Psychobiotics and Anxiety

Given the current uncertainty, it’s natural that many of us are feeling quite anxious, but there is no denying that for some people, myself included, anxiety is a bit of an ongoing struggle. Whether it’s just low level, constant worry about things that are beyond our control or something more debilitating, it’s safe to say those with anxiety are finding the times we’re in particularly difficult.

I thought it might be a good idea to share, as a follow-on from my post on the links between gut health and mental health, a closer look at anxiety and the impact of probiotics, in particular psychobiotics in managing the symptoms.

But first, what on Earth are psychobiotics? Essentially, this term refers to probiotics (aka good gut bacteria) with mental health benefits. The gut-brain connection as per my last post is well recognised, but there is more research looking at the use of probiotics specifically for conferring neural (aka brain) effects. Research has show that the use of psychobiotics have wide reaching implications for conditions ranging from Alzheimer’s to Autism, and even anxiety.

If you know a bit about anxiety, you’ll know that general anxiety disorder is the most frequently reported common mental health problem in England (1).  Many of us feel worried, afraid or anxious at times, but for some these feelings take over and can manifest in panic attacks or distressing behaviours that feel hard to control. Whether you’re experiencing mild or more several symptoms of anxiety, it is important to think about how best to manage these symptoms in order to minimise their impact on everyday life, and it looks like starting with your diet and your gut is a pretty great place to make some adjustments.

This form of probiotics has shown to regulate neurotransmitters and hormones, as well as have an overall effect on mood. There are links between psychobiotics to improved mental and cognitive health and more specifically, for anxiety there are a few strains that have been shown to improve anxiety symptoms, in particular, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, but also others such as Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus hevelticus and Lactobacillus caesi, as well as, Biffidobacterium longum. I’m speaking Latin here (literally, but hang on it will makes more sense in a moment).

Lactobacillus rhamnosus is one of the many strains of lactobacillus found in the gut and also a popular species to include in probiotic supplements. Supplementing and already balanced and healthy diet with L. rhamnosus has been shown to lower anxiety, reduce stress-induced anxiety by altering the production neurological receptors, making them more receptive to neurotransmitters (such as GABA) in the central nervous system (2, 3, 4, 5, 7). It has also been shown to be as effective at treating obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) as common SSRi antidepressant treatments (6). It is also good at surviving acidic environments, means that it can handle transit via the intestinal tract and is able to make it itself at home in the intestinal walls. (8)

So where can you find these bacterial strains? Well, Lactobacillus rhamnosus can be found in some yogurts (check your labels), cheese ( it plays an important role in the maturing process), milk kefir, and other dairy products or it can also be taken in supplements.  If you are going down the supplement route, my advice is to always choose organic and start with a low dose build up once your gut has a handle on things.

Now that I have stopped throwing Latin at you might be wondering, what is your point. Well, the point, if you struggle with or know someone who struggles with anxiety, it might be worth taking a closer look the research and try to get more of these foods and these particular strains of psychobiotic bacteria into your diet. The End.

(1) https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/statistics-and-facts-about-mental-health/how-common-are-mental-health-problems/#.XYIhkXdFxYe

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21876150/

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25879690

(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4934620/

(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5225647/

(6) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24257436

(7) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4200314/

(8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15933002

Our Gut and Our Brain: A brief look at the research

As it is Mental Health Awareness Week, I wanted to share with you some of the research on the impact of your gut health on brain health and mental health.

There’s a growing body of absolutely fascinating research that looks at the impact that our gut has on our brain and our gut’s ability to produce some of the crucial hormones and nutrients that we need to keep our brain’s healthy and help combat low mood, anxiety and even anger.

Our gut is the biggest producer of serotonin, the mood regulating hormone, meaning if your experiencing gut problems you may also be experiencing low moods. More people are turning to looking at their gut health and adding fermented foods into their diet to help manage symptoms of depression, anxiety and for better memory and cognition. I am also one of them. My experience, like others may seem anecdotal, but there’s research to support the mental health improvements that come with focused attention on looking after your gut. 

So here’s a quick run-down of some of the recently published evidence, this is by no mean an exhaustive list, but rather provides some insight into a growing body of fascinating research that links our gut health and mental health. Believe me, there is more out there and more on its way!  

(1) Modern diet and lifestyle can compromise the gut lining, making it permeable to toxins and food, allowing them to enter the bloodstream which can initiate an inflammatory response.

  • This inflammatory response has been linked to depression (1), schizophrenia (2), autism spectrum disorder (3) and anorexia (4)

(2) A growing body of research suggests that beneficial bacteria, or probiotics have a range of positive effects on mental health ranging from helping with depression to processing of emotion.

  • Consumption of fermented beverages containing Lactobacillus caesi for 3 weeks was found to improve mood and cognition in adults with digestive complaints (5)
  • Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterum longum improved depression, anxiety and anger in adults (6)
  • One month consumption of fermented dairy products were found to influence the regions of the brain involved in the central processing of emotion (7)
  • Host of research into the reciprocal relationship between the brain and degeneration associated with disease such as Alzheimer’s and dementia and Multiple Sclerosis (8)

(3) Probiotics appear to influence mental health by sending signals through the gut-brain microbiome axis, which connects the body’s central nervous system (which houses the brain and the spinal cord) and the enteric nervous system of the gastrointestinal tract (9)

(4) These beneficial bacteria can also promote mental health by increasing the bioavailability of vitamins and minerals that regulate mood, such as B vitamins, vitamin D, magnesium, zinc and polyphenols (10).

(1) Maes, M et al (2008) The Gut-Brain Barrier in Major Depression: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18283240

(2) Wood, N C et al (2018)Abnormal Intestinal Permeability https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry/article/abnormal-intestinal-permeability/869C13A62CEA5977FDA79511221339D3

(3) de Magistris, L et al (2010) Alterations of the intestinal barrier in patients with autism spectrum disorders and in their first-degree relatives https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20683204

(4) Herpertz-Dahlmann, B et al (2017) Food matters: how the microbiome and gut–brain interaction might impact the development and course of anorexia nervosa https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5591351/

(5) Benton, D et al (2010) Impact of consuming a milk drink containing a probiotic on mood and cognition https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17151594

(6) Messaoudi, M et al (2011) Assessment of psychotropic-like properties of a probiotic formulation (Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum R0175) in rats and human subjects. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20974015

(7) Tillisch, K et al (2013) Consumption of fermented milk product with probiotic modulates brain activity https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23474283

(8) majeri, M (2019) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30781628 

(9)Mayer, E et al (2015) https://www.jci.org/articles/view/76304

(10) Filiosa, S, et al (2018) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6199944/

5 Tips for Engaging your Kids in the Kitchen

Getting your kids involved in the kitchen can encourage trying new foods as well as helping to reduce food waste, and now it is more important than ever to look at how to make use of every last morsel of food.

Looking at how much we waste and wasting less is part of this, but also honing our kitchen skills also helps to ensure we know how to be more versatile in our cooking. And for those of us with children, we have the added challenge of making food that they will eat. Times are hard, and we’re stressed and our tiny dictator’s food demands can’t always be met. So what to do? Get them involved in the kitchen!

If you think engaging your kids in the household food preparation will help you to waste less and to try more, here are a few of my top tips for engaging your kids in the kitchen, which from my experience and a food educator, cookery teacher (and a mum of 2) helps them to be more adventurous with trying different foods, more likely to eat what’s on their plate and more importantly, less likely to waste it!

  1. Grow what you can (even veg scraps)—You don’t need a garden, but if you do have one, that’s a bonus. Things like herbs can be grown indoors or outdoors. Other easy growing projects include sprouting cress or seeds indoors or re-growing veg scraps—spring onions, celery stalks and lettuce works a treat. If you do have a garden and green fingers, there are a wealth of possibilities. Even you don’t some kill proof veg are tomatoes, courgettes, lettuce and kale. Watching their food grow gives them a better understanding of how food gets to their plate.
  2. Come up with meal ideas/plans together—Depending on their age you may need to offer some suggestions, but this helps to get them involved and take ownership of what comes to the table. Enjoying this food together also helps to reinforce the notion of eating as a social activity and now just shovelling it down you can leave the table. You’ll have some good chats and make some good memories over those family meals.
  3. Teach them about food waste and the impact on the planet (and your finances)—When you think about the fact 1/3 of all food produced globally gets wasted, that is equivalent to buying 10 bags of shopping and dropping 3 bags in the bin before you even leave the shop. They will start to get it. Research also suggest that the average family of 4 wastes £50-60 of food a month, use this to entice them to waste less and think about putting that money towards a family day out or a family treat.
  4. Make cooking and trying new foods fun—If your kids prefer a challenge or experiment, make kitchen time and eating less about the food and more about the challenge/experiment. You can try using a single ingredient in lots of different ways, like seeing how many different ways you can use oats or use a rainbow food chart to tick off and/or challenge you/your kids to eat a more varied diet.
  5. Teach them how and what foods support their nutritional and performance needs—This may take a bit of swotting up on your part, but I find kids love knowing how their bodies work and what’s in their food. And if they need more convincing, tie this to their particular interest, like dance, sport, maths, etc. If you want them to consider beetroot, tell him how it supports their blood and oxygen support, which means they can run faster, jump higher and for longer. Or if they are more of the cerebral type, share with them info on the brain boosting benefits of berries or walnuts (and a shelled walnut half looks like a brain).
  6. Choose the right recipes (interest and level of difficulty)—Let’s face it, cooking with kids can be STRESSFUL. Especially when like me, you’re a bit of a perfectionist (and a touch critique) in the kitchen. But you can make things much easier by choosing the right recipes to cook with them or engaging them in with particular tasks. Choose quick or easy recipes or give them specific, age-appropriate tasks like mashing, bashing, grating, crumbing or rolling (to name a few). My kids love grating anything and can often be found snaffling whilst grating, even raw courgette which my eldest contends he hates.

And remember it’s never going to be a linear process. Children are people (very opinionated ones without much of a filter), so you’ve got to ride the waves, but definitely, getting them involved in getting the food to their plate helps to improve what and how much they eat.

Beetroot & Apple Kvass

I am sharing my recipe for one of my favourite ferments, beetroot kvass. I start my day with a shot of this and also find it also great to take just before exercise. Beetroot is great for circulation and supporting the flow of oxygen around your body and also a great source of iron and potassium (great for lowering blood pressure).

Beetroot, Apple & Ginger Kvass

Kvass is traditionally a Russian fermented beverage often made from beetroot and is touted as a general health tonic. This recipe is inspired by the Russian version, but this recipe adds additional spices and sweetness that comes with the added apple, a great source of gut-loving fibre, dates and spices. There’s no need for grains with a kvass, as the skins of the beetroot are a plentiful source of lactobacillus, so simply wash your beetroot and keep those skins on!

To make this you will need a 1.5L airtight jar. Once fermented you can drink the brine as well as eat the fruit and veg.

Yields approx 1.25L

1-1.25L mineral water

350 g beetroot, chopped (washed and skin on)

200g apple, sliced in wedges (washed and skin on)

50 g ginger, sliced (skin on)

40 g dried figs or dates, chopped

½ tsp Himalayan pink salt

6 cardamom pods

2 star anise

  1. Add the beetroot, apples, ginger and dates to the fermenting jar. Next, add the spice.
  2. Fill the jar with the remaining water, leaving a 3cm gap at the top. 
  3. Ferment at room temperature for one week, giving it a gentle shake every day. Taste and check the flavour, it should be slightly fizzy.  You may want and I would recommend to ferment it for an additional 24-36 hours for the flavours to further develop.
  4. Strain the liquid using a plastic sieve into a jug. Using a funnel, pour the liquid into a swing top drinks bottle. You can enjoy straight away or store at room temperature for another day or two three days to created additionally fizz. 
  5. If storing at room temp, make sure that you let the gases escape from the drink daily, by releasing the lid on the bottle for a few seconds.  Once you are happy with the flavour and fizziness, store in the refrigerator.

Notes: Vary the spices according to your preference.  Feel free to add more spices to taste. You can sub apples for pear or use only beetroot (550g).

Source:  Nena Foster (www.nenafosterfood.com )

Allergy advice:  none

5 Tips for Cooking Intuitively in The Times of Corona

I’ve been thinking about how I learned to cook. Yes, I trained as a chef, which helped to elevate my cooking and helped me to hone my skills. But to cook delicious food, you don’t need to be a chef, you just need a good understanding of food–the basics ingredients you need to create a dish, as well as an understand of flavour. And you need practice.

I used to think that if you could read a recipe, you could cook. No, you can follow someone else’s instructions on how to produce an perfectly adequate plate of food. But cooking is more than reading a set of instructions, following them to the letter and then being lost should you have to recreate the dish without that set of instructions. Cooking should and needs to be more intuitive.

Photo credit: Luke Albert

If cooking in the Times of Corona (I joke that this is going to be the next post-corona best selling cookbook title, maybe I’ll write it, who knows), has taught me one thing, to produce a delicious and satisfying meal, you need to know how to cook, not simply follow a recipe because chances are you won’t have or can’t get out to buy half of the ingredents in the recipe, in which case you have failed before you have even started.

So here are my 5 tips for Cooking Intuitively in the Time of Corona. These tips will help you cook more intuitively, without a recipe, boost your kitchen confidence and deliver delicious results.

1. Balance flavours. You can counter salty or acidic with a bit of sweetness–this doesn’t have to be sugar, it could be a naturally sweet veg (e.g. beetroot and balsamic vinegar). If your flavours are a bit flat and need a bit of a lift, use lemon (juice, zest or even preserved lemon), pinch of chilli or a pinch of sea salt (you’ll be surprised that a pinch of salt can work wonders for lifitng the flavour of an unsalted dish). If it’s roundedness or umami you’re after–this is when the flavour just sings, think about adding specific things like cheese, anchovies, miso, brines from ferments or another fermented foods to do the trick. If it’s too spicy, cool it down with a bit of sweet or something creamy.

2. Swot up on your food groups, particularly when it comes to pulses, legumes, grains and veg. Knowing the basic properties of your raw ingredients in terms of their flavour, consistency, cooking times, etc can really help when you need to make a substitution or are building a meal completely from scratch. For example, if you need to replace a soft leafy green in a recipe, what do you choose? Chard or kale? CHARD. The answer is chard. Or soft herbs (but no in the same quantities). Or maybe even lettuce. Yes, you can cook lettuce and it is delicious.

Labneh and ricotta dip (Photo by Luke Albert)

3. Work out how flavour works. Start with classic flavour pairings first and work out why they work before going all Heston. Take leeks and butter for example, the combination is simple, but delicious. It’s the sweetness of the butter that compliments the sharp allium flavour, which then mellows when cooked slowly until soft. The creaminess of the butter meet the creaminess of the slowly cooked leeks, and then my friends, you find yourself uncontrollably scoffing spoonfuls of leek straight from the pan. So, once you understand how and why these classic pairings work you can then start analysing how and why other flavours work together.

4. Buy as good quality ingredients as you can afford. This feels a bit like a cheat when I’m talking about cooking and flavouring, but if you buy good quality ingredients they pack more flavour, which means you have to do very little to get a delicious end result. The rule of thumb I live by when working with anything that’s beautifully fresh and often seasonal is, beautfiul and simple. Repeat, ‘beautiful and simple.’

Photo credit: Indi Petrucci

5. Use your senses. Your eyes, nose and mouth are perfect for judging what looks, smells and tastes nice, so do not be afraid to use them! Providing you manage to rustle up a meal, do not panic if you haven’t nailed it on the first tasting. Taste, adjust, taste, adjust and taste again. And make any adjustments gradually. You can always add more, but you can’t take out half a packet of chilli flakes. And again, if you’re not sure what the dish needs, refer back to #1.

And remember that bit about practice, yes it does require practice. Not every meal will be a success, but each meal you create will give you the confidence and skill to keep at it.

Tips for Cracking Covid Snacking

Sometimes, little pause and refuel is what we all need, but being at home and being closer to the cupboards can make it feel like snack time is never ending and you find yourself reaching for one carby snack after another. Here’s some insight into how to snack to, not only curb hunger, but also keep you sated until your next meal.

Oat cakes w/ nut butter and berries
Photo by: Gabriel Bertog

The crux of it all, and this may come as no surprise, snacks much like our meals need to be balanced. When we snack on sugary or starchy foods alone we make it difficult for our bodies to manage our blood sugar effectively, keeping it balanced so that we feel, well, balanced. When we eat and drink we provide our bodies with much needed glucose to keep going, and how much glucose depends on how much sugar or simple carbs (which our bodies use much like sugar) we eat.  And it will also come as no surprise that when we snack on that packet of crisps, chocolate bar or even lots of fruit, you’ll experience a brief period of satiety and a blood sugar peak, which not long after is followed by a trough. And it is in these troughs where parents hear the dreaded phrase, ‘Can I have a snack?’ and we reach for another snack, often carby and sugary to pick ourselves up.

When we eat, also need certain key nutrients to feel sated or full and these are fat, fibre and protein. Every meal and every snack should have these components. These also help with blood sugar balance. So how do we stop this cycle of highs, lows, hunger and endless snacks? Here are my top tips to help you crack your Covid snacking:

1)    Include a source of healthy fat, fibre and protein in your snacks. I often make little snack platters with cut fruit, veg, oat cakes with nut butter or toasted nuts/seeds. I also make up energy balls that contain these key nutrients and pair them with fruit. There are lots of ways to do this, and you can still include rice cakes or crisps, but make sure there are other nutrient dense options alongside. If you’re interested in learning how to make your own balanced snacks with and for your children, check out my online Kids Cookery Classes.

2)    Any parent of children will know, snacking is their absolute favourite past time. My 4 year old, if given the chance, would snack all day forgoing meals entirely. BUT eating three balanced meals a day will mean you are less likely to snack because your body has the fuel it needs to get you from one meal to the next. What does a balanced meal look like? Well, it’s 2-3 portions of fruit and veg with the addition of healthy fats, protein and source of wholegrain fibre.

3)    Take a look at why you are snacking. Is it boredom? Stress? Reward? Or is just because it is in the cupboard?  We eat for many reasons, not just because we’re hungry. Take a pause before you snack check in with yourself. This hands down works for me. With the kids, this may mean building in set snack times and sticking to those.

4)    Take a drink. This advice is here for me as well. I am also terrible at drinking water, and hunger gets mistaken for needing fluids—it’s your body’s way of trying to get fluids.  So sometimes, getting a drink instead can solve the need for a snack.

5)    Clean up that snack cupboard. Think less processed things in packets and try to get things as close to the whole food as possible. Fresh fruit and veg, homemade dips, nuts, seeds, oat cakes as well as homemade things can be prepped in advanced and just as easily accessible as opening a packet. And it can be cheaper!  

Feel free to get in touch if you’re looking for more ideas on snack ideas or book in a cookery class as we can dedicate 2 whole hours to talking and making snacks!

Stocking a Healthy Pantry

Here’s my list of Healthy Pantry Essentials

In these uncertain and slightly chaotic times, it is more important than ever to look after ourselves and those we love with health-focused food. Rather than stockpiling readymeals and packets, get in some healthy staples that will help you to ensure you can make as meals as you need and eat well to support both your physical and mental health.

 Stocking a healthy pantry can be daunting and may seem expensive, but can be done cost effectively. Buying whole or dry ingredients that might mean a bit more time in meal prep stages, but it will mean that nutritious family meals can be made more cost-effectively and efficiently from the pantry by adding 1 or 2 fresh ingredients.

So in addition to any fresh ingredients, here are some staples to add:

Oils

Olive oil

Coconut oil

Ghee

Tinned items

Tinned tomatoes

Passata

Sweet corn (in water with no added salt or sugar)

Coconut milk (full-fat)

Sardines

Tuna

Grains

Brown rice

White rice

Quinoa

Polenta

Barley

Oats (GF)

Buckwheat groats (GF)

Flour

Chickpea (Gram) flour

White/wholemeal spelt

Wholemeal flour

Teff flour (GF)

Brown rice (GF)

Buckwheat (GF)

Pulses & legumes (dried or tins)

Puy lentils

Green lentils

Red lentils

Split peas

Moong dhal

Chickpeas

White beans

Haricot beans

Kidney beans

Black beans

Black eyed beans

Nuts & Seeds

Almonds

Cashews

Peanuts

Chia

Hazelnuts

Sunflower Seeds

Pumpkin seeds

Sesame Seeds

Flaxseeds

Sweetners

Maple syrup

Honey

Coconut sugar

Molasses

Dried fruit

Apricots

Raisins

Prunes

Figs

Dates

Coconut flakes/desiccated coconut

Freezer

Peas

Spinach

Broad beans

Edamame

Berries

Other

Eggs

Onions

Garlic

Tahini

Baking Powder/baking soda

Milks (e.g oat, brown rice, almond, dairy, etc)

Fermented foods

Spices & Flavourings

Sea salt

Cumin seeds

Coriander seeds

Mustard seeds

Paprika

Turmeric

Smoked paprika

Curry leaves (dried)

Fennel seeds

Fenugreek

Chilli powder

Cinnamon

Cardamom

Dijon Mustard

Whole grain mustard

Veg stock powder ( Marigold is a personal favourite)

Dark/Raw cocoa powder

Vinegars

Balsamic

Red wine

Apple Cider (raw, preferably)

Notes on buying:

  • Ensure that when choosing tinned goods organic is ideal, but if not, the best quality you can find
  • It is more cost effective to buy in bulk and batch cook pulses
  • It is more cost-effective and nutritious to make your own plant-based milks, nut and seed butters
  • Buy your spices whole (and in bulk) grind as needed

Family Focused gut-health

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5 tips to eating your way to a healthier, happier healthier gut

Looking after your own gut health can be daunting, but can be all the more difficult when you have to factor in the rest of the family. Here are 5 tips from me on eating your way to a happier, healthier gut.


1. Eat more veg, and don’t peel them! You have probably heard this before, most likely from your own parents. But yes, eating more veg provides not only a range of nutrients that you can’t get anywhere else, but veg are also a great source of fibre. Gut bacteria love and need fibre to carry on doing their job, so a diet rich in veg is key to a happy, healthy gut. Many veg, like carrots, beetroot and potatoes don’t need to be peeled before you eat or cook them–all they need is a good wash, particularly if they are organic. That goes for fruit apples and pears too. So, upping your veg intake and eating them with the skins saves time and feeds your gut bacteria!

2. Take out refined sugar and cut down on the starchy carbs–A lot of foods now are geared towards convenience, and convenience is often crucial to busy family life; however, many of these convenience foods are processed, laden with sugar, sodium, preservatives and are distinctively beige. Many of these beige foods are targeted at children and have become staples in many households, particularly when time is tight. But many parents will attest, a child fuelled on sugars and starchy stuff can be moody, lacking in concentration largely due to blood sugar imbalance. These foods can also damage the gut lining, which impacts your gut’s ability to house and grow beneficial bacteria. Taking out refined sugars and carbs can be a challenge, particularly when you’re short on time and when there is seemingly no end to the children’s parties (aka Sugarfests). So, start at home by swapping out refined sugars for natural ones, and ones that contain, you guessed it–fibre. Think of replacing sugar with fruit, honey or maple syrup, raw cane sugar or coconut sugar, and of course using these in moderation. Also read your food labels and try to buy and eat more natural, preservative-free foods. And last, which leads on to my next tip, swap your simple carbs for complex carbs, like wholegrains. A healthy gut lining makes a happy home for our probiotic pals.

3. Eat more wholegrains– Several nutritional studies suggest that swapping refined grains for wholegrains has an impact on the variety and function of gut microbes. Wholegrains appear to help keep balance between inflammatory and non-inflammatory bacteria, they also help the bacteria to produce short-chain fatty acids, which are an important food source for the bacteria in your colon and also contribute to your immune and metabolic health. But what does that all mean? It largely comes back to fibre. Wholegrains are full of fibre (soluble and insoluble) and your gut microbes use and ferment fibre to replicate, and this process creates a host of beneficial nutrients. Making the wholegrain swap doesn’t have to be expensive or labour-intensive. Start by making changes to your pasta, breads and cereals. Pasta is a staple in many households, it is easy, delicious and a sure win with most children. Try swapping your usual white pasta for a wholegrain variety like wholewheat, spelt, buckwheat or brown rice. Opt for wholegrain bread containing grains like rye, spelt, wheat and/or other pseudo-grains like buckwheat, teff and quinoa– and make sure your bread doesn’t contain lots of sugar and preservatives, which can particularly be an issue with store-bought gluten-free bread. As for cereals, oats, buckwheat groats and puffed cereals like brown rice, quinoa and spelt make gut-friendlier options. With cereals again, the challenge is avoiding additives and sugars. A fun way to ensure a more balanced breakfast cereal is to make your own. My kids enjoy making their own breakfast blends using whole grains with nuts, seeds, coconut chips, dried fruit, cacao nibs and spices– whatever takes their fancy, toasted with a bit of coconut oil.

4. Eat a varied diet– In my kid’s cookery classes we talk about eating a rainbow. And this is just a simpler way of saying it is important to eat a variety of different and different colour foods. Variety is key to supporting diverse gut flora. There are trillions of bacteria of different varieties living in your gut. These different types of bacteria flourish when they have a range of different food sources. Think of your gut like your garden, the flower, bushes, insects, trees and birds require some of the same things, but also different things to grow. So, keep your and your family’s ‘gut garden’ growing and flourishing by eating a varied diet of fruit, veg, pulses, legumes, nuts & seeds, healthy fats and complex carbs. Translating that to family meal-times can require a bit of inventiveness, but doesn’t have to be difficult. Some of our favourite ‘rainbow’ meals include make your own tacos to my ‘chuck it all in’ lentil bolognaise or sushi. And getting the kids to count up and keep track of the different colours they’ve eaten can spur them on to embracing a more varied diet.

5. Add fermented foods into your daily diet–Adding fermented foods to your diet is a guaranteed way to ensure you are getting a good dose of probiotics, aka good bacteria. But let’s be honest you won’t convince many kids to munch on sauerkraut, especially if they’ve never eaten it before. But they are several fermented foods that you can incorporate regularly to improve gut health that the whole family can enjoy. I get asked often ‘what probiotic foods can I give to my children?’ My answer is all of them, but the key is to start with small amounts and start with flavours that their palate will recognise. Things like live natural yogurt, milk kefir (coconut if you don’t have dairy), probiotic lemonade, water kefir fermented jams or compotes and even salsa work well. These can be enjoyed on their own or mixed into milkshakes, smoothies or work as toppings for soaked oats, porridge or even on toast. Serve up the salsa as a side or mixed in with mashed avocado. The ‘fizzy’ drinks feel like a treat without the sugar and nasties. Not to mention they make great cocktail mixers for us adults. And get the kids involved in making them. The process is fascinating and quite science-y, which many kids will enjoy. So getting everyone to enjoy fermented foods means starting small, having them often and starting with things that won’t completely shock their taste buds. Eventually you can build up to things like sauerkraut and try putting it into salad or sandwiches to make the taste less obvious if you’re worried about the taste putting them off. But once the taste is recognisable feel free to try anything!

Quick, Easy Xmas Spiced Orange Choc Truffles

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I have made a lot of truffles this festive period, more than I have ever made or eaten in my life. We’re talking several hundred! Spirulina, beetroot, orange, regular choc, vegan, fermented… you get the gist. I have made these for clients, given these as gifts and taught 9 children how to make them (that was MESSY)! How ever you like them, here is a quick recipe that can easily be whipped up and gifted or snaffled on your own, but ’tis the season for sharing, so I’d recommend sharing one or two. The recipe below is for the vegan, spiced orange version pictured above. If you’d like to make a fermented version, replace the coconut cream with milk kefir (cow, coconut or goat) and add a few tsp of maple syrup to balance the flavours.

Makes 40-50 truffles

300g good quality dark chocolate (85% or higher)

2tbsp raw cacao/cocoa powder, plus more for rolling

1tsp ground cinnamon

1/4tsp mixed spice

1/8tsp cayenne pepper

165ml coconut cream

1tbsp orange blossom nectar

1tsp maple syrup (optional)

1. In a bain marie, melt the chocolate, stirring to prevent burning.

2. When the chocolate has melted, whisk in the cacao and and spices. Followed by the wet ingredients and whisk until well combined.

3. Pour the truffle mixture into a container and place it in the fridge to cool for at least 2 hours. The mixture should be fairly solid.

4. When the mixture is cooled remove it from the fridge and let it sit for a few minutes before using a melon baller or 1tsp metal measuring spoon to scoop out the mixture.

5. Roll the mixture into a ball and roll into cacao/cocoa powder. Carry on until all the mixture is used.

6. Enjoy these straightaway or keep in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Allergy info: none

 

 

 

 

 

 

As part of my prep for my fermented drinks workshops, I brew bigger batches of milk kefir. To make sure nothing goes to waste, I like to cook with it. It adds a lovely tang which works well with sweet as well as savoury dishes, just like buttermilk. Of course, heating it kills off the beneficial gut bacteria, but there are still other nutritional benefits. Kefir is high in calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, tryptophan, folic acid, biotin, Vitamins A, B2, B12, D and K. So still pretty great, right? If you are after the little gut helpers, cooked kefir isn’t your best option, but does help to showcase the different ways kefir, can be used to add flavour as well as nutrients to your cooking.

Here is a quick recipe for little cakes, a breakfast, snack or anytime go-to treat. I used plums as they needed using up, but you can add any fruit, whatever is in season!

plum kefir cakes

 

Mini Plum Kefir Cakes

110 g wholegrain spelt flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
Pinch sea salt
1 tbsp milled flax seeds
1 egg
83 g coconut oil or 110g butter, melted
3 tbsp goat milk kefir
3 ripe plums, 2 chopped and 1 cut into slices for garnishing
Maple syrup to taste

Makes 8-10 cakes (depending on the size of the tins)

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Line a muffin tin with paper cases.
2. Mix together the dry ingredients until well combined.
3. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and add the coconut oil, kefir and egg. Stir well to combine.
4. Stir through the chopped plums and add the maple syrup to taste (I tend to add less sweetener when using sweet fruit). The mixture should be a ‘dropping’ consistency.
5. Fill the cases and pop into the oven to bake for 10-15 mins or until the skewer comes out clean.

Allergy info: wheat, goat milk