Wednesday, 25 March 2015

How Modern Living Has Affected Our Gut Microbiome

You're out shopping for handwash. You scour the shelves. What do you choose? Almost certainly, you'll see antibacterial hand wash on display somewhere. But it's not just handwash that we use to kill bacteria living on our skin - there's travel-sized antibacterial spray, antibacterial cleaning products, facial cleansers and wipes and now antibacterial washing powder.

If you judged from our shopping habits, you might think we're a population scared of bacteria. But not all bacteria is bad, is it?

The short answer is no. No it isn't.

We actually rely on trillions of microbes every single day just to complete basic bodily needs: digesting our food, keeping infections out of our bodies and maintaining healthy skin. Bacterial cells actually outnumber our own human cells 10 to 1. You are 10% human and 90% microbes. That's a LOT of microscopic bugs that we're carrying around with us. The human microbiome is a whole new (and exciting) area of research and scientists think that an imbalance in these good bacteria could be responsible for the onset of autoimmune diseases, obesity, personality and even mental disorders. In short, we need to look after these bugs, not kill them off.

We need to look after the good bacteria in the gut
Image courtesy of Ohmega1982 at

So how is modern life treating them? Well, while antibacterial sprays and handwash are important (when there's an infection in the house, or in hospitals where there's a risk of cross-contamination of serious disease) I'm not so sure they should be an every day thing at home. Here's why...  

When I was a child, doctors prescribed antibiotics at the merest hint of an infection. I remember during my first pregnancy nearly ten years ago, the doctor printed off a prescription for some 'just in case'. That wouldn't happen now. Medical professionals have acknowledged that antibiotic medicines, while very important to help us see off serious infections, also see off many of the good bacteria that are only doing good things. Now, doctors are likely to assess whether your body can fight off the infection by itself first, before prescribing you with antibiotics. Studies have shown that when exposed to antibiotic treatment, the gut microbiome suffers a big hit in microbial diversity- but does recover after a period of time. However a 2012 Spanish study noted that: "The results demonstrate that ABs (antibiotics) targeting specific pathogenic infections and diseases may alter gut microbial ecology and interactions with host metabolism at a much higher level than previously assumed." Being prescribed some antibiotic treatment? Eat lots of vegetables and probiotics like raw sauerkraut to help them replenish.

Antibacterial Products
Look in your cleaning cupboard and where you keep your toilertries. See lots of 'kills 99% of bacteria'? Then you may be killing good bacteria off as well as bad. Problem is, that could also be creating an environment where every time bacteria are wiped from a surface (your skin, for example) only the strongest microbes remain, meaning we could end up making certain bugs stronger and developing a resistance to them. ABC reported that experts were concerned over people using too much antibacterial soap, quoting them as saying that "antibacterials may also kill bacteria that actually are helpful to the body because they keep other troublesome bugs in check." 

I've heard it said quite a lot lately: 'You are what you eat.' Basically, this is true. The New York Times reported on an Israeli study carried out in September 2014 that found using artificial sweeteners altered the gut microbiome and gave mice an intolerance to glucose. Not good. And if you're eating pre-packed, processed foods - whether sweet or savoury - you're probably eating artificial sweeteners without knowing it (read the labels). I did a course recently on the gut microbiome and it was said that a diet particularly rich in vegetables is good for keeping your gut microbiome balanced and healthy. And our sugar-rich, Western diets? A study by Payne, Chassard and Kacroix in 2012 noted that "these sugar compounds, particularly fructose, condition the microbiota, resulting in acquisition of a westernized microbiome with altered metabolic capacity." In short? Sugar has been found to alter the natural balance of our gut bacteria. And it doesn't sound good.

When I was a kid, my sister and I spent the weekends out making mud pies, digging up artefacts (we lived in a 1940s semi and there seemed to be a lot of buried, cracked pieces of china in the back garden), and climbing trees. Often, in the middle of play, we'd just rub our hands on our jeans before eating a quick sandwich in the garden. My parents' attitude was that a little bit of dirt was good for you. Quite different, I suspect from the mostly sanitary lifestyle of many young kids nowadays - in from school and then playing on their X-Boxes or watching films on the iPad while their mum makes them a sandwich on a board regularly doused with antibacterial spray. A study carried out in 2012 found that mice who had been exposed to everyday microbes actually had better health than germ-free mice. The germ-free mice ended up with more inflammation in the lungs and colon, leaving us humans to scratch our heads and suggest that maybe exposure to a little dirt while you're growing up might actually be good for you

What do you think? Anyone want to come out Saturday and make mud pies?

Friday, 20 March 2015

Caramelised Fried Bananas with Paleo Chocolate Sauce

So this all started when I saw a bottle of maple syrup in the supermarket that said 'flavoured with carob.' Carob?? That's kind of like chocolate, isn't it? 

Chocolate maple syrup. Hmmmm......... 

I didn't buy it, but instead went straight home and mixed up some maple syrup with cocoa powder and look what happened. PALEO CHOCOLATE SAUCE. Lovely with fried banana slices, and it'll keep you away from the Kit Kats should you get a chocolate craving. At least this way it's kind of safe... right?

This recipe isn't AIP compliant because cocoa and vanilla are eliminated in the early stages of the diet. But if you've reintroduced them then you're good to go, as long as you can tolerate the rest of the ingredients. The recipe IS paleo and gluten, nut and dairy-free. 

Caramelised Fried Bananas with Paleo Chocolate Sauce
Serves 2
1 tsp coconut oil (I use a mild coconut oil that has no taste)
2 yellow bananas, not too ripe
3 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp cocoa powder
quarter teaspoon vanilla extract
small (tiny) pinch of salt 

Heat the coconut oil in a medium-sized frying pan and peel and slice the bananas. Fry them (in batches if you need to) for about a minute on each side, until they look golden. Flip them over and fry on the other side. 

Meanwhile, quickly whisk together the maple syrup, cocoa powder and the vanilla extract until it forms a smooth, but quite runny sauce. Taste, adding more cocoa or maple syrup if you need to, or indeed, a drop more vanilla. Sprinkle in a little salt and taste again. 

Serve the fried banana slices with the chocolate sauce. 

It's good. I promise. 

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Lamb, Red Onion and Herb Koftas

I'm back! (hurray!)

And while I'm by no means 100%, I'm no longer crying over birthday card shopping or wading through a foggy brain each day. I'm getting up in the mornings, my head is clearer and my psoriasis patches are now stable. I am, more or less, functioning normally. So the blogging begins again *cue fanfare*.

And what a recipe to start with...  

It's gorgeous. 

Minced lamb, with red onion and herbs served alongside a hooooge pile of salad greens (always the best way). 

This recipe is suitable for the AIP (autoimmune protocol diet), paleo, primal and elimination and clean eating diets. There are no grains, no dairy, no gluten - just a big plate of nutritious loveliness. 

I was sent the lamb mince for this recipe by a company called Farmer's Choice. They're based in the UK and deliver free-range meat (including game) up and down the country. Their meat has only ever been brilliant, in my view, and they're very worth checking out. 

Now, on to the koftas: 

Lamb, Red Onion and Herb Koftas
Serves 4 (makes 8 koftas)
515g pack lamb mince (my pack contained 515g but 500g will be fine for this recipe)
1 red onion, grated
2 cloves garlic, peeled and grated
5 fresh mint leaves, washed and chopped
6-7 fresh parsley leaves, washed and chopped
good pinch of salt
8 medium-sized wooden skewers

Place the lamb mince into a bowl and grate in the red onion and garlic. Add the chopped herbs and the salt and gently mix with your hands to combine. Don't over-mix or the meat might become overworked and tough. 

Heat a griddle or frying pan to a medium heat. Pick up a skewer with one hand and with the other hand grab a small handful of the lamb mixture. Mould the meat around the stick, squeezing it so it's a uniform thickness all the way along. Place gently into the heated pan. Repeat with the rest of the mixture. You might have to cook the koftas in batches depending on the size of your pan - I cooked mine in batches of 4. Add a little coconut oil or olive oil if you think it needs it. 

Turn the koftas regularly, so they brown on all sides, and continue to cook for 10-12 minutes, until no pinkness remains (cut into one if you like, to make sure). 

Once thoroughly cooked through, serve with salad. 

Don't want to make koftas or don't have skewers? Just form them into burgers instead and fry for 5-6 minutes per side. 

Want extras alongside this? 
Try Meatified's AIP Paleo Hummus and serve the koftas with black olives and paleo wraps or pitta breads. 

I received a contribution towards the ingredients for this recipe from Farmer's Choice. 


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