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Gut Health 101

Gut Health 101

“All disease starts in the gut”. ~ Hippocrates.

Gut health is the cornerstone of your health and immunity. Here is some food for thought, pun intended:

  • Your gut really is your second brain, with over 95% of serotonin receptors located here. Read Think Twice: How the Gut’s “Second Brain” Influences Mood and Well-Being for some extremely interesting insights.
  • There is approximately 3kg of bacteria in the gut – that’s more bacterial cells than human cells! Did you know that we are actually 90% bacteria? Mind blowing! What you eat really counts.

Why is gut health so important?

Gut bacteria assist in food breakdown, help produce essential nutrients and allow for greater nutrient bioavailability (via pre-digestion). Without the right balance, nutrient production, absorption, digestion and assimilation is sub-optimal. This has powerful implications for health and vitality; immunity and protection from food allergies and intolerances; cognition, memory and overall brain health; natural detoxification pathways; growth in children and adolescents; exercise performance and recovery; weight loss ability; and the list goes on…

Why is my gut health not self-regulated?

There are many reason why we now realise that the world we live in, our choices and our behaviours are no longer supporting our gut health. Here’s just a few:

Poor nutrition

Prior to the recent revolution, gluten, refined sugars, refined seed oils and trans fats were everywhere. These inflammatory foods kill good gut bacteria and allow bad bacteria to thrive. Our ancestors didn’t eat anything in a box, so why should we? Not to mention that our ancestors also had to ferment (i.e. preserve) their foods as they had little other choice. With the introduction of modern practices like refrigerators, canning and preservatives, the probiotic nature of traditional foods has been destroyed.

Stress

We live in a modern world. We are stressed, busy and chronically tired. We are constantly exposed to heavy metals and environmental toxins and our gut health just sometimes can’t compete.

Modern medicine

Antiobiotics, synthetic prescriptive drugs, the oral contraceptive pill (OCP)… Did you know that your gut health is passed down from your mother at conception? If your mother was ever on the OCP, then I can guarantee that your gut health has been disrupted. The OCP acts like antibiotics and kills off the beneficial bacteria in the gut. If you are still taking the OCP yourself, please watch this.

How do I know if my gut health is sub-optimal?

Honestly, you’ll know. As Hippocrates said “all disease starts in the gut”, so to does all health. If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, or unusual cravings, poor bowel movements, or unexplained headaches, start healing your gut today. Here’s how:

Where do I start?

Before you begin supplementing to improve your gut health, please prioritise your day-to-day nutrition. Quit gluten, cut out refined sugars, remove refined seed oils and go trans fat free. Just eat real food.

Supplement:

Probiotics (vegan if a dairy free option is selected)

To get started, supplement with high-quality practitioner brand of probiotics. Choose a high strength product and one that contains the most strains of bacteria. The reason you don’t buy sub-standard probiotics is exactly the same reason why you don’t put sub-standard fuel in your car.

Fermented vegetables (dairy free and vegan)

Fermented vegetables are one of the easiest and most convenient sources of good bacteria. Fermented foods in general contain billions of beneficial microbes, which drive out pathogens and therefore protect gut integrity. In addition, the bacteria pre-digest the food for us, which means we have greater access to nutrients. There is actually 20 times more bioavailable vitamin C in sauerkraut than in fresh cabbage!

Fermented vegetables are also the most economical place to start.To make sauerkraut, finely shred one cabbage and transfer into a large bowl. Add one tablespoon of rock salt and use your hands to squeeze as much juice out of the cabbage as possible. If you’re patient, you should get enough liquid so that when transferred into an airtight container, it is completely covered. For large cabbages, you may like to split this process into two. Salt is essential to create the right environment (pH) for fermentation to take place.

From here, all you need to do it store your well-packed cabbage on the kitchen bench for 4-7 days. From there, transfer into the fridge and enjoy. You can actually use any vegetables you like (e.g carrots, beetroot, daikon, artichokes..), in any combination, and add any herbs and spices you desire. Serve 1-2 tablespoons on your eggs, in a salad, or as a side to any main meal. Check out some more great recipes here.

Bone Broth (dairy free)

Bone broth is one of nature’s true superfoods. It is packed full of calcium, magnesium and phosphorus and provides gelatin and collagen for cell integrity and healing. While everyone will benefit from adding bone broth, it is absolutely essential for those with leaky gut, celiac disease, Hashimoto’s and other autoimmune conditions.

This mineral rich drink or stock is also one of the best ways to ensure your kitchen is wastage free. Simply save your meat bones or chicken carcass and cover in water, 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and a pinch of salt, in a large pot. Bring to the boil on the stove before simmering for 24-48 hours. Allow to cool before straining and retain only the liquid yield.

Personally I freeze my broth into single serves to drink with a meal or turn into soup. You can also use ice cube trays and defrost a few at a time as required.

Tips and tricks:

  • After 24 hours of cooking time, add vegetables such as garlic, onion, carrots, celery and zucchini for flavour and variety.
  • If you really want to minimize wastage, save the top layer and use as cooking fat!
  • Buy online at Broth of Life if you’re really desperate.

Kefir (dairy free and vegan option)

Kefir is a probiotic drink made from “grains” (tibicos), which act like the starter culture in yogurt. Traditionally the grains are added to milk and fermented via the lactose, or milk sugar.

For dairy free and vegan options, both water kefir and coconut kefir can be made. For water kefir, sugar is a required addition to allow the grains to multiply and create a culture of good bacteria and yeasts. While the bacteria consume the majority of the sugar, I personally don’t use any refined sugar at all, so I’m still working on my refined sugar free version.

For coconut kefir, simply add one tablespoon of fresh grains to 1-2 cups of coconut milk in a glass jar. Cover your jar and sit on the kitchen bench for 12-24 hours, stirring halfway. You’ll know when it’s ready as it will have thickened and be slightly sour in taste. Strain to remove the grains before consuming. The grains can then be re-used for your next batch, so pop them straight back in a fresh batch of coconut milk so they stay alive.

To get started, buy your grains here and you will be provided with a full set of instructions. It’s really like a fun science experiment watching your grains come to life! For more recipes, I highly recommend Cultures for Health or Nourished Kitchen.

If you’re not quite ready to DIY, my favourite brand is Peace, Love and Vegetables. Their coconut kefir is dairy free, sugar free, delicious and available in health food stores.

Kombucha (dairy free and vegan)

Our final gut health item is kombucha. It is made from a starter culture (known as a “scoby”), sugar and tea. When double fermented, it becomes a fruity fizzy drink and a great replacement for softdrink, as hard as it may be to believe! Read this article from Wellness Mama for more information.

To make your own, obtain a scoby from someone already brewing their own kombucha tea, purchase one from a reputable source or grow one from a bottle of raw (i.e. unpasteurized) kombucha tea. Cultures for Health is one of the best online resources and you can find out more here.

Like kefir, I’m still working on how to make it sugar free. I’m also quite happy to purchase my kombucha, as there are some fantastic companies making it readily available for us.

If you’re not ready to make your own, brands such as Remedy Kombucha, Yogi Beer and Dr Chan’s will help.

What about yogurt?

If you can tolerate a grass-fed full fat yoghurt, then I believe you can include this dairy option of probiotics. It’s even better if you make your own. Personally I stick with coconut yogurt and make my own with added probiotics. It’s vegan, dairy free, sugar free and delicious. And far more economical than store bought versions. Get the recipe here: Super Easy Coconut Yogurt.

How much do I need and how do I decide where to start?

Take one high-quality probiotic in capsule form a day, just in case you don’t get any probiotic food or beverages in.

Make a batch of sauerkraut and you’ll see how easy it is. Adding 1-2 tablespoons to a main meal is easy.

Buy a roast chicken to add to your salads and preserve the carcass for bone broth, or simply ask your local butcher or farmers market for bones. They cost $2-$3 per bag!

Purchase a bottle of kefir and/or kombucha and see if you like the taste. When you’re ready to DIY, purchase your starters online or reach out to your network for spare grains or a scoby.

Start small and choose which is most convenient for you. One to two serves per day is plenty to start. If your symptoms improve, then you are on the right track. If not, gradually add a little more each week. If your symptoms worsen, use less. Trial and error is key.

Have fun with it. Focus on what you eat first and incorporate probiotic foods for optimal health, digestion and immunity.

What is your favourite gut health food or beverage? Do you already make your own?

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