Research has proven that having a healthy gut microbiome is critical to your overall health. Gut health doesn’t just keep weight and digestive symptoms down, mood and energy up; it is also linked to healthy skin and an improved immune system. Cookery School spoke to Jeannette Hyde, Nutritional Therapist and author of The Gut Makeover and The Gut Makeover Recipe Book, about how to eat for optimal gut – and mental – health. Jeannette will be working alongside us, advising on what foods are good for your gut, while we whip up a delicious feast with the help of attendees in our Eating Deliciously for a Healthy Gut class.
CS: We all know the saying “you are what you eat”, but do you believe what we eat can impact our minds and mental health?
JH: I think it’s a funny saying, “you are what you eat”. We are what we digest. When we don’t digest food properly, it goes through us and down the loo. It is what you digest that has the greatest impact on our health. Good digestion allows us to absorb nutrients properly.
When we eat, we aren’t just feeding ourselves, but also feeding the microbiome and gut bacteria so they can thrive. When they thrive, it can boost our mental health, skin health, and control our weight.
CS: So if we are feeling a bit unfocused or anxious, what should we avoid and ingest instead?
JH: Caffeine and alcohol are triggers and should be avoided, but not necessarily entirely. Everyone has an equilibrium, but many of us overdo it. And it can be very varied between individuals – for some, one cup of coffee can be a trigger for hyping up your sympathetic nervous system, a lot which means your body’s energy turns away from the job of digesting food well; whereas others can drink 4-5 cups and digestion can be ok.
Sleep is also important to both our mental and physical health, and alcohol impacts deep restorative sleep. So if you’re not sleeping due to anxiety or other issues, it’s best not to drink alcohol in the evenings. Sugar is another food that makes a lot of people feel quite wired, but the amount is very varied from person to person. You need to listen to your body’s reaction to foods and take note if you can.
If you’re feeling unbalanced, feed your microbiome what it loves most – plants. Get as much colour, fibre and texture as you can in your diet. Colour has polyphenols and gut bacteria love it. And remember frozen veg and fruits can help get you through the winter.
CS: So if our body is actually craving more plants, why do we reach for typically starchy/carb-related foods to comfort ourselves?
JH: We eat for so many different reasons, but when we eat high-sugar carbs, we often crave more sugar. Sometimes stress will make us want more salt. And when we’re stressed and don’t sleep well, our hunger hormones – leptin and ghrelin – get out of balance and cause cravings or increased appetites.
When feeling stressed and anxious, be sure to include a portion of protein with each meal – you’ll have fewer cravings and a sense of fullness. Even if you want porridge – add nuts for the protein and good fats in them to make you feel fuller and provide nutrients for your brain and blueberries for the plant chemicals in their rich dark colour to feed good bacteria in the gut, which sends signals to your brain to work well via the vagus nerve.
CS: What is your go-to comfort food dish?
JH: A really nice roast chicken. In The Gut Makeover Recipe Book I include my recipe – it’s simply to season a chicken with salt, rosemary, lemon, and olive oil; put in the oven on low and roast it slowly. It’s crispy outside and falling off the bone inside. And all the juices in the pan? I could literally drink a cup of the juice from the roast chicken!
CS: Sounds truly comforting and delicious! Thank you so much for your time.
If you want to know more about eating deliciously for a healthy gut, join Jeannette at Cookery School where you’ll learn to cook nutrient dense meals using seasonal and local ingredients, before sitting down to enjoy the food and a glass of wine together.