Restore trust in gut feeling
● ‘The Mandala Kitchen’ promotes digestive health, writes Louise Liebenberg
Gut health may not be something we think about much, but experts have realised it can have a profound effect on our general health and that is why it is increasingly in the spotlight.
Nutritional therapist Marlien Wright, author of newly published The Mandala Kitchen – 100 Recipes to Heal and Restore Your Gut, believes a healthier gut will strengthen the immune system, improve mood and assist in weight loss.
In The Mandala Kitchen the Cape Town mom, also a yoga practitioner and food blogger, sheds light on which foods and lifestyle choices can either promote or hamper gut health.
The book also has easy, tasty, family-friendly recipes to help you on your journey towards better digestive health.
“Terminology such as the microbiome or microbiota may be unfamiliar to you, but they simply refer to the community of internal ‘bugs’ or good bacteria in your digestive system, more specifically in the large intestine,” Wright explains.
Microbes, she says, are responsible for a host of essential functions, not least converting sugars to short-chain fatty acids for energy; crowding out pathogens; digesting food; and helping the body absorb nutrients such as calcium and iron.
“In our modern society where cancer, digestive and auto-immune disease are rife, science is discovering the connection between gut health and a strong or weak immune system.
“Our microbes are in charge of the correct gene expression, which means our microbes can switch gene expression on or off, and have the ability to crowd out the bad guys, making our gut health the most essential component in an immune system that wages war against disease, not our own bodies.”
She says researchers’ findings suggest 70% of the immune system lives in the gut and that gut bacteria assist the immune system’s T cells to develop – teaching them the difference between a foreign substance and the body’s own tissues.
“This is an extremely important process that determines what your immune system responds to and how.
“When there’s a mistake in the process, for instance if there is an overgrowth of one specific type of bacteria, it can lead your body’s immune system to begin waging war on your own cells, the hallmark of auto-immune disorders.”
Research also suggests microbes regulate which particles pass through the intestinal lining into the rest of the body. Healthy digestive tracts are de- signed with small gates that allow digested foods to pass while keeping out larger food and other foreign particles that cause immune reactions.
However, in a so-called “leaky gut”, the gates in the intestinal lining gets damaged by a western diet rich in refined and gluten-rich foods. These perforations then allow large food particles and unwanted substances to enter the rest of the body.
“Once inside, they are rightly treated as foreign invaders and cause immune reactions that trigger inflammation, which in turn triggers disease,” Wright says.
Messages from the gut to the brain don’t simply say “feed me”; they also tell our brain which foods to choose.
“In other words, by restoring your gut health, your cravings can be controlled and changed from unhealthy to healthy foods, promote feelings of satiety and extract fewer calories from food.”
Interestingly, ongoing studies also suggest a link between intestinal dysfunction, depression, anxiety and sleep disorders. It turns out about 90% of serotonin – the neurotransmitter responsible for regulating mood, appetite and sleep – is located in the gut.
The following signs and symptoms could indicate an unhealthy gut, Wright says:
● low energy;
● abdominal pain;
● constipation or diarrhoea;
● brain fog and low mood;
● auto-immune disorder;
● frequent infections;
● food intolerance and skin disorders;
● joint pain; and
She advocates a three-step process of “remove, replace and restore” to get back on track.
“Remove” means cutting out harmful foods, medications and lifestyle practices that are damaging your microbiome. Think refined flours, gluten and sugar; antibiotics and growth hormones; and even some dairy, unless cultured.
Genetically modified organisms, unfermented soya products, artificial sweeteners and chlorine also sabotage gut health.
Next you need to start populating your gut with good bacteria. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, kimchi and yoghurt are rich in probiotics, and Wright includes several recipes to help you give culturing at home a crack.
The final step is restoring your microbiome with foods that will enable gut health to flourish – and fruit and vegetables top the list here.
“Our main objective should be to eat healthily 90% of the time, and allow ourselves some naughty treats occasionally.”
● The Mandala Kitchen – 100 Recipes to Heal and Restore Your Gut is published by Jacana and retails for R330. Wright’s first book, The Yoga Kitchen: 100 Easy Superfood Recipes, also retails for R330.
GUTSY ADVICE: Nutritional therapist Marlien Wright, author of the newly published ‘The Mandala Kitchen – 100 Recipes to Heal and Restore Your Gut’