By Bec, Naturopath at Great Ocean Road Wholefoods
It seems everywhere we turn at the moment, we are hearing about the gut in all of its glory! Bone broth is the new latte and gelatin and collagen a regular feature in our green smoothies. But do we really understand WHY the gut plays such an incredibly important role in the health of the rest of our mind and body?
As a Naturopath, I learnt very early on, that the gut is integral to many facets of health including our immune system, digestive system and of course the absorption and assimilation of nutrients. In more recent times, with the help of amazing Doctors like Dr Natasha Campbell McBride, founder of the GAPS diet (whom I was lucky enough to train under earlier for my GAPS training) and to amazing organisations like the Mindd Foundation, we are now making even more integral links to our gut and our mood and behaviour. We can safely say that the health and integrity of your gut is a huge determinant in the health of your entire body.
Here are my 5 top tips for improving and maintaining your gut health.
Sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha and kim chi are all wonderful little packages of fermented goodness! Although they are the new kids on the block so to speak, they have been traditionally consumed in many European and Asian cultures for centuries. Fermented foods and beverages provide incredible amounts of beneficial bacteria for your gut. Unlike manufactured probiotics, beneficial bacteria that is produced during the wild fermenting process colonise more effectively to the gut wall, bunking down for the long haul. Whilst probiotics certainly have a place for acute recolonisation after infections and antibiotics, they don't adhere to your gut wall as well and thus, are generally more effective whilst they are being taken.
Make your own or buy from a good, reputable source and incorporate some fermented foods into your daily diet. Just a little note however, start slow, say perhaps a teaspoon of kraut and just 50ml of kombucha or kefir to start with. It's powerful stuff!
Keep an eye out for local fermenting workshops and seminars too. It will save you lots of $$!
When the gut lining is damaged, whether from triggers such as infections (parasitic, bacterial, gastro, food poisoning) poor diets high in processed foods and low in essential nutrients and fats and environmental toxins such as pesticides, chemicals and certain pharmaceuticals, oh, and genetics (!) it becomes incredibly sensitive, irritated and inflamed.
Due to damage to the micro villi that secrete enzymes to break down certain proteins like lactase responsible for breaking down lactose in dairy products, the gut become less TOLERANT to many foods. The main ones are gluten, dairy, legumes (due to their tough exterior) as well as sugar, caffeine and alcohol. Many people also have difficulty digesting other grains such as rice and corn. Because food is not digested as thoroughly as it should be, partially digested food makes its way into the blood stream through the leaky gut walls, triggering an exaggerated immune response. This can lead to heightened allergies, intolerances, asthma, eczema and auto immune responses.
The best diet to consume to support your gut is one low or void of grains (only temporarily until the gut heals), and high in fats, protein, wholefoods, nuts seeds and fresh, organic fruit and vegetables, broth and ferments.
Once a upon a time, our nannas made bone broth and rich soups made with bones and carcasses. But as we are now beginning to see, generations before us were actually on to something. Bone broth is simply a rich stock that is made using animal bones (chicken, pork, beef, fish or lamb) and simmered for 12- 24 hours over a low heat with a few vegetables and some vinegar. This process and the addition of the vinegar causes all of the gelatin, collagen, minerals and amino acids to leach from the bones, creating an incredibly nourishing, healing food. Amino acids form proteins which are the building blocks for healing and repair.
Gelatin and collagen are essentially the building blocks for repair to tissue, bone and cartilage. Perfect for mending the broken walls of the mucous membrane lining our entire digestive tract. The addition of bone broth is an integral part of initiating gut healing and the cornerstone of the GAPS diet. You can drink it on its own (colloquially coined a 'brothie'!) or use is as a base to soups, slow cooked stews and in sauces and curries. See below for my recipe.
I recommend you keep a good probiotic on hand if you are recovering from gastro, food poisoning, thrush or post antibiotics. Apple cider vinegar to help get your digestive enzymes going. A beautiful, organic herbal tea like our GUT tea to help ease the symptoms of bloating and discomfort if you encounter something your gut doesn’t cope with. Broths, collagen, gelatin, slippery elm powder and psyllium husk powder are all great pantry staples.
Whilst there is a plethora of wonderful information available for navigating your gut journey, nothing compares to the guidance and experience of the right practitioner. There is never a one size fits all approach. Find a great naturopath or nutritionist in your area and seek their advice. Also make sure any concerning or new digestive symptoms are investigated by your GP.
Digestive symptoms, allergies, auto immunity and intolerances are nothing to sneeze at and really require some expert management to find the best plan for you and your body.
I regularly incorporate stool analysis and intolerance testing into my practice. You must know what you are dealing with before you start patching the holes. Gut healing will be flawed if there is an undiagnosed parasite or major nutritional deficiency that need to first be rectified. Practitioner only supplements are also miles above the quality of most retail supplements also so please avoid self prescribing and spending your hard earned money on inferior quality supplements.
Finding recipes and appropriate sources for your dietary needs can be tricky. Here are a few ideas on how to incorporate some gut friendly recipes for the whole family.
We eat a lot of roast chicken in my house! We purchase organic or free-range chickens and simply roast them whole in the oven. I usually stuff the chicken with fresh herbs from my garden, half a lemon and some butter and rub the skin with either organic butter, ghee or olive oil and pink himalayan salt.
Once I have removed the cooked chicken, I pop the carcass and bones into a bag in the freezer, once I have 3-4, I make a big batch of broth.
Alternatively, you can buy or save beef, lamb or pork bones too. Check with your local wholefoods stores, butchers and farmers markets. They are often happy to sell bones very cheaply.
You can store it in the fridge for 5-7 days or in the freezer in jars/containers for up to 3 months. It doesn’t make it to the freezer in my house! Use it wherever you would use liquid stock. Soups, curries, slow cooked meals or on its own.
As broth has a low salt content, you will have to add stock in some for if you wish to have the salty flavour to your dish. I simply make a veggie stock concentrate once every few months and keep it in the fridge in a jar.
My 'Go to' meal for gut health, convenience and most importantly taste! This is one of those meals that pleases everyone in my house, which can be rare! My 6 and 4 year old boys love it and my husband and I would have this at least once a week in Winter.
I wish you all the best on your gut healing journey. The gut really is the bees knees!