How to Feel Supercharged

With Dr Federica Amati

Ahead of summer, postdoctoral medical scientist and AfN accredited Nutritionist, Dr Federica Amati, talks immunity, gut-boosting foods and her thoughts on hay fever…

Edited By Victoria Smart

What does being “well” mean to you?

Having all pillars of health covered – which means physical, mental and social wellness. Covid taught us that being socially connected is a big part of wellbeing – and we can see this from loneliness research and studies conducted during this time of isolation.

What inspired you to forge a path in the world of public health?

After my undergraduate degree I became interested in how I could impact people’s health on a large scale. Medicine was an obvious choice, but it is primarily focused on one-on-one work; whereas public health is a useful skill to analyse what is going on at a population level – and then at smaller levels, in communities and groups. I soon realised that a lot of issues which lead to ill health and death were linked with poor diet, and that is where the seed for nutrition was planted.

How do you help clients from a nutritional perspective? 

I always take an individualised approach – I don’t have forms or pre-prepared materials. My aim is to understand each client’s wants and needs. One of the best tools I can give my clients is to help them to work with their bodies more and understand the principles of eating to make better food choices. This includes education about their body clocks and mealtimes, as well as the importance of sleep – as we are all more likely to make worse food choices when we are tired or inactive.

Where does the concept of “balance” come into the conversation? 

A lot of the work that I do with my clients has nothing to do with the food that they consume – instead, we talk about their relationship with food and ways to make better decisions. I often see females that have “yo-yo” dieted for years and see food as something they cannot get a handle on. So, I help reconnect with the importance of enjoying what you eat and understanding the benefits of adding more nutrients into your diet – as opposed to restricting intake – in order to satisfy cravings and reduce hunger, as well as understand emotional eating (which is a whole topic of its own!).

Does what we eat impact our skin? 

Yes – in fact, there is a lot of research to show that the gut-skin axis is a very real thing. For example, we know that foods which damage the gut barrier are more likely to cause the gut microbiome to leak into the lymph and translocate to the skin, which – in turn – causes inflammation in the skin: the underlying cause of acne. However, if you can positively impact the gut microbiome population, then you can reduce the translocation of that pro-inflammatory “gut bug” to your skin.

What ingredients do you recommend to support skin health? 

It depends on the individual – it is easier to identify certain types of inflammatory foods when looking at dietary patterns. For example, there is compelling evidence that cow’s milk and ultra-processed foods can contribute to acne. Similarly, there are some foods that can help reduce inflammation – such as colourful plants (which have a high polyphenol count) and nuts and seeds which contain beneficial fatty acids. However, typically it is more about the quality of food – for example dark chocolate is less likely to impact the skin in the same way as a standard milk chocolate which contains more sugar, fats and emulsifiers.

What are you cooking with right now? 

Seasonal vegetables – spring greens are a staple in my fridge, as are mushrooms (all year round!) and oily fish. I also love spelt pasta and absolutely adore barley as a wholegrain. When it comes to breakfast, eggs are my go-to – however I am aware of their environmental impact, so I limit my consumption per week, and often opt for live yoghurt and kefir, avocado or mushrooms on toast and sometimes overnight oats. I always aim to include some gut-loving fermented foods with every meal – like sauerkraut and kefir, both of which contain gut friendly bacteria – and include plenty of fibre through berries, nuts and seeds.

What else do we need to know about enhancing immunity? 

We know that 80% of our immune system lies in our gut – in fact, our body largely identifies activity from outside environments (for example, pathogens and proteins from food) in our gut. Therefore, if our gut is not functioning optimally, inflammatory responses can occur – all of which underpin poor health, both physical and mental.

That being said – the impact of specific foods must not be overstated. For example, I have not seen any convincing evidence to support a direct link between manuka honey and increased immunity. (However, honey is a superior sugar alternative to other sweeteners as it contains unique polyphenols – agents that support optimate gut health and reduce inflammation – maple syrup is a good vegan alternative).

How can we keep hay fever at bay? 

Hay fever is interesting – there is a strong genetic component; thus, there is not much evidence to suggest that we can make a massive difference through what we eat. There is some suggestion, however, that exposure to natural environments (mud, trees, green spaces) in childhood is protective, and consuming honey from local beekeepers could help mitigate the impact of pollen on our gut microbes (the microbes become less sensitised to the local pollen).

What are your simple tips to sleep better?

Consistency is key – so aim to eat at around the same time every day (well, within about an hour of the same time) – as this helps respect circadian rhythms.

Avoid rich foods late in the day. Of course, if you go out for dinner then enjoy! – but try not to give your body too much work to do when it’s nearing bedtime. The liver must process all of the fats, proteins and carbohydrates – which can take time and effort.

Finally, skip the high-sugar snacks and alcohol before bed. It is common for people to have “that little something”, such as a biscuit, hot chocolate, glass of wine or ice cream late in the evening – however sugary foods can cause an insulin spike as you sleep, and alcohol too could disrupt your sleep quality.

What are the three wellness products you cannot live without?

  • My Oura Ring – it helps me to track my sleep, readiness and activity as well as my cycle.
  • Indi Body Powder – a food-enhancing supplement, which I mix with water or kefir on the days that know I will be very busy.
  • Intelligent Change Facial Oil – a natural and organic nourishing serum moisturiser, which is completely EDC and plastic free, smells amazing and leaves my skin feeling and looking lovely!

Edited By Victoria Smart