Restoring gut health after gastroenteritis

With two young children in childcare and another at school, we are constantly receiving notes home about various illnesses doing the rounds. The latest was a particularly nasty bout of viral gastroenteritis that ripped through the childcare community. Unfortunately, my little family was not spared and we had several quiet days at home as a result!

A bout of gastro usually takes a few days to pass through. We all breathe a sigh of relief when the symptoms have gone, but did you know viral gastroenteritis can have long term effects on gut health? Gastro causes significant disruption to the balance of good and bad bacteria, and causes the lining of the gut to become inflamed and irritated.

We are beginning to understand the huge effects that gut bacteria have on our general health and wellness; current research links imbalances to a diverse range of conditions affecting both mind and body, including obesity, behavioural issues, allergy and skin conditions. The gut is populated with a large variety of bacterial species, some of which exert positive effects and some of which cause injury or stress to our body. This delicate microbial ecosystem is constantly changing, in response to what we eat, our environment, and even our emotions. When populations of “bad” bacteria grow out of control, they can upset other parts of our body, interfering with our immune system, hormone production and even affecting our moods!

Foods to eat

Certain foods support the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, allowing them to maintain appropriate levels while preventing the overgrowth of harmful bacteria. In particular, polyphenols (plant chemicals) and soluble fibre found in fruits and vegetables support a healthy bacterial community. Additionally, they increase the production of short-chain fatty acids, which feed and nourish the cells lining the gut.

Build your diet around these beneficial foods:

Vegetables – purple & orange carrots, purple/red potatoes, red cabbage, spinach, red onions, broccoli, red lettuce, garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, globe artichoke, Jerusalem artichoke, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, beetroot, yacon, burdock root, chicory root

Fruit – black elderberries, black currants, blueberries, cherries, strawberries, blackberries, plums, raspberries, red apples, black grapes

Nuts and seeds (if not allergic) – flaxseed, chestnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, almonds with skin on, chia seeds

Other – red & black rice, cocoa, legumes, black olives, olive oil, turmeric, cinnamon

Golden milk
A warming drink that soothes an irritated and inflamed gut.

1 can coconut cream
3 cups water
1 TBSP raw turmeric, grated
2 tsp raw ginger, grated
2 tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp black pepper
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
7 whole cloves, crushed
small pinch salt
2-3 TBSP maple syrup

Place all ingredients in a large pot. Simmer gently on a stove for 20 minutes then allow to cool before straining. Store in jars in the fridge for up to 4 days. Serve warm.

Apple & chia yoghurt
Loaded with soluble fibre to nurture the gut microbes.

¼ cup plain, unsweetened yoghurt
½ red-skinned apple, grated
½ TBSP chia seeds
½ tsp cinnamon

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl and allow to sit for 10 minutes before eating.

Chicken broth
Bone broths are rich in minerals and are especially high in glutamine, the preferred food of the cells lining the digestive tract. A warm cup of bone broth is easy to digest and helps to soothe and protect the gut wall.

2.5kg bony chicken parts
2 TBSP apple cider vinegar
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
3 celery stalks, roughly chopped
1 garlic bulb, broken into cloves

Place all ingredients in a large pot and cover with 5 litres of cold water. Bring to the boil and skim off any scum that forms on the surface. Lower the heat and simmer for 6-12 hours. Strain, then place in the fridge – skim off the layer of fat that forms at the top and pour the remaining broth into airtight containers. Keeps in the fridge for up to 4 days. Serve warm.

(Recipe adapted from “The Complete Gut Health Cookbook”, Pete Evans & Helen Padarin – this book has some fantastic ideas for gut-healing recipes.)

The days and weeks following a bout of illness are an important time for our future health. Treat the gut gently, enabling it to rebuild beneficial populations of bacteria, and ease an irritated, inflamed gut wall.

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