Six ways to improve your gut health + Vegetable Marrakesh Casserole
You know that old saying: ‘happy life, happy wife’? If you want my personal opinion, I think it should be changed to ‘happy tummy, happy mummy’. As many of you know, the gut is the cornerstone to health and linked to many other bodily systems and parts. It can affect your hormones, immune system, your emotions and mental capacity and of course the way that you absorb and digest food. If your gut isn’t happy, there’s a fairly good chance that you won’t be happy either.
Today I’m sharing six of my favourite tips to improve your gut health, so you can get on with life!
When considering the health of your gut, consider fibre! Getting the right type of fibre into your diet will help you to create a healthy and diverse community of gut bacteria and regulate your digestion. There are two types of fibre. Insoluble fibre this is the one that doesn’t dissolve in water and helps speed up the passage of food and keep you regular, like some grains, nuts, seeds, beans, fruit and vegetables. The other type of fibre, soluble fibre, dissolves in water and helps form a gel in the body. Foods rich in soluble fibre include oatmeal, psyllium husks, berries, lentils, fruit and vegetables. Insoluble fibres are wonderful for flushing out the body but an excess of these fibres can be irritating. Soluble fibres on the other hand, are the ones you can also focus on for improved gut health.
When you eat the soluble fibres from whole plant foods, your gut bacteria ferment these fibres into short chain fatty acids which act as prebiotics to feed the good bacteria in your gut. When you eat adequate levels of soluble fibre, they pass through the stomach and small intestine and land up in the large intestine where they help grow your probiotic bacteria. This helps maintain the lining of the gut, improves digestion, increases absorption of minerals and can even increase immune system function. You can read more about probiotics and prebiotics here or learn abut it in my new book Supercharge Your Gut.
Some foods rich in soluble-fibre include sweet potatoes, carrots and root vegetables, green leafy vegetables, berries, nuts and seeds, grass fed, organic butter and ghee. Some of these delicious prebiotic and probiotic-rich foods can be found in my Marrakesh Casserole below!
Glowing skin is an inside (and outside) job
The skin is the largest and arguably, one of the most important organs in your body, it’s the barometer to measure and notice what is really going on inside. Dry skin brushing is an easy and calming technique that looks after your skin, stimulates the digestive and lymphatic systems, liver and adrenal glands, and assists these organs in decongesting. It also helps to give the body a gentle internal massage to stimulate circulation. Whenever I suggest dry skin brushing to someone when they’re suffering from gut health issues, they often look at me as if I’m crazy – how does brushing my skin make my stomach work properly? Well, by performing this technique you’ll actually be assisting the gut, by stimulating the digestive system, nutrient absorption and detoxification!
All you need to do is invest in a long-handled bath brush which contains natural bristles. Use long strokes, in a circular motion towards the heart. Before you dive straight in to brushing, ensure both your skin and your brush are dry. Begin with the soles of your feet and continue brushing upwards on both sides of your legs, then move to your back, then around to your abdomen where you can work in a clockwise direction following the direction of your colon and then head up towards your heart being careful with the chest region. Then, have a shower to remove debris and dead skin cells. Turns out you CAN brush your way to good gut health – who knew?
Keeping stress levels at bay
Coming into one of the most frantic seasons this time of year, stress can be at a high. Long-term stress lingers for weeks and can be incredibly damaging to the gut. Evidence shows that our gut bacteria respond in a damaging way to negative emotions and stress out our bodies! When you’re stressed, your body produces hormones that can contribute to the proliferation of bad bacteria in the gut, sending it off kilter and this can lead to cravings, skin disruptions, fatigue and weight gain. In order to keep our guts happy and humming, keeping stress at bay is key. Obviously, decreasing stress can look a little bit different to everybody, so find out what works best for you. A few good stress-busting techniques include calming yoga, walks, ocean swims, meditation, spending time out in the sun, good talks with friends and connecting with nature. I guess it’s time to get your ‘om’ on!
Goodbye sugar-free sweeteners
Of course, there’s more to gut health than the practices we do – it’s also important to look at what you’re feeding your gut. Unfortunately for some of you, this may mean saying sayonara to sugar-free sweeteners. Sugar-free sweets, snacks and diet soft drinks can aggravate the gut and cause bloating because of all the artificial chemicals they contain. These chemicals, that our DNA doesn’t recognise or can’t digest properly, get completely swept up in the digestive tract and end-up in the colon, which is not what you want to happen when healing the gut! Large amounts of these additives can also cause flatulence; definitely another reason to stay away. There are far better ways to blow someone away.
I know what you’re thinking, if I hear another nutritionist talk about hydration being the key to good health, I’ll roll my eyes so far backwards they won’t come back to place! But, the simple technique of staying hydrated helps flush out negative bacteria within the gut and balance out the digestive system. This helps your body undergo all the complicated biochemical mechanisms to keep your gut happy and functioning. So yes, drinking water may be simple, but it does remarkable things for your gut health. I usually stir a tablespoon of my Love Your Gut powder in the mornings into a cup of warm water. It helps to clean the debris and keep my insides happy. If you want to stay hydrated throughout the day, my Golden Gut Blend is a great way to mix it up- just add a tablespoon to warm milk of choice; it makes a gorgeous and tasty golden latte!
Eating is not a race. And yet, we all tend to scoff down our food so quickly you’d think we were going for gold at the Olympics! Our modern lack of mindful, slow eating and our forever on-the-go approach has a definite link to our gut heath issues. Gulping down food, guzzling down drinks and moving while eating inhibits your body’s ability to digest nutrients properly. Chewing more thoroughly while sitting down to a meal mindfully helps you tune into your body more and send your body into rest and digest mode. You’ll be less likely to overeat when you know you’re full! Plus, when you chew properly, your food is able to mix with saliva and increase the ease of digestibility before it reaches the stomach. This means it’s less hard work for your gut and less chance of that food-baby feeling.
Getting hungry? Enjoy this prebiotic-rich Marrakesh Casserole, from my book Eat Clean, Green and Vegetarian, slowly and mindfully. If done correctly, it'll nourish your gut, your body and your soul!
- 60 ml (2 fl oz/1/4 cup) cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, roughly chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 cm (3/4 inch) piece of ginger, minced
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 tablespoon turmeric
- 1/4 teaspoon Celtic sea salt
- 2–3 teaspoons dried harissa
- 400 g (14 oz) tin diced tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon rice malt syrup
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1/4 cup coriander (cilantro) leaves
- 1/4 cup chopped mint leaves
- 1 small pumpkin (winter squash), peeled and cut into 5 cm (2 inch) pieces
- 1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into 5 cm (2 inch) pieces
- 3 carrots, peeled and cut into 5 cm (2 inch) pieces
- 1 zucchini (courgette), cut into 5 cm (2 inch) pieces
- 400 g (14 oz) tin chickpeas
- cooked quinoa, to serve
- coriander (cilantro) sprigs, to serve
- 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest, to serve
- mint leaves, to serve
- 80 g (23/4 oz/1/2 cup) almonds, to serve
- Heat the olive oil in a flame-proof tagine pot or casserole dish over medium heat and sauté the onion for 5 minutes, or until translucent.
- Add the garlic, ginger and spices and stir well to combine.
- Add the harissa, tomatoes, rice malt syrup, lemon juice, coriander and mint, bring to the boil and then reduce the heat.
- Add the pumpkin, sweet potato, carrot and zucchini, stir well so they are all well covered in the sauce and simmer, covered, for 1 hour.
- Add the chickpeas and cook for a further 5 minutes.
- Serve on a bed of quinoa topped with the coriander, lemon zest, mint and roasted almonds.
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