our genetics, but it is also strongly affected by what we eat, how we exercise and how we live day-to-day.

“As we get older, having lots of ‘good’ bacteria living in our gut is increasingly important because they help us fight infection and prevent the onset of diseases like type 2 diabetes,” says Dr Mosley. “One of the best ways to improve the ‘good’ microbes that live in our guts is through eating a Mediterranean diet because the high fibre content is a great way to supercharge your microbiome. The diet is widely seen as the healthiest, most nutrient-rich on the planet, and contains lots of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, spices and olive oil, as well as some oily fish, cheese and full fat yoghurt.

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