7 Tips to Maintain a Healthy Gut (includes recipe for herbal sauerkraut)

The Craft of Herbal Fermentation Course by Herbal Academy

Creating a healthy gut microbiome

There is so much research coming out right now about the importance of your gut microbiome. In fact, there was a recent discovery published regarding gut bacteria’s creation of tiny, previously unknown, proteins which could lead to new innovation in drug development. One key insight over the years is that having healthy gut bacteria can actually affect your mental state of mind. I’ve experienced this first hand as I have a slight gluten intolerance, and I’ve noticed after cutting most gluten out that my mood has been more stable (gluten makes me grumpy). If you’re interested in this research, I highly recommend checking out the book The Mind Gut Connection. I haven’t actually read this one yet, but I’ve heard so many good things about it and it’s on reading list! If you’ve read it, please leave a comment below on what you thought about the topics discussed in the book. 🙂

From my interest in this research, I’ve learned some key takeaways about maintaining a healthy gut:

  1. Eat lots of fiber: Choose fiber rich vegetables and fruits and incorporate a lot of these into your diet. I think one key piece of advice that has helped me is to drink smoothies instead of juices. Juices will spike your blood-sugar levels and filter out all the gut-healthy fibers that act as prebiotics. When choosing fruits and vegetables, always go for local, sustainable (organically produced and/or certified) produce when possible.
  2. Do some intermittent fasting: Overloading your system with food all the time isn’t natural, so giving your digestive system a break will help to keep the gut healthy. There is research showing that practicing circadian rhythmicity may increase your lifespan. Many people employ the 16:8 method of fasting, eating for 8 hours of the day (think 12-8pm) and then fasting for 16 hours. Melotonin production begins a few hours before your normal bedtime and eating around this time may suppress insulin production which could lead to diabetes later down the line. I recommend taking a look at some of Dr. Rhonda Patrick’s articles and videos around this topic.
  3. Avoid antibiotics: Antibiotics actually kill beneficial gut bacteria as well as any bacterial infections you’re trying to fight off. Taking them can also lead to antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria which is a public health concern. It can take a long time to help build your beneficial bacteria back up after taking antibiotics, so it’s best to avoid them when possible.
  4. Incorporate collagen into your diet (sorry vegans!): It’s common knowledge that collagen helps you to maintain healthy skin and nails, but something I didn’t know until this past year is that it helps to protect organs in your body, including your gut lining. I try to incorporate bone broth into my diet as well as adding some collagen into my smoothies. I really enjoy vital proteins collagen (affiliate link).
  5. Choose foods high in polyphenols: Polyphenols help to balance out the gut microbiome and increase the growth of beneficial bacteria while inhibiting the growth of pathogens. They act similarly to prebiotics. Because of the gut-brain connection, this may help to prevent neurodegeneration. Read here for more information about these findings. Foods high in polyphenols include: berries, artichokes, red onion, spinach, cocoa, cloves, and tea.
  6. Use herbs/foods that support a healthy gut: There are so many herbs that support gut health. First, I would recommend mucilaginous/demulcent herbs such as marshmallow root, plantain, slippery elm (but check to make sure it’s a sustainable source as this tree is over harvested), licorice root, aloe vera, and oats. Chia also is great to help lubricate the gut lining. I recently listened to an Herb Rally podcast with Lindsay Kolasa regarding mental health and she says that peach (fruit, leaves, flower) and rose hips and petals can also support gut health.
  7. Lastly, eat fermented foods (hence this post!): Fermented foods contain a multitude of beneficial bacteria and probiotics. This is why when you do take an antibiotic, you’re often told to eat yogurt as that will help to repopulate your gut microbiome. The bacteria grow during the fermentation process. Fermented foods and beverages include: yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, kombucha, kefir, jun, and many others!

Purple Herbal Sauerkraut Recipe

If you’re interested, Herbal Academy has an online class titled: The Craft of Herbal Fermentation.

DIY ferments can be a great way to boost your beneficial gut bacteria. I personally have been one to buy sauerkraut from the grocery or farmer’s market, but it’s really simple to make batches at home. I recently took a class on Herbal Sauerkrauts with Bonnie Rose Weaver, an herbalist of Scarlet Sage, in San Francisco.

The great thing about making ferments at home is that you can decide what goes into them. While there’s a basic formula for sauerkraut specifically (cabbage+salt) there are so many vegetables and herbs you can incorporate into the mix! Have fun with it and experiment, be a “kitchen witch” as I like to say. Try adding some of your favorite herbs and vegetables to your cabbage. Let me know your favorites combinations in the comments below!

The salt creates a brine (the liquid you see here)

Without further ado, let’s get into this purple kraut recipe!

Ingredients (makes about one 16 oz jar)Instructions
1 small head Purple cabbage, finely chopped

1 carrot, grated

1 beet, grated

1/4 a bulb of fennel, finely

~1 TBS grated ginger, peeled

~1-3 TBS salt (not table salt)
In a large bowl, add all the ingredients and sprinkle salt on top. Mash Together with your hands (or any tool your heart desires if you don’t like getting your hands dirty) until the liquid, or brine, forms enough to cover the kraut in a jar. Once you feel like you have a good amount of brine, grab your jar and pack it in. You want it to be filled pretty much to the top, so if it isn’t full enough you’ll want to find a smaller jar and transfer it.

Once the ingredients are in a jar filled to the top, you’ll want to add some sort of weight on top to keep the kraut below the liquid (this will prevent mold). A trick that was taught in the class I attended is to save the cabbage core and use that to weigh down the kraut. I’ve also seen people use glass or rocks as weights. Then screw on your lid, should use a non-metal lid. If metal is all you have, you’ll want to add some wax paper on before screwing on the lid to prevent the metal from corroding.

Then viola! You have a jar of kraut. You’ll want to let it ferment for 1-2 weeks. If it’s warmer, it won’t take as long to ferment since heat speeds up the process. You will want to “burp” the jar every few days. You can also start tasting it after the first few days until it’s soured to your liking. Enjoy!
Finished kraut, voila!

Resistance takes place on many planes. Occasionally it can be dramatic and public, but most of the decisions we are faced with are mundane and private. What to eat is a choice that we make several times a day, if we are lucky. The cumulative choices we make about food have profound implications. Food offers us many opportunities to resist the culture of mass marketing and commodification. Though consumer action can take many creative and powerful forms, we do not have to be reduced to the role of consumers selecting from seductive convenience items. We can merge appetite with activism and choose to involve ourselves in food as co-creators.

— Sandor Katz
The Craft of Herbal Fermentation Course by Herbal Academy

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