I'll be speaking at the Mind Body Spirit festival at the NEC on November 3rd about the gut-brain connection and looking in more depth at the systems and processes at work deep in our bellies and at how we can positively influence our moods, impulses and immunity by improving our microbial health. For more information, follow this link
We all know that our emotions can affect our gut, from nervous butterflies in the tummy to total loss of appetite or ravenous cravings when you’re upset about something. Much less is known about the effect of poor gut health on our emotional wellbeing, but studies now show that resident microbes in our guts, levels of systemic inflammation and what we eat, can have a profound effect on our moods, hormone levels, our appetites and weight. Even if you don’t have any gut symptoms, if you suffer with sleep issues, hormonal balance, weight control, depression, impulse control, skin conditions, allergies, autoimmune issues or repeat infections then chances are your gut microbiome is out of whack and could do with a little care to get it back on track. We are all individuals, so rather than popping a pill to fix your gut, you need to think more holistically and look at yourself as an entire ecosystem that needs support from all angles. As well as including more fermented food in your diet to top up your microbes, try these five simple ways to set your microbiome in the right direction and you should soon be enjoying the benefits.
Eat the food your microbes love to eat! This is called prebiotic food and you’ll find it mostly in the plant kingdom, in foods that contain soluble fibre. Try to include more of the following foods to keep your microbes happy and well fed: apples, beetroot, onions, leeks, garlic, broccoli, cabbage, kale, artichokes (both kinds), asparagus, plums, pulses, celeriac, radishes and linseed. If you find that prebiotic food makes you a little windy, start with small amounts and increase as your microbes adjust to your new diet.
An imbalance of gut microbes can lead to inflammation caused by pro-inflammatory microbes. Systemic inflammation can also be caused by stress, alcohol and medications and can make the lining of the gut irritable and over reactive. It’s a vicious cycle that you need to break by soothing your body from the inside, on a cellular level. Brightly coloured and darkly coloured plant foods contain pigments that are anti-inflammatory, so eat these as often as you can; berries, black rice, beetroot, sea buckthorn, acerola cherry, spirulina, dark green leaves, red peppers, buckwheat, seaweed and citrus peels have some great anti-inflammatory properties.
The protective fats found in butter, coconut, olive oil, avocado, chicken, seeds and nuts are particularly soothing for the gut, helping to reduce inflammation. Your microbes also enjoy these fats too and you’ll find that many plant nutrients are difficult or even impossible to absorb without them. So, dress your salads with cold pressed oils, butter your steamed greens, sprinkle ground linseed on your breakfast and drizzle tahini on your toast.
meat or fish stock cooked slowly for 6-24 hours is called bone broth, because of the connective tissues and minerals that are dissolved into the cooking liquid during the long, slow simmer. The result is full of easily absorbable colloidal minerals and amino acids that help repair and protect the mucosa of the gut and stimulate digestive juices. Make hot or cold soups, stews, risottos or just drink a warming mugful with a pinch of salt before bed as the magnesium in contains will make you sleepy. Vegetarians can make vegetable broths with seaweed added off the heat and include medicine foods such as slippery elm, aloe juice and psyllium husk in their diet.
Foraging and hanging with animals
You can forage for wild food even in the middle of a city and one of the benefits (apart from free food) is that you expand your microbiome by coming into contact with a greater range of microbes. The same can be said for those who have pets who go outside, or any contact with animals whether it’s petting a horse, or saying hello to dogs in the park. These little micro exposures to different microbes teach our immune system to be more tolerant and increase the chances of microbial diversity in our gut, on our skin and in our home environment. Sign up for a foraging course, buy a wild food book or just go pick some blackberries and say hello to as many animals as you can along the way.