Remember 6 months ago when everyone thought the apocalypse was coming and thought
the best course of action would be to stock up on toilet rolls?
Yeah. If you were one of them, how silly do you feel now? (sorry, not sorry)
The reason I'm starting this week's blog post with this is because, at the time, when myself and my partner were venturing to the shops, down to our
last 2 toilet rolls, but holding steadfast in our resolve not to be swept up in the silliness, I made a supermarket-based observation, EVERY time we did our shop.
And that was: you couldn't buy sugar, you couldn't buy toilet rolls, you couldn't buy bread or flour, you couldn't buy rice, you couldn't buy pasta, but you could, without hindrance nor restriction, buy fresh, beautiful, healthy, vitamin filled, immune boosting fruits and vegetables.
I would fill my shopping trolley with all the foods I know would keep me in tip-top health and never worry whether next time those shelves would be empty.
It actually really made me mad. Really f***ing, hopping mad!!
You see the thing is, sugary, starchy foods are the one thing that can over time, damage your gut flora resulting in a negative knock-on effect on your immune system.
As we covered in week one of this month of immune boosting tips (read that blog post here) over 70% of your immunity comes from your gut. And a compromised gut flora means lowered immunity.
A healthy gut flora is essential for metabolising what we put in our mouth, to help detoxify any toxins we accidentally ingest. If there is bacteria in your food which may be detrimental to heath, you need a strong immune system to prevent the bacteria from taking over and causing an infection. This amazing process takes place every time you eat food, drink fluids or ingest anything internally.
Probiotic bacteria (the good ones) also play a role in keeping the pH of the gut lower to prevent the metabolism of cholesterol and bile acids, which act as cancer-causing agents. So are therefore, SUPER important in preventing cancers in the GI tract.
So now you've bored me with science, what's that all about?
Basically, gut flora and the gut barrier determine gut health.
Get this - there are about 100 trillion (that's a lot!) live microorganisms that promote normal gastrointestinal (GI) function, protect you from infection and regulate metabolism and the mucosal immune system.
When you eat your daily pasta salad, wash it down with a bottle of cola, follow it up with a
bag of crisps and a chocolate bar, after you had white toast and marmalade for breakfast, and probably a glass of wine with last nights dinner, you are feeding the bad bacteria in your gut. These little baddies are always present, but are thankfully outnumbered by the good. But continued consumption of simple sugars (among other unhealthy things) lets the baddies take over and the result can be a candida overgrowth and/or a leaky gut.
Leaky gut syndrome is well known and frequently treated in nutritional therapy circles, but if you asked your doctor he's probably look at you like you're from Mars (remember the vast majority of doctors study almost nothing about nutrition).
It basically means that small gaps (and by small I mean really, really, tiny, eeny, weeny, microscopic) have opened between the cells of the gut lining. This means that small, undigested particles of food can pass through the gut wall and into the blood stream. With particles such as protein, and in particular gluten, the presence of these particles in the blood stream gets the immune system all in a flap.
(want more info on leaky gut? Download my free PDF here: https://bit.ly/LeakyDownload)
Act 1, Scene one - Karen eats a sandwich
Karen: mmm good sandwich. I'll wash it down with a cola and the rest of these Haribo
Bad Bacteria: wooo hoooo....moooooore sugar...nom nom - get lost good bacteria - we rule!
Stomach: churn churn...oh man, not enough good bacteria to help. This is going to take aaaages.
Sandwich: ouch, ouch...ow... (sandwich is in veeeeeery small bits)
Gluten: woo hoo...liberated from the slice. Oh wait, I'm still too whole, where's that enzyme. Enzyme? Enzyme? Where are you....? oh look - there's a hole in the wall. I wonder what happens if i go through theeeeeeeere. (gluten gets pulled into the strong blood stream current)
Immune system: What's that? Dunno - looks a bit like Gary Gluten, but it can't be. He's still too whole - na, let's get him - ataaaaack...
You get the picture.
Gluten that hasn't been properly broken down can get through the gut wall, into the blood stream, is falsely identified by the immune system as an attacker and tries to get rid of it. The result is inflammation resulting in symptoms such as, headaches, brain fog, arthritis, joint pain, depression, obesity, fatigue - the list goes on.
So, there is some good news and some bad news. Which do you want first?
OK then. Well, if you already have a leaky gut and/or a candida overgrowth (that's the bad
bacteria) it's not as simple as cutting out your mid-morning twix. It can take weeks, neigh months, of eating a strict anti-candida diet to basically starve the bad bacteria and feed the good bacteria so that your gut can get back up to normal function, and the gaps close up. This takes a concerted effort on your part, and the supervision of a nutritional therapist, with regular samples being tested in a lab to check on your progress.
It's not cheap, and for the sake of your daily sugar rushes, isn't worth it!!
The good news?
If you're not that far along, there are simple adjustments you can make to encourage better gut flora, and therefore boost your immune system.
How to eat for a healthy gut?
Eating to improve your gut health basically involves laying off the sugary, starchy foods which the bad bacteria love, and introducing more foods which the good bacteria thrive on.
You'll be unsurprised to know that many of the following foods contain good bacteria themselves. So, in no particular order of importance.
Plain, sugar-free live yoghurt is a really rich source of friendly bacteria, also known as probiotics. You need to avoid the ones with added sugar and go for he full-fat versions and add your own fresh fruit to liven it up.
Kefir is basically a probiotic yoghurt drink, made by fermenting milk with kefir grains, which multiply into billions of good bacteria. If you are vegan, you can make it with plant milks too, so it doesn't have to be dairy based. Buy kefir grains online and easily make your own.
Miso is made from fermented soya beans, plus barley or rice, and contains a range of good stuff, including good bacteria and enzymes. Add it to hot water to make a broth, or just a spoonful to soups to deepen the flavour, or just add it to anything you're cooking to give it an extra boost.
This staple of Germany is just finely chopped cabbage that has been fermented.
It's a great source of probiotics, fibre and vitamins.
If at all possible, try to get unpasteurised (usually available in health food shops) and ones that have not been pickled in vinegar, as that will have reduced the good bacteria.
This increasingly popular Korean speciality is basically just fermented vegetables. With the added benefits of vitamins and fibre too. Use it as a side dish, a bit like coleslaw. It's readily available in most supermarkets these days, but is also easy to make at home with a fermenting kit.
This ancient way of making bread has gained a fashionable following in recent years, but for good reason. Rather than using packet yeasts, sourdough is made by fermenting the dough using naturally occurring yeasts in the air. That means it's more easily digestible and its energy is released more slowly. (sneaks off to the kitchen for some sourdough toast)
Believe it or not, these little, almond-shaped (uh huh) nuts of yumminess, have good probiotic properties, which means they are a treat for your gut bacteria – high in fibre, and full of fatty acids and polyphenols. A handful of almonds makes an excellent snack when you’re feeling peckish and tops up your Vitamin E needs, which is also needed for immune health (see last week's blog post).
Gut bacteria and microbes like a diet of fatty acids and polyphenols. And you can find these
in good old olive oil. So just drizzle a little over your salads or use on sourdough in place of butter and feed those good bacteria.
You know water is also essential for gut health, but that can get a bit boring, right? So what else can you drink? Heard of kombucha? Kombucha is a fermented tea drink thought to have originated in Manchuria that is full of probiotic good bacteria. It has a sharp, vinegary taste and can be used as a refreshing drink on its own or mixed with fruit and spices. I especially like it made with ginger, which is a little bit like ginger beer.
Gut bacteria need fibre to thrive, so the more fruit and vegetables you consume the better. Peas are full of soluble and insoluble fibre to help keep your system in balance. Add peas to stir-fries, soups or salads. TIP: no time to make lunch? Just have a bowl of peas with a dollop of hummus and you've got yourself a quick, healthy lunch.
My childhood is traumatised by memories of being forced to try the tiniest morsel of a Brussel sprout. In my adult years, I have attempted to like them, but can firmly say that they are on my no-go list. However, they contain the kinds of fibre that good bacteria like and sulphur compounds which help combat unhealthy bacteria such as H pylori. Apparently if you stir-fry or roast them, they are delicious. Feel free to report your findings.
Another one on my personal no-go list is bananas. I'm a bit disappointed by myself with this one, because they'd be very handy to eat on the go, but alas I just don't like 'em. However, they are one of nature’s handiest and healthiest snacks; full of the kind of fibre that good bacteria enjoy. They also contain healthy minerals.
Back again with the garlic! We looked at it last week in the 13 best immune boosting foods and this amazing little guy is packed with antibacterial and anti-fungal properties, and can help keep bad gut bacteria under control, and helps balance yeast in the gut.
And last but not least, good old ginger again. Also mentioned in last week's post: 13 best immune boosting foods. Fresh ginger can help in the production of stomach acid and it stimulates the digestive system to keep food moving through the gut.
Gut health an be as complicated or as simple as you want to make it. If you're hell-bent on a dodgy diet, then prepare for the consequences, which involve time and dedication to put right.
Give your body the thanks it deserves with a healthy diet, and your immune system, well, ALL body systems, including your mental health, will thank you for it.
As well as being a homeopath and nutritional therapist, I am also a positive and understanding Well-being Therapist who empowers those affected by suicide in a lighthearted - but extremely effective way, so they are able to pivot into more joyful lives without shame, blame or guilt.