Everyone has experienced some digestive distress at some point in their life, whether brief or chronic. I know, I have experienced both. Everyone vividly remembers that one time they ate something “off” and had to pay for it with hours of misery, vomiting and running to the toilet. For me, it happened to be an unwashed apple, for others I often hear sushi. However, some have become accustomed to daily gut distress, that over time they have come to consider it “normal” and cannot remember what it feels like otherwise. Do you think you have a healthy gut? Have you considered your daily symptoms as normal? And what does gut health mean to you? Well the scientific literature lacks a clear definition, as gut health incorporates many different aspects not yet quite fully understood. However, one might define gut health as a state of physical and mental well-being without the gastrointestinal complaints such as IBS, flatulence, bloating, nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, food intolerances, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, cramps, heartburn, or any other confirmed bowel diseases (1). That’s a lot, right?
Well, five major criteria have been defined by the scientific community to better understand what gut health truly means (1). If everything is working right, then one should expect the following:
Successful Digestion and Absorption of Food: This includes normal nutrition status, regular bowel movements, no abdominal pain, normal stool consistency, and rare symptoms of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation or bloating.
The Absence of a GI Illness: Examples include, IBD, celiac disease, carbohydrate intolerances, acid reflux, inflammation, colorectal or GI cancer.
Normal and Healthy Intestinal Microbiota: No symptoms of bacterial overgrowth, antibiotic associated diarrhea, or GI infections.
A Balanced Immune System: The absence of food intolerances or allergies, leaky gut, or high levels of inflammatory markers.
Feeling Happy: One’s quality of life is uninterrupted by GI distress and there is a balanced production of the feel good hormone serotonin in the GI tract to communicate with the enteric nervous system.
Luckily, diet and lifestyle can do a lot for your digestive health. And when your gut is happy and healthy, then in return you will have more energy, you will feel more satisfied, and you may even be able to prevent future disease. We live in a world that is constantly wrecking havoc on our gut, including chemicals, pollution, drugs, diet, etc, that it is time to make some simple steps towards rebuilding your delicate, yet amazingly resilient and wonderful GI TRACT.
My favorite way start to the day, is my Happy Belly Porridge, because it does just that, it keeps my gut healthy and me happy. It’s simple and it can be adjusted to be vegan. So here is what you will find within.
Soluble & Insoluble fiber: Chia seeds, flax seeds, and oats are great sources of fiber. Soluble fiber is very soothing to the GI tract easing constipation, and increasing transit time. Chia seeds, especially, contain a lot of soluble fiber, because they swell many times their size when added with water, to create a gel-like substance. Insoluble fiber on the other hand, acts as a broom, brushing off dead GI cells, almost like exfoliating your intestines. This helps eliminate cells that may become cancerous and it adds bulk to your stool, once again easing constipation. Just remember to increase your fluids as you increase your fiber to aid in bowel elimination (2).
Prebiotics & Probiotics: Insoluble fiber, found in the flaxseeds and oats, also acts as a prebiotic, or a food source for health promoting bacteria, allowing them to flourish in the colon. In combination with probiotics, such as fermented yogurt and kefir, which contain a wide variety of health promoting bacteria, the soluble and insoluble fibers transport them safely to the lower GI tract to colonize the colon (2).
Culinary Herbs: Many herbs and spices have powerful antibiotic properties, especially against harmful bacteria. With intestinal dysbiosis, or an imbalance of good versus bad gut bacteria, certain herbs have been found to be as potent or more potent than antibiotics, aiding in killing bad bacteria like E. coli and creating a optimal environment for the good ones to grow. Antibiotics on the other hand wipe out all the bad and good bacteria at once, which is not ideal. In a recent study published in the BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine Journal, peppermint and coriander seed oil were found to be more potent in exhibiting antibacterial activity against E. coli, than rifaximin an antibiotic (3). Therefore, coriander and peppermint are great culinary herbs that can be incorporated into the diet to support a friendly balanced gut environment.
Happy Belly Porridge
Makes 1 Serving
¼ cup dry rolled oats, gluten-free
1 ½ tablespoons of chia/flaxseed mixture (½ and ½)
½ teaspoon ground coriander (see cooking tip)
1 cup water
¼ cup hazelnut milk (or any other milk)
Pinch of sea salt
¼ cup plain full fat Greek yogurt
Drizzle organic pure maple syrup
¼ cup plain full fat kefir
½ cup blueberries
Place the oats, chia/flaxseed mixture, coriander, and sea salt into a small saucepan. Add water and cook over medium, stirring often. Allow the mixture to become gelatinous, as the chia seeds soak up the water. Add the hazelnut milk and cook to desired consistency. Make sure to stir, to keep the mixture from sticking to the bottom. Remove from heat when done.
Place the Greek yogurt into the center of a medium bowl and carefully pour the porridge around the yogurt. Drizzle maple syrup over top. Then pour the kefir over top until it evenly covers the porridge.
Quickly heat the blueberries in a glass bowl in the microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute. You can also heat them in a small saucepan on the stove instead. To garnish the porridge as shown in the picture, carefully pour the blackberry liquid in a circular fashion and spoon the berries into the center. Viola! You are done. Of course you can also mix everything together if you don’t care for the presentation.
Cooking Tip: If you are not getting much flavor from your ground coriander try using a motor and pestle and grind up the whole seeds fresh, that way you get more of the essential oils, which carry the flavor and the medicinal powers. If you don't like coriander, I really love cardamom as a more common spice replacement.
1. Bischoff SC. ‘Gut Health’: a new objective in medicine? BMC Medicine. 2011;9:24.
2. Gropper SS, Smith JL. Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism, Sixth Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth; 2013.
3. Thompson A, Meah D, Ahmed N, et al. Comparison of the antibacterial activity of essential oils and extracts of medicinal and culinary herbs to investigate potential new treatments for irritable bowel syndrome. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2013;13:338.