September 20, 2020
How well our gut is functioning has an enormous impact on how we feel throughout the day. I know that if my gut is sluggish or sensitive, then I get more fatigued, I lose my appetite, and I can feel bloated and uncomfortable.
I was born without a gallbladder, which makes caring for my gut and microbiome even more of a priority. The gallbladder is a structure that sits under the liver, where it stores bile. Eating triggers the body to release a hormone that makes the gallbladder contract and secrete bile into the small intestine, where it helps to break up fats. Not having a gallbladder means that my digestive system can’t cope with too many rich or fatty foods.
I’ve found a routine that helps me to feel on top of my gut health, incorporating much of the advice I give to patients who come to me with digestive issues. Improving gut health isn’t restricted to changes in diet – movement, mindfulness, good sleep and stress reduction all contribute, which is why I incorporate these into my daily routine and recommend a holistic approach to digestive health. Take a look at my tips on boosting your gut and experiment until you find the tweaks and adaptations that work for you, then build them into your day. You and your gut will feel much better for it…
I start my day with a cup of Irish tea made with organic skimmed milk; as I don’t have a gall bladder, it means the milk is lower in fat and isn’t such a stress on my gut. Then I’ll do 10 minutes of meditation, which helps me to feel calm and centred before I put anything in my tummy. When we’re worried or agitated, our body releases hormones that trigger our ‘fight or flight’ response; when we’re relaxed, our body goes into ‘rest and digest’ mode, which is when we are able to digest our food properly.
I love coffee and will have a cup of freshly ground coffee with organic milk with my breakfast. Coffee is renowned for helping to stimulate the gut, which is why you’ll often find yourself going to the loo after you’ve had a cup. Three mornings out of seven, I’ll have stewed fruits with Greek yoghurt and nuts for breakfast. Poached berries or stewed apples are a favourite, especially as apples contain pectin, a substance that helps to soothe the gut. Cooking the fruit makes it easier to digest, so it’s great if your gut tends to feel more sensitive in the morning. The yoghurt provides protein and healthy fats, which give a sustained energy boost. It also contains probiotics, which benefit the microbiome and boost digestion.
My poached berry & yoghurt breakfast
If I don’t have fruit, I have eggs for breakfast as I find I need protein to power me through the day. Whether they’re scrambled, boiled or poached, I’ll serve them with some kimchi or sauerkraut on the side as I love the tangy flavour and these fermented foods are brilliant for increasing the diversity of the microbiome.
I make sure to include some movement in my day – that might be a morning run, an exercise class, some ballet, or some simple stretching and mobility. Moving our body this way has been shown to improve the action of our gut and evidence also shows that people who exercise tend to have a more diverse microbiome.
Fun for me starts at lunchtime, when I’ll make a huge salad – my daughter Maya calls me ‘the salad hoover’. I’ll have three or four different vegetables, lots of fresh herbs and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil – so I get flavour and lots of gut-friendly fibre, plus heart-healthy fats. It’s really important to add protein to a salad to stabilise blood sugar and provide energy. For me, that tends to be toasted seeds and nuts, or chickpeas which I’ll roast in a tray and sprinkle with spices for a glorious flavour hit, or some prawns. A brilliant salad like this doesn’t mean a lot of work and fuss. You can prep roasted vegetables, chickpeas, nuts and seeds on a Sunday, say, then simply add fresh greens and a dressing for a speedy salad.
Throughout the day, I make sure I’m drinking plenty of water as it swells the food in the intestine, helping it to pass through the gut more easily.
Quick & easy prawn salad
When I get tired, I feel as if my gut gets tired, too – so I tend to keep it simple in the evening with a warm or chilled soup for supper, or roasted vegetables. Getting a good night’s sleep is really important to help the gut rest and the body to repair itself. I don’t drink caffeine after 2pm, switching to more digestion-soothing chamomile or fennel teas instead. A milky drink can help me nod off, so I’ll often have a cup of Vanilla Nourish Drink or I’ll warm up a Chocolate Nourish Drink to make a protein-rich, satisfying hot chocolate.