Your Second Brain: The Secret to a Happier Gut and Glowing Skin
Everyone is talking about their guts. Sounds vile, but the hot topic right now is how the state of our tummy is affecting everything from our energy levels and mood to our skin and waistlines. Keep scrolling to find out how you can start to improve your gut right now.
Recently researchers have been looking at how our gut serves as a “second brain.” Sounds ludicrous, right? But just think about how your tummy feels before you go on a first date, during an interview or before going on a ride at the fun fair. Butterflies? Nausea? What about whenever you’ve made a decision based on your "gut instinct"? Yep, that’s the gut-brain connection at work. For years, doctors thought that depression and anxiety caused IBS and bowel problems, but now they suspect it could be the other way around. It’s still early days, and researchers don’t yet know exactly how this second brain—officially known as the enteric nervous system (ENS)—in the walls of our digestive system can affect our central nervous system (CNS), which is comprised of our brain and spinal cord.
There are trillions of bacteria in our guts; in fact, these single-celled organisms outnumber our cells 10 to one. And it’s these bacteria that produce 90 percent of our bodies' serotonin hormone (the happy hormone), so it’s little wonder that everyone’s focusing on the gut-brain connection. Scientific circles also think the gut microbes and the integrity of the intestinal tract can even contribute to acne.
Research into this field and how the gut can affect both our mindset and complexion is still in its infancy, so what can you do right now? We called on Dr. Nicky Saini at The Functional Gut Clinic and Carla Oates, founder of The Beauty Chef, for answers. Keep reading for their tips on how to boost the good bacteria in our guts.
“Prebiotics are fibre-rich plant-based foods. So are all fibre-rich foods classed as prebiotics? The answer is no,” says Dr. Nicky Saini. “For a food to be classed as a prebiotic it needs to pass through the small gut undigested and ferment in the large gut to naturally increase the good bacteria once it’s there, giving the gut bacteria something to feed on.”
“Prebiotics are foods that feed good bacteria,” adds Carla Oates. “Probiotics are the good bacteria. The more prebiotics your probiotics get, the better your health will be.”
“Fermenting foods not only makes the nutrients more available for the body to use, but the process creates probiotics to help balance digestion,” says Oates. “To achieve a healthy gut and to look and feel our best we need to support beneficial gut flora.”
You can ferment your own foods at home for a simple guide try Fermented: A Beginner's Guide by Charlotte Pike (£12) or buy ready-made fermented foods such as kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh and pickles.
“There are a variety of foods that you [can] introduce into your diet to help you achieve a happy gut,” says Oates.
“Reduce your intake of unhealthy carbs and sugar for starters, these feed the bad bacteria in the stomach and can cause an imbalance in the gut. Eat fermented foods such as sauerkraut and The Beauty Chef GLOW Inner Beauty Powder (£38). Prebiotic foods help to boost the growth of friendly bacteria, these include non-digestible food substances found in asparagus, bananas, endive, chicory, garlic, globe and Jerusalem artichokes, kefir, leeks, onions, sauerkraut, shallots and yoghurt,” explains Oates.
Saini advises you eat these raw to maximise their effect and the benefits. “Of course, it’s not always possible to achieve this. Cooking lightly or steaming should preserve more of the benefits. Remember though, having these foods is more important than not having them! So, if you can’t manage raw, cooked will still have some benefit,” says Saini.
Of course it’s good to eat raw or fresh lightly cooked foods, but if you’re in a rush you can find prebiotics in packaged foods. “Especially cereal bars, look out for inulin and oligofructose, fructooligosaccharides (FOS), galactooligosaccharides (GOS), and other ligosaccharides. You’ll find them on the ingredient list,” she adds.
“The proven strains of good bacteria include lactobacillus and bifidobacterium species. Both have been shown to promote gut immunity (therefore reducing the severity of skin allergy conditions such as eczema), reduce skin inflammation (a leading cause of prematurely ageing skin), boost cellular antioxidant capacity, defend the lining of the intestine, increase the bio-availability of nutrients, improve the assimilation of nutrients such as amino acids, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants,” explains Oates.
[Ed note: You can find both strains in Nutri Advanced Ultra Probioplex™ IB 30 Capsules, £23).
“Yoghurt is rich in moisturising fats, alpha hydroxy acids to refine the skin and also probiotics to help balance the skin's flora resulting in a smoother, more radiant complexion.
“Lacto-fermented foods (fermented using the probiotic strain, lactobacillus) are excellent for improving digestion and bloating as they contain probiotics,” adds Oates.
Keep scrolling for three good bacteria-boosting recipes from The Beauty Chef, Carla Oates.
Full of protein, both eggs and quinoa assist with collagen production and help balance blood-sugar levels. Eggs are also brimming with skin-hydrating and repairing nutrients including lutein, selenium and zinc. Avocado is a nutrient powerhouse and a good source of vitamin E, which helps defend the skin against inflammation. Capsicum is full of skin-protective antioxidants including vitamin C, lycopene and astaxanthin.
1 avocado, peeled and halved
90 g quinoa
250 ml filtered water
1/4 bunch of coriander, chopped
2 red capsicums
1 red onion, halved and sliced
2 tomatoes, cored and diced
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
1 cm piece of ginger
1/2 long red chilli, deseeded and sliced
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. pure maple syrup
1 1/2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp. tamari
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
Place the filtered water in a saucepan on high heat. When it reaches a rolling boil, add the quinoa then turn the heat right down, keeping it on the heat until the quinoa has absorbed all the water.
Poach the eggs in a pan of filtered water.
Put equal amounts of quinoa on each plate with two eggs, avocado, chopped coriander and a dollop of roast-capsicum relish.
For the Relish
Preheat oven to 200°C.
Toss capsicums in olive oil, place on baking tray and roast for 20º30 minutes.
Remove from oven and put in a covered bowl for 30 minutes. Once cooled, peel and split capsicums in two, remove cores and seeds and slice into strips. Reserve the liquid.
Saute onions until golden. Add chilli, garlic and grated ginger, sauté until fragrant. Add tomatoes, capsicum (with liquid), tamari, maple syrup, vinegar and paprika. Bring to the boil.
Cook uncovered for 20º30 minutes or until thickened.
Spinach is an excellent source of nutrients including lutein, which helps keep your skin glowing and eyes lovely and sparkling. The nutrients packed into the fennel support skin health as well as help remove toxins from the body.
15 ml olive oil
1/4 Spanish onion, finely chopped
1/2 garlic clove, crushed
75 g quinoa
250 ml filtered water
1 1/2 large handfuls of baby spinach
A handful each of coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley, mint and coriander
1/2 baby fennel bulb thinly sliced on a mandolin
Juice of 1/2 lemon, or to taste
A handful of coarsely chopped tamari almonds
Crumbled feta, to serve
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add onion and garlic and stir occasionally until tender (about five minutes).
While the onion is cooking, rinse the quinoa thoroughly, then add it to the pan with the filtered water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until tender and fluffy (about 20 minutes).
Drain off any excess water and season to taste. You can cool it at this point if you want to serve it as a salad, otherwise, stir through spinach, herbs, fennel, lemon juice and almonds and serve topped with crumbled feta.
These contain The Beauty Chef Body Inner Beauty Powder (£48), which is rich in sprouted and fermented protein, super foods as well as prebiotics and probiotics.
Black beans have a high fibre content, but research also shows they provide special support for digestive tract health as well as the cardiovascular system. Combined with antioxidant-rich cacao, these make for a truly delicious but nutritious guilt-free treat.
50 g hazelnuts
400 g can black beans, drained and rinsed
100ml full fat coconut cream
4 Medjool dates, pitted
2 scoops The Body Chef Body Inner Beauty Powder
2 tbsps. cacao powder
1 tbsp. maple syrup
1/2 tsp. vanilla bean powder
A pinch of Himalayan salt
Raw Chocolate Coating
75 g cacao powder
75 g cacao butter, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 1/2 tablespoons coconut oil
Preheat the oven to 180 °C.
Line a medium tray with baking paper and set aside.
Spread the hazelnuts onto a small baking tray. Roast for 5–10 minutes, until the skins begin to come away and the nut is golden. Set aside to cool slightly.
Place the remaining ingredients in a high-speed blender. Blend until smooth.
Transfer the mixture into a medium bowl. Using spoons, shape into 15 equal portions and arrange on the prepared tray.
Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until firmed up slightly.
Rub the roasted hazelnuts in a clean tea towel or paper towel, to remove the skins. Set 15 nuts aside. Finely chop the remaining nuts.
Remove the mixture from the refrigerator. Roll into balls.
Press a roasted hazelnut into the centre of each ball. Re-roll to enclose. Return to the refrigerator while you prepare the coating.
To make the chocolate coating, fill a small saucepan halfway with water and bring to a simmer.
Place all of the ingredients in a heatproof bowl. Take the pan off the heat and set the bowl over the top. Ensure the base of the bowl does not touch the water.
Leave for five minutes, or until the cacao butter and coconut oil melts. Stir to combine.
Resting the balls on a fork or using toothpicks, dip and roll the balls in the chocolate one at a time to coat evenly. Arrange back on the lined tray.
Sprinkle the tops of the balls with chopped hazelnuts.
Refrigerate for 30 minutes, or until set. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week. Alternatively, freeze for up to three months.
Do you take probiotics or have a diet rich in prebiotics? Let us know in the comment box below.