Monday, 31 August 2015

Gut healing diet

I stumbled across a book called Gut Gastronomy in my local library, which offers a two – three week programme of meals to heal the gut. The meals are all gluten, soy and dairy free and have little refined sugar. There’s quite a bit of meat in there, offal and bone broths - a bit daunting for someone who for the last six years has been pretty much vegetarian! And the most worrying was the half-day fasts drinking only bone broth. All I will say is that I tried my best to stick to the programme but fasting is not an option for me at the moment with a slightly haywire blood sugar response and exercise fueling needs.

The first hurdle was getting past the reduced sugar intake as I’m a bit of a sugar junkie - I love fruit, chocolate and biscuit snacks. The first three days of the programme really highlighted to me how strong my snack and sugar cravings were, especially when I’m at work and mainly in the afternoon. I also cut out my regular cups of tea due to the caffeine, milk and sugar content. Thankfully I’m happy drinking herb teas so although I occasionally miss a good brew it’s not too much of a hardship.
I’ve experienced blood sugar issues in the past (which may or may not be related to the developing thyroid condition) where I’ve felt faint trying to do any form of exercise before breakfast and irritable or anxious if I miss meals. Nutritional advice had previously been to reduce my starch/grain carbohydrate intake and have nutrient dense foods at the heart of my diet (i.e. less reliance on muesli, rice and pasta to bulk up meals and more vegetables). So I was already heading in this direction, but the shock of suddenly cutting out most sugar was quite sharp. But by day five it became much easier.
The next issue was coming back to meat. My reasons for being vegetarian have mainly been for easier digestion and because I feel ‘lighter’ eating meat-free meals. However over the years I’ve eaten the odd bit of chicken or bacon here or there, and continued to eat fish. Going back to red meat, however and especially offal is another prospect altogether! But I committed to giving it my best so I cooked up some chicken livers with pancetta and apple salad and actually it was really delicious! Since then I’ve also had kidneys made into a chilli and livers cooked with onions in white wine. To make sure I’m digesting my food better, and therefore absorbing the nutrients, I’m also taking digestive enzymes with acid which seem to help me process the meat a little better.

Lamb Kofte
Coconut & almond flour pancakes

Homemade sauerkraut
The third biggest influence of this programme has been to introduce my own fermented foods. I’m half Austrian and this Germanic influence has meant I’ve always quite liked sauerkraut! However I had no idea that shop-bought sauerkraut is pretty much empty of any nutritional benefit from fermenting bacteria which act as probiotics for the gut. So to increase my levels of good bacteria I was going to have to make my own. 

So far the sauerkraut I’ve made has worked out well – one with savoy cabbage and fennel, another with beetroot, carrot and caraway seeds. I have no idea if anything good is growing in them, but there doesn’t seem to be anything bad in them so I’ll continue producing festering pots of cabbage behind the sofa, much to the bemusement of my boyfriend!
At the end of two weeks I went away to Cornwall for the weekend and had little choice than to dabble in some gluten foods or else starve at the seashore (the little canteen at the dive centre didn’t look like the kind of place to ask for a gluten-free pasty!). I thought it might be a good test to see if adding gluten back in might cause a reaction. I’ll describe my results in the next post.

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