As I mentioned last month, there are many theories as to why more people are being diagnosed with food allergies compared with previous generations.
The common theme across many of the food allergy theories is the role gut bacteria plays in supporting the health of the immune system. Among other things, good gut bacteria is vital to ensure digestion of food, production of some vitamins, and acts as a barrier to support the immune system. Note: Beneficial bacteria and yeasts are commonly referred to as probiotics.
Many integrative practitioners posit that by healing the gut, you are likely to recover (to some extent anyway) from food allergy sensitivity. Note: if you have coeliac disease, healing the gut is a good idea but will still never make it safe for you to eat gluten because of the nature of its autoimmune nastiness. So what can you do to help boost the good bacteria and reduce the bad bacteria in your gut? Read on…
Introducing good bacteria
One of the cheapest and arguably most effective sources of probiotics is fermented food. Our ancestors were onto something when they fermented food. Not only does fermenting food make it last longer (a must in the days without refrigeration), it also creates beneficial bacteria that is good for your gut.
Note: pasteurised fermented foods (e.g. tinned sauerkraut) are unlikely to contain probiotics, because pasteurisation kills bacteria, so make sure you read the label if you’re buying with the intention of introducing good bacteria to your system. Also, introduce fermented foods slowly and in small doses as they may initially upset your stomach.
You can ferment just about any vegetable and it’s super easy to do. Popular fermented vegetable dishes include sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) and kimchi (sauerkraut’s spicier friend).
Fermentation can be as easy as putting chopped vegetables in salt and water at room temperature for a period of time (without letting air in) to allow the good bacteria to grow. There are heaps of recipes online, or if you’re really keen you could catch a class with raw food guru Rene Archner.
Kombucha is a drink, made with a scoby (symbiotic colony of bacteria), tea, sugar and other flavourings e.g. ginger. It has become a popular drink lately and there are several New Zealand-made brands around if you want to give it a try before brewing your own.
Kefir is a drink traditionally made with milk and kefir ‘grains’. The grains are actually beneficial bacteria and yeast (not grains). Kefir can even be made dairy-free.
All yoghurts are not created equal, but there are some yoghurts that are excellent sources of good bacteria. If you’re shopping for a probiotic yoghurt, look for one with live cultures and low sugar.
I’ve noticed several probiotic yoghurts in the supermarket lately, including dairy-free ones made with coconut.
There are loads of different probiotics available from your chemist. Most brands require refrigeration. Over-the-counter probiotics are a good additional support to fermented foods, especially if you’ve just finished a course of antibiotics
What to do about the bad guys
Introducing probiotics into your diet is one thing, but if you’re continuously making poor food choices, the probiotics may not be enough to counteract what else you’re putting into your body.
Foods that increase bad gut bacteria include those that are high in sugar – so reducing your intake of sugary treats, fizzy drinks and even fruit juice will help reduce the overgrowth of bad bacteria.
There are also a growing number of doctors who believe that processed food contributes to the growth of bad gut bacteria by killing off probiotics. There is no doubt that a diet largely based on whole foods is better for your waistline than processed food, and it appears that it’s also better for your gut health.
I’m sure everybody has had a course of antibiotics at some stage. Antibiotics can literally be lifesavers. They kill off bad bacteria like a handy machine gun. However, antibiotics also kill good gut bacteria, so if you’ve taken antibiotics, you’ll need to give your good bacteria a decent kick start once you’re on the mend.
Gluten-free, dairy-free and refined sugar free
My mum is an amazing cook. Mum is a master at making gluten-free food taste delicious and seems to always have a new recipe up her sleeve. She’s been making gluten-free custard from scratch for years, and sent me her recipe which I’ve adapted to also make it dairy and refined sugar free. Yum!
2.5 cups rice milk (or other dairy free/lactose-free milk depending on your needs and tastes)
3 tablespoons arrowroot
A few drops of vanilla essence
3 tablespoons maple syrup
3 tablespoons rice bran oil (or other oil with not much taste)
Use a double boiler or if you don’t have one (I don’t) put a steel bowl inside a pot of boiling water. If you don’t use a double boiler or the steel bowl trick the custard will stick and burn like crazy. In the steel bowl/double boiler (turn the heat on to medium) mix the rice bran oil and arrowroot. Whisk until smooth. Add two cups of the rice milk and whisk.
In a separate bowl whisk together the maple syrup, eggs and vanilla essence with half a cup of the rice milk. Pour mix into the steel bowl/double boiler and whisk until thick.
Serve with fruit or other yummy dessert.
Christina Stewart is passionate blogger, photographer and cafe haunter, who has spent a lifetime dealing with multiple food allergies and intolerances. Her website gluteygirl.com is packed with education, advocacy, tasty recipes and inspiration for foodies and fellow Packed with information on all things gluten-free, dairy-free and low FODMAPs, there are also plenty of interviews, cafe reviews, recipes and mischief. www.gluteygirl.com