My health now is pretty good, but five years ago, at 53, I was 8kg heavier and did very little exercise. It was only when I suffered a scare, while ski touring in the Alps, that I had my health wake-up call, 3,000 metres up a mountain. I had a mini stroke in my eye and suffered double vision for two or three months. It was debilitating and I couldn’t work. Experts couldn’t agree if it was bad luck or the altitude and I still don’t know.
At 5ft 10½in and 13st 1lb (83kg), I wasn’t obese but I was above average weight. I wanted to improve my diet, so I started researching different diets and this was the impetus for writing my book, The Diet Myth. I was also trying to get off my blood pressure tablets and live longer than my father, who died at 57 of a heart problem.
I gave up meat for four years and was vegan for six weeks, but couldn’t live without dairy, especially cheese. I felt it would seem like a very long life! The biggest thing was learning about being a vegetarian. In the end I became a pescetarian, with the occasional bit of meat.
I’d been eating too many carbs (mainly pasta and rice) and not much variety in my fruit and veg. I cut down on sugar and found replacing carbs with good fats was a better way forward. My diet is now mainly plant and dairy based and full of diversity. I have some meat once a fortnight, because after three years of no meat I got vitamin B12 deficiency, and an occasional bit of meat solves that problem.
I’m a big believer that diet affects your gut microbes, and a healthy gut can have a positive effect on your health. When I had chronic sinusitis, I would take antibiotics six times a year, but since looking after my gut health I’m much less prone to it. I don’t take antibiotics and I’ve only had a couple of colds in the past five years.
I eat to improve my gut health. For breakfast, I’ve switched from granola to kefir [a fermented yogurt-type milk drink you can buy in supermarkets]. Having kefir at least twice a week will give you the best benefits. Kefir and kombucha [a fermented tea] provide a great variety of microbes. Some probiotic products work for some people. My mum had bowel problems and a product like Yakult sorted her out.
Since losing weight I’m more energetic. It’s easier to cycle – when you’re lighter you can go further. I was aware I was building up internal visceral fat – and since losing weight and eating more probiotic foods I’ve reduced it by a third. When you overeat, this is where fat gets stored and it’s a big risk factor for disease.I’ve also been able to reduce my blood pressure medication to one tablet (and take a low dose).
I cook more veggie food. The recipe delivery box Hello Fresh! introduced me to new ways of cooking vegetables. And I like cooking from a book called Happy Salads by the chefs at Leon. I also get an organic food delivery, which forces me to cook with unusual vegetables. The key to good gut health is to explore different foods all the time. It’s clear that the more diverse your diet, the more diverse your microbes and the better your health at any age.
I enjoy eating out and like the new trend of having vegetables in an exciting way, with meat as a smaller accompaniment. I like the mezze style dining you get in Turkish and Lebanese restaurants.
I fast occasionally as it’s good for your microbes. When you do this, a new team of bacteria comes out and cleans up your gut. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all diet, and there’s no need to follow one book – work out general principles for yourself, but cut back on meat and eat a diversity of plant-based foods.
Three things I love:
A SKI RUN through the trees with perfect powder snow.
A LONG CYCLE RIDE with friends in the Costa Brava in Spain, followed by a leisurely three-course lunch around 3–4pm, knowing you’ve earned it.
A GLASS OF PRIORAT – a Spanish red wine I discovered when I was writing my book in Barcelona –with some English unpasteurised cheese.
Related article: How I stay healthy: Greg Whyte