The gut-heart diet
An anti-inflammatory diet is essential for the health of our heart. Not only will it help our heart, but as we have seen it will feed our microbiome, the universe of bacteria that live in our gut, thus strengthening our immune system. With so many different diets and food trends, it can be very challenging to choose what to eat. What most diets fail to consider, in my opinion, is the health of each individual’s digestive system. Since it is the enterocytes in our gut lining that digest and break down foods, it is of key importance that for a diet to work it considers the health of these enterocytes. In this blog, we will look at how the proper diet can improve digestion and absorption, minimize inflammation and heal our gut. For this purpose, we will continue to focus on the work of Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride and her research on human nutrition. According to her research, problem foods are a constant source of toxicity for the body and the very important enterocytes, damaging them and compromising digestion and absorption of nutrients. All of which will make healing impossible, turning into a vicious cycle of malnutrition and toxicity. In the case of the heart, toxicity from the gut will start an inflammatory process that will thicken and clot the blood which will put a heavy load on the heart.
We will also see how the products from “Healthy Hearts Club” are the perfect complement for an anti-inflammatory diet. They are all easy to digest and many of the ingredients support the microbiome because they are antibacterial.
Finally, we will look into detail at the key aspect for the success of a healthy diet: the unhealthy gut ruled by abnormal microbes. These pathogens that populate the gut have to be removed first. Once this is accomplished, the gut can heal, many food intolerances will disappear and digestion can become normal. If you have tried different diets and have seen no results, I want to invite you to keep reading.
It is all about digestion and absorption
A successful diet should take into account proper digestion and absorption of nutrients. Before we look at the different diets, we need to understand how the enterocytes perform their job of breaking down food. For this we will divide foods into carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
Absorption of digested foods happens in the small intestine, mainly the first two parts: duodenum and jejunum. The walls of these two have finger-like protrusions called villi that increase absorption. These villi are lined with enterocytes, which are the cells that absorb food and pass it into the bloodstream to nourish our bodies. The importance of these cells is tremendous, without them digestion and absorption cannot be possible.
These cells are constantly dying and being renewed, which is accomplished by the beneficial bacteria that live on these enterocytes. When we lack beneficial bacteria the part of our intestine that absorbs foods is populated instead by pathogens. This means that these enterocytes cannot do their job of digesting and absorbing food, their shape changes and they become cancerous. In other words, lack of good bacteria means unhealthy enterocytes, which translates into compromised digestion and therefore lack of absorption.
The job of these enterocytes is so important that there are specific types of enterocytes according to the food they break down. This is the case of:
1. Carbohydrates. All carbohydrates are made of tiny molecules called monosaccharides. There are many of them, most common are glucose, fructose and galactose. They do not need digestion and they can easily penetrate the gut lining. Glucose and fructose are found in fruit and vegetables. Honey is made of both fructose and glucose. Galactose is found in soured milk products like yogurt.
The next size carbohydrates are disaccharides, made out of two molecules of monosaccharides. Most common are:
sucrose (table sugar)
lactose (milk sugar)
All of these require some digestion. The microvilli on the surface of the enterocytes produce enzymes called disaccharidases that digest these double sugars. People with digestive problems do not have these enzymes, so these double sugars cannot be digested. Instead, they stay in the gut where the pathogenic bacteria ‘feast’ on them: bacteria, viruses, candida, fungi, etc. As these release toxins they damage the gut wall and poison the whole body. This results in all sorts of digestive disorders.
People who cannot digest these double sugars have to remove these foods to give the gut time to heal. Starch is the main source of carbohydrates we consume, they are in the grains and some root vegetables (potato, yams, sweet potatoes, Jerusalem artichoke). Starch is made up of huge molecules with hundreds of monosugars connected as many long strands. Digestion of starches requires a lot of work even for healthy people. Due to its complex structure, a lot of starch goes undigested making it the perfect food for pathogenic bacteria and allowing them to thrive and release toxins in our body. When starch gets digested, it is broken down into maltose, which is a double sugar that cannot be absorbed until it is split into monosugars by the enterocytes. In a person with unhealthy gut flora, enterocytes cannot split this double sugar so it goes undigested and feeds pathogens. To allow enterocytes to heal starches have to be removed from the diet, this means no grains or starchy vegetables are allowed until the gut has healed. Research shows that when given enough time to heal, these foods can be reintroduced again with no side effects.
Unripe fruit contains some sucrose which is a double sugar, this is why it is important to eat ripe fruit. Most vegetables and some fruit contain a little bit of starch, however the amounts are small compared to grains, starchy vegetables and table sugar, so even people with digestive problems can eat these tiny amounts of fruit and non-starchy vegetables.
2. Proteins. Pepsin in the stomach and pancreatic protein-digesting enzymes in the duodenum break down protein so it reaches the enterocytes in the form of peptides, which are small chains of protein, and which should not be absorbed until they are broken down into single aminoacids. This process is done by enterocytes, which have peptide digesting enzymes called peptidases. Each peptidase is specific to a certain peptide chain and even to a certain chemical bond in this chain. These enzymes break the peptides into single aminoacids, so they can be absorbed. Patients with digestive problems are unable to produce many different peptidases to accomplish this last step in protein breakdown and absorption of aminoacids. At the same time, the pathogenic bacteria, fungi and viruses damage the gut wall, allowing undigested peptides to leak through. This is the case of gluten from grains and casein from milk, but there are many others that haven’t been studied and which may not be digested properly and absorbed as peptides. Hopefully research will show more about these issues.
In the meantime, proteins are very important part of our diet. The best easy to digest sources of protein are eggs, meat and fish, boiled, stewed and poached are much easier to digest than fried, roasted or grilled. Eggs are a perfect food with protein, B vitamins, zinc, etc. Unless the patient shows a clear allergy to eat, they should be part of their diet.
3. Fats. To be absorbed, they require bile. The enterocytes don’t have to do much work to digest fats. However, in people with abnormal gut flora, because the gut lining is a mucous membrane, when it is under attack by pathogens, it produces a lot of mucus to protect itself. This is problematic because excess mucus can interfere with digestion of food including fats. Mucus coats food particles and does not allow bile and digestive enzymes to get to them. As a result fats pass undigested and come out as pale greasy stools. This also causes fatty vitamins to be undigested: vitamin A, E and K. Research shows that when starch and double sugars are removed from the diet, mucus production goes back to normal and fat absorption improves.
The most well known diets and the ones you have probably heard of are the gluten free and casein free diet. These two are important but very limited according to Dr. Natasha because many other problem foods have to be eliminated too: processed foods full of sugar, processed carbohydrates, denatured and altered fats and proteins, etc. This is essential because, as long as the source of toxicity and the pathogens are present in the gut, the person will not make any progress, inflammation will persist and the gut will stay leaky, allowing hundreds of undigested and toxic substances into the body. Which foods should be avoided? These are, among others, gluten, processed foods and sugar.
No gluten please
Gluten, once absorbed turns into a glue-like mass, it can literally stick to the walls of your stomach or if you have leaky gut, to any other part of the body, including joints and brain. ‘Gluten free’ products are no better, they usually contain many other problematic substances in them.
No processed foods
According to Dr. Natasha, any processed food has undergone a major change in its chemical structure and is no longer the same food, therefore they should not be part of our diet. What is more, to compensate for lack of nutrition these foods have added chemicals that have been proven to cause hyperactivity, learning and psychological disorders, not to mention rapid heartbeat and arrhythmias.
The supermarket shelves are filled with high carbohydrate foods that get digested as glucose very quickly producing an unnatural rise in blood glucose. In their natural form carbohydrates get absorbed slowly, producing a slow increase in blood sugar, which our body can handle. Blood glucose is one of those key markers for health that our body goes to great length to keep within certain limits. This means that both high and low levels are harmful. A rapid increase in blood sugar levels leads to hyperglycemia, which puts the body in state of shock, making it ‘pump’ lots of insulin to help with the excess glucose levels. This leads to hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. This high-sugar-low-sugar roller coaster is extremely stressful for the heart.
Also, all these processed foods are detrimental for the beneficial gut flora, they feed the pathogenic bacteria in the gut and encourage their proliferation, as well as worms and parasites. Some of the most popular processed foods are soft drinks and cereals. Cereals are advertised as high in fiber. But according to Dr. Natasha but this fiber is the wrong kind of fiber because it is full of phytates which bind essential minerals and take them out of our system, contributing to the person’s mineral deficiencies. Analysis of these breakfast cereals has shown that the box, made out of wood pulp, has more nutrition than the cereal itself. Even when they are fortified with vitamins and minerals these are synthetic which have very low absorption rate. Processed foods are also high in trans fats which we have seen are detrimental for the heart.
Another harmful ingredient found in most processed foods is soy. It is a natural goitrogen, which means it impairs iodine absorption and reduces thyroid function. It is also high in phytates, which bind minerals and prevent them from being absorbed. Since soy is found in many processed foods like margarines, salad dressings and sauces, bread, biscuits, etc the best way to avoid it is to avoid processed foods all together.
Sugar was once called the ‘white death’ and according to Dr Natasha it deserves this name. Not only it harms the immune system, refined sugar, once consumed robs the body’s stores of vitamins, minerals and enzymes at an alarming rate. To metabolize 1 molecule of sugar, the body requires around 56 molecules of magnesium. Magnesium is one of the key minerals for the heart. Low magnesium can lead to high blood pressure, neurological, immune and other problems.
Interestingly enough, according to a recently published article in the New York Times some newly released historical documents show that “The sugar industry paid scientists in the 1960’s to play down the link between sugar and heart disease and promote saturated fat as the culprit instead.” (1)
What about dairy?
When it comes to digestion, two of the most problematic foods are milk and wheat. Around 25-90% of the planet’s population cannot digest lactose due to their lack of the lactose digesting enzyme lactase. Lactose is a milk sugar with a double molecule, therefore, it needs proper digestion. GAPS people and those with gut problems cannot digest it. Well-fermented milk products are not problematic because the fermenting bacteria consume lactose as their food. Another problematic protein found in milk is casein, which is also hard to digest if the person has unhealthy flora. When casein is not digested properly it gets through the damaged gut lining and crosses the blood brain barrier (BBB) affecting the brain just like an opiate would do. The good news is that when milk is properly fermented at home casein is also digested by fermenting bacteria and produce lactic acid (soothing and healing for the gut lining), enzymes and many vitamins as a result of their digestion.
Store bought fermented milk is not fermented long enough to remove the problematic substances and they are pausteurized which destroys the probiotics and vitamins. This is why only home fermented milk is allowed. If you are still not sure you can have fermented food, you can do a sensitivity test. Take a drop of this homemade milk product and put it on the inside of the wrist, let the drop dry. Do this at bedtime, in the morning check the spot, if there is a red spot then that is a sign of an allergic reaction. In this case, it is recommended to follow the introduction diet without dairy. This test can be used again at every step of the diet. It is also recommended to follow the ‘dairy introduction structure’, which we will explain shortly.
Digestion of dairy and gluten happen the same way: first digestive juices in the stomach have to break milk and wheat into peptides (some have morphine like substances called gluteomorphines). These peptides then move to the small intestine where pancreatic juices act on them and when they reach the intestinal wall they are broken down by enzymes called peptidases. This is the step that is missing in people with abnormal gut bacteria, GAPS patients, people with food intolerances, allergies, celiacs and lactose intolerant. These gluteomorphines then get absorbed into the blood stream unchanged and cause problems with brain function and immunity. When the gut flora is restored, however, many patients can digest casein and gluten without their symptoms returning.
Having the right kind of bacteria in the gut will allow the patient to digest lactose too. E. coli is the lactose digesting enzyme in the human gut. This comes as a surprise to many, but E. coli appears in the gut of a healthy baby right after birth, and stays high in numbers provided they are not destroyed with antibiotics. E. coli also makes vitamin K 2, B 1, B 2, B 6, B 12, produces antibiotic substances (colicins) and controls other members of their family that could cause disease. Having E. coli in the gut is the best protection against pathogenic species of E. coli.
Also, milk can create allergies and intolerances due to the wide range of antigens it contains. Breastfed babies can develop colic if the mother is consuming milk that she is not digesting properly, however, this disappears when the mother gives up milk.
These antigens or immunoglobulins are considered the main cause of children’s colic. The mother can pass these antigens through her breast milk. When breastfeeding stops the colic goes away.
In the case of antigens, fermenting bacteria will also consume immunoglobulins, so the milk ceases to be a problem.
A note on raw milk
Raw milk comes directly from the animal without any pasteurization, homogenization or tampering. Raw milk is alive and full of enzymes so it doesn’t require much digestion. Many people with milk allergies can drink raw milk without problems. When milk is pasteurized its chemical structure is altered and this makes it hard to digest causing allergies. For thousands of years people drank raw milk and gave it to their babies with no problems. The logic behind pasteurizing milk is that it kills pathogens, however, these only come from sick animals. A healthy animal will not produce bad milk. In fact E.coli, salmonella etc cannot live in raw milk because of the enzymes, beneficial bacteria and immune complexes present in raw milk. However, if a pathogen gets in processed milk it will thrive. A good farmer will make sure the animal is healthy, the problem nowadays is that since milk is pasteurized farmers are not pressed to check the health of their animals as much. For a list of farmers that offer raw milk visit www.westonprice.org and www.realmilk.com
According to this last website ‘Raw milk contains many components that kill pathogens and strengthen the immune system. These include lacto-peroxidase, lacto-ferrin, anti-microbial components of blood (leukocytes, B-macrophages, neutrophils, T-lymphocytes, immunoglobulins and antibodies), special carbohydrates (polysaccharides and oligosaccharides), special fats (medium chain fatty acids, phospholipids and spingolipids), complement enzymes, lysozyme, hormones, growth factors, mucins, fibronectin, glycomacropeptide, beneficial bacteria, bifidus factor and B 12-binding protein. These components are largely inactivated by the heat of pasteurization and ultrapasteurization.’ (2)
GAPS patients need to go through the introductory stage (explained shortly) before trying raw organic milk, no other milk should be tried and it should be started slowly too. If raw milk cannot be obtained, organic pasteurized milk can be fermented at home.
The GAPS diet
The GAPS diet is based on the SCD (specific carbohydrate diet). The SCD was created by American pediatrician Dr. Sidney Valentine Haas, and has a 60 year record of helping people with all sorts of digestive disorders. He found that people with digestive problems could tolerate fats and proteins well but not grains, starchy vegetables, sugar, lactose and double sugars. His diet was accepted by the medical community and was considered the official cure for celiac disease. Back then celiac included all sorts of inflammatory digestive disorders. However, the diet was changed to refer only to ‘gluten’ intolerance, leaving all the people with other conditions without a proper diet. The gluten free diet gained popularity even though it is not very effective. Dr Natasha explains that it is very rare to find just gluten intolerance in a person with digestive disorders and even when this is the case, the GF diet is not effective.
The SCD was almost forgotten, but one day a mom desperate to help her little daughter who had severe UC (ulcerative colitis ) and neurological problems went to see Dr Haas. After 2 years on the SCD her daughter completely recovered. This mom was Elaine Gottschall ( author of the classic book “Breaking the vicious cycle”). Since then she has helped thousands of people with all sorts of digestive ailments but specially children with behavioral problems. Dr Natasha adopted this diet for her patients, (mainly autistic children, but also ADHD, ADD, dyslexic, depression, schizophrenia, etc.) and with time her patients called it GAPS diet, which stands for Gut And Psychology Syndrome.
Implementing the diet
The purpose of the GAPS diet is what Dr. Natasha calls to ‘heal and seal the gut lining’. It achieves this in three ways:
- The gut lining renews itself every few weeks by shedding off old and worn out enterocytes and giving birth to new ones. In order to produce new enterocytes the gut lining needs a special nourishment. This is why the GAPS diet consists of large amounts of nutrition for the gut lining: amino acids, gelatine, glucosamine, fats, vitamins, minerals, etc, all the substances the gut lining is made from.
- Many people have ulcerations and inflammation in the gut lining that might or not show symptoms or they may be sore and sensitive. The GAPS diet removes fiber and other foods that may irritate the gut lining and interfere with the healing process.
- The cell regeneration process of the gut lining is accomplished by the beneficial bacteria that live on the surface of this gut lining. Without gut bacteria there cannot be healing.
Why do the diet?
Even if you don’t have major digestive problems, the GAPS diet is so gentle and soothing to the digestive system that it is a great way to give your digestive system a break, detoxify the body and heal the gut. If you are one of those people with obvious digestive problems, food allergies or intolerances, then you should seriously consider following the whole GAPS protocol, which is outlined with detail in her book. For the sake of brevity, we will only look at the first stage of the introduction diet here. This can be used for anybody, even kids that come down with a stomach virus or a cold. So let’s get cooking!
Homemade meat or fish stock
According to Dr. Natasha ‘Meat and fish stocks provide building blocks for the rapidly growing cells of the gut lining and they have a soothing effect on any areas of inflammation in the gut’. They aid digestion and have been known for centuries as healing folk remedies for the digestive tract. A note needs to be made that these are homemade foods. Any commercial soup stock granules or bullion cubes are highly processed with detrimental ingredients that will hinder healing, therefore they should be avoided entirely.
Chicken stock is specifically gentle on the stomach and is very good to start with. To make good stock you will need joints, bones and a piece of meat on the bone. This can include a whole chicken, giblets from chicken, goose or duck, whole pigeons, pheasants or any other inexpensive meats. It is essential to use bones and joints as they provide the healing substances, not to much the muscle meats. If you buy at a local butcher, ask him to cut the large tubular bones in half so you can get the bone marrow out of them after cooking.
Put the bones, joints and meats into a large pan and fill it up with water (Filtered water, not tap water), add natural unprocessed salt to your taste at the beginning of cooking and about a teaspoon of black peppercorns, roughly crushed. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer on a low heat for 2 1/2- 3 1/2 hours or over night if using a slow cooker. You can make fish stock the same way using a whole fish or fish fins, bones and heads and cooking them for 1-1 1/2 hours.
After cooking them take the meats out and sieve the stock to remove small bones and peppercorns. Strip off the soft tissues from the bones to add later to soups. It is important to eat all of the soft tissues on the bones. The gelatinous soft tissues around the bones and the bone marrow provide some of the best healing remedies for the gut lining and the immune system. They need to be consumed with every meal.
Extract the bone marrow out of large tubular bones while they are still warm, to do that bang the bone on a chopping board.
The stock will keep well in the refrigerator for a week and can be frozen. It should be drunk all day long with meals and in between meals. Microwaves should not be used because they destroy the foods. It is very important to consume all the fat in the stock and off the bones as these fats are essential for the healing process.
With this meat stock you can make homemade soup, bring it to boil, add chopped or sliced vegetables like onions, carrots, broccoli, leeks, cauliflower, etc avoiding the very fibrous ones like celery and cabbage. Simmer for 25-35 minutes until the vegetables are very soft, then add 1-2 tablespoons of chopped garlic, bring to boil and turn off the heat. This soup should be eaten with the bone marrow and soft tissues from the bones you separated before and boiled meat.
Also, adding some probiotic foods from homemade sauerkraut or fermented vegetables is essential. In the first stages of the diet only the juice without the vegetables should be drunk so as to avoid any reaction. They should be added to the meat stock and soups without the vegetables yet as they are too fibrous. Also making sure that when added the food is not too hot which will kill the probiotic bacteria. They should be introduced slowly, 1 tsp the first five days, then 2 teaspoons until the patient can take a whole 1/2 cup. These fermented foods will introduce probiotic bacteria and help restore stomach acid production. In the case of severe diarrhea, well-fermented homemade whey, yogurt or sour cream are good options to add to the fermented vegetables as the lactic acid in these foods slows down food transit through the intestines and bowel, firm up the stools and soothe and strengthen the gut lining. In the case of constipation, dairy should be used with caution, in general, patients with constipation tolerate high fat dairy products like ghee, butter and sour cream, but high protein dairy can aggravate constipation ( yogurt, whey and kefir).
Ginger tea, mint or chamomile tea with a little honey between meals is also very helpful. To make ginger tea, grate some fresh ginger root (about a teaspoonful) into your teapot and pour some boiling water over it, cover and leave for 3 – 5 min. Pour through a small sieve.
The GAPS diet has several stages that follow this first stage, you can read about all of them in this website http://www.siboinfo.com/diet.html or in Dr. Natasha’s book “Gut and Psychology Syndrome’ revised and expanded edition.
The anti-candida diet
This diet could be said to be an extension of the GAPS diet. Many patients with an abundance of pathogenic bacteria often also have an overgrowth of candida, which also has to be addressed.
Candida could be said to be a modern day phenomenon caused by the overuse of antibiotics. The candida diet is a very thorough diet that takes care of some very dangerous pathogens that poison the whole body. It is important to understand what candida is.
In a healthy person candida lives in the body under the control of the good bacteria. In the last few decades, the widespread use of antibiotics has killed the good bacteria in many people, allowing candida to grow out of control. When this happens candida grows long stringy hyphae and puts roots through the tissues of the body: digestive system and other organs, producing a lot of toxins, alcohol and acetaldehyde. Every chronic degenerative disorder has been connected to candida overgrowth, from arthritis to MS (multiple sclerosis), chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, neurological disorders and cancer.
Because candida feeds on sugar, the candida diet aims at removing every source of sugar: fructose, maltose, lactose, maple syrup and honey. Also, because candida can cause an allergy to other fungi and moulds, all fungi and fermented foods are also eliminated: yeast and baked foods made with yeast (bread, pastries, etc) soured milk products, all cheeses, all fermented beverages, vinegar, malt, mushrooms, tea and coffee, dried fruit and fruit juices. Grains are also excluded: corn, barley, wheat, rye, millet, oats, rice, as well as starchy vegetables: potato, yams, sweet potato and Jerusalem artichoke. The reason for this restrictive diet is that candida is never alone in the digestive system, it lives with over 500 or more different microbes which can also cause disease.
One of these is the clostridia family. These pathogens and their toxins damage the gut lining, making the enterocytes (the cells in the gut that digest foods) unable to do their job of splitting carbohydrates into smaller molecules that can be absorbed. The result is that complex carbohydrates (grains and starchy vegetables) do not get digested and become food for the pathogens in the gut. They ferment and putrefy in the gut, instead of being digested and thus become a source of toxins, which furthers damage the gut wall and undermine the immune system. Most pathogens, bacteria, fungi, protozoa and worms feed on these undigested carbohydrates.
Dairy introduction structure
The dairy introduction structure is for those that have allergy to dairy and for those that don’t want to start with the introduction diet but want to do the full GAPS diet (without severe digestive problems).
The dairy introduction diet allows the gut to heal and recover more quickly. The stages for introducing dairy follow a very specific pattern in which dairy is introduced very slowly to minimize reactions:
- Ghee: Ghee, also called clarified butter, is pure milk fat. Milk fat has virtually no milk proteins or lactose so is generally well tolerated by most people, even those with allergy to other dairy products. It is easy to make at home (recipe will follow). Store bought ghee has preservatives so it is not recommended. Ghee has a lot of nutrients and can be used for cooking/baking. Some people with severe dairy allergy cannot tolerate it so they have to avoid it. These people might be able to introduce it in the second stage of the diet, after doing a sensitivity test.
- Butter: After ghee, the first dairy to introduce is butter. It should be organic as non-organic has pesticides, hormones and antibiotics. Sensitive individuals should introduce it after 6 weeks in the diet. A sensitivity test will indicate if the person is ready for it. The butter should also be unsalted, many salted products have flow agents and additives.
- Yogurt and sour cream: After ghee and butter, approximately 6-12 weeks, protein containing lactose-free milk products like yoghurt and sour cream can be introduced. The yogurt Dr. Natasha is referring to is homemade yogurt and sour cream (cream fermented with yogurt culture). Both should be started slowly, one teaspoon a day, and build up from there until you can have 1-2 cups. Never rush through it . Each person is different so it should be introduced very slowly, one at a time and just a tiny amount, watching for reactions. Any kind of reaction will mean the person is not ready. The reactions are also very personal, each of us will react a particular way.
- Kefir: Once you can tolerate both yogurt and sour cream, you can start on kefir, doing a sensitivity test first. Kefir is similar to yoghurt but has a different combination of yeasts and bacteria. The only difference is that kefir might cause more die off reactions than yogurt. You should continue with the yogurt and sour cream.
- Cheese: Once all these, yogurt, sour cream and kefir are well introduced, natural organic cheese can be introduced (cheddar and parmesan, etc). The cheeses can be more problematic than the other foods because they contain very concentrated milk protein. This means they also should be introduced slowly, one cheese at a time and only one mouthful per day, watching for reactions.
- Live yogurt: After all these foods have been introduced, commercial live natural yogurt, sour cream and creme fraiche can be introduced.
To make homemade ghee, preheat oven to 140-250 F (60-120 C), put a big block of organic salt-free butter on a pan and keep it in oven for 45-60 minutes. Take it out and carefully pour the golden fat from the top (ghee) in a glass jar and discard the white liquid, refrigerate. In some varieties of butter the white liquid accumulates on the top, so it can be refrigerated and the ghee will solidify so the liquid can be poured out and the ghee wiped out with a paper towel.
This ghee can also be done with goose or duck fat, just cook the birds as usual and collect the fact. This fat can be used for all cooking, baking and frying. The same for beef, pork or lamb, specially the internal fat layer of the animals. In all cases the animals should be antibiotic free.
So, what’s for dinner?
The only carbohydrates allowed are mono-sugars: fruit and non-starch vegetables. All complex carbs: grains and starchy vegetables have to be excluded, no exceptions!
Pathogens will make the person crave processed carbohydrates. Instead of wheat flour, nut flours can be ground up and used.
The recommended foods in the GAPS diet are:
1. Meats and fish: Meats, game, organ meats, poultry, fish and shellfish. They all have the highest concentration of vitamins, aminoacids, fats, minerals, etc. Many vitamin charts show grains providing all the vitamins, but this is misleading according to Dr. Natasha because grains are hard to digest. Meats, on the contrary, have more vitamins than grains: B 1, B 2, B 3, B 5, B 6, B 12, biotin, folic acid and vitamin A are all found in liver, heart, kidneys, eggs, milk, poultry and butter. Real vitamin A can only be found in animal products, carotenoids, found in carrots have to be converted to the activated form of vitamin A. The problem is that many of us are unable to make this conversion because of disease or toxicity. If you don’t consume animal foods you can develop impaired immunity, eye problems, and impaired learning and development.
Folic acid is specially important for pregnant women, this is why traditional cultures made sure women age enough liver. It is easy for the human digestive system to extract nutrients from animal foods. The best sources of vitamin K 2 are organ meats, butter and cream, full fat cheese, animal fats and egg yolks. K 2 is essential for calcium metabolism, its deficiency leads to calcium deposition in soft tissue and inflammation while bones and teeth don’t get enough. Our own gut flora make vitamin K 2. Also, fermented foods provide K 2, natto being the highest plant source of K 2.
When it comes to the combination of foods, fruit should not be eaten with meat of fish, except for avocado, as it interferes with the digestion of meats. Vegetables are the perfect companion for meats and/or fish. After digesting meat and fish our body accumulates acids, and alkaline after digesting vegetables, so these two balance each other well. Dr. Natasha recommends to buy meats that are fresh or frozen, not preserved, these have lots of additives (E numbers, preservatives, starches, sugar, too much salt, lactose, etc) which will not allow the digestive system to heal. She does not recommend any commercial seasoning or sausage mix either or MSG.
Meat, bone and fish stock are a wonderful nutritional and digestive remedy. As you cook these in water a lot of nutrients get extracted into the water. Meats cooked in water are easier to digest for a person with sensitive digestive system. Avoid lean meats, the human digestive system is built to eat meat with fat, collagen, skin. Fish should be descaled before cooking. Dr. Natasha also stresses that all stock granules and cubes have to be avoided.
Eggs are one of the most nourishing and easy to digest foods there is. Raw egg yolk has been compared to human breast milk because it can be absorbed almost 100% without needing digestion. It also provides most essential aminoacids, vitamins (B 1, B 2, B 6, B 12, A, D, biotin, essential fatty acids, zinc, magnesium, B 12 , choline, specially when uncooked, etc. Choline is present mostly in the yolk, particularly, it is an essential amino acid essential for the nervous system and the liver. It is a building block for the neuro-transmitter acethylcholine used by the brain for cognitive, memory as well as other functions. Choline is prescribed for people with liver problems.
Despite all this wonderful nutritional value, eggs have received very bad press because of their cholesterol content. However, there has been a number of studies proving that people who consume eggs show a lower percentage of heart disease and arteriosclerosis.
We have talked extensively about cholesterol but it would be prudent to remember that 85% of cholesterol in our body doesn’t come from food but it is produced in the liver in response to a diet high in processed carbs and sugar. The best way to lower cholesterol would be to reduce the consumption of these two, not cholesterol.
Another concern regarding eggs is salmonella, however, according to Dr Natasha salmonella is only a concern when eggs come from infected hens. Free-range organically reared hens are less likely to have salmonella because they have a healthier immune system, they are not fed antibiotics or chemicals and are exposed to fresh air and sun. According to the ‘National Egg Marketing Board’ around one in every 7,000 eggs may have Salmonella. This number corresponds to battery eggs laid by hens in cages.
What is more, raw eggs have more nutrition than cooked eggs, but if you are concerned about a possible contamination you can cook them cooking to destroy the salmonella.
When it comes to allergies, the part of the egg we are potentially allergic to is the egg white because they contain very complex proteins and antigens. Egg yolks contain single amino acids that virtually need no digestion. If you suspect an egg allergy you can do a sensitivity test, testing egg yolks and whites separately. For this, take a drop of egg yolk and place it on the inside of the wrist at bedtime, let the drop dry on your skin and go to sleep. In the morning, check the spot, if there is an itchy red reaction that means there is an allergy to eggs. If this is the case Dr. Natasha recommends to avoid egg whites for weeks and then retest until you see no reaction. Do the same for egg yolks on a different night .
Dr Natasha recommends eggs as part of a healthy diet, from 4-8 a day raw or lightly cooked with or without whites.
Non-starch fresh vegetables
In this category we can find the following: Artichoke, beets, asparagus, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, cucumber, celery, green beans, eggplant, garlic, onions, kale, lettuce, mushrooms, parsley, green peas, peppers (all colors), pumpkin, runner beans, squash, spinach, tomatoes, turnips, watercress. They can be frozen or fresh as long as they do not have any sugar or anything else added. If diarrhea is present all vegetables should be peeled, deseeded and cooked until it clears, then raw vegetables can be slowly be introduced with meals or as snacks. Organic vegetables are better since a sensitive digestive system will react to pesticides and other chemicals present in non-organic vegetables. Some people are sensitive to the nightshades (tomatoes, eggplant and peppers). Dr. Natasha recommends to avoid these until the introduction diet has been introduced, then they can be consumed slowly and one at a time.
Fruit including berries
Fruit can be consumed in moderation, but always away from meats because it interferes with the digestion of meats, except for lemons, avocado and sour apples. All fruit should be ripe, as unripe fruit has too much starch. All berries are wonderful powerhouses of nutrition, but need to be avoided if diarrhea is present.
Nuts and seeds
Both are very nourishing, rich in minerals, amino acids and fats: magnesium, selenium, zinc, omega 3 and 6 all of which are important for the heart. Research shows that people who regularly consume nuts and seeds have lower rates of heart disease, cancer, etc.
Nuts and seeds should be bought in their shells or freshly shelled, never roasted, salted, coated or processed in any way. Peanut allergies are an issue but Dr. Natasha asserts they are caused by contamination with molds and their toxins. To avoid this they should be of good quality.
If diarrhea is present nuts and seeds are quite fibrous so they should be avoided until it clears. Both can be ground up and turned into a flour. They can also be sprouted by soaking them in water for 12 hours. Sprouting increases their nutritional value and are easier to digest because of the high content of enzymes sprouting produces. Sprouting also takes care of the enzyme inhibitors known as phytic acid that all seeds naturally contain and which could be a problem for some people.
Beans and pulses
White navy beans, lima beans, string beans, lentils and split peas are all allowed for people with digestive problems. All other beans are too starchy. Before cooking, dry beans should be soaked at least 12 hours, then drained and rinsed under running water to remove lectins and starches. Beans, lentils and other legumes are generally very hard to digest as they contain many anti-nutrients such as phytic acid, lectins, enzyme inhibitors and starches. This is why they should be introduced slowly and fermented at first. For this, they need to be soaked for 12 hours minimum, rinsed then cover them with water and whey (2 cups of water with 1/2 cup of whey) and leave them to ferment for 4-5 days at room temperature.
Cold pressed natural honey is allowed with moderation. However, in the case of candida, all sweets including honey should be excluded. Many honey producers heat up the honey to speed up the process of extraction but this damages the microelements in the honey. Honey is sweeter than table sugar and contains two monosaccharides: fructose and glucose, which are easy to digest.
Honey used to be the only sweetener used before the introduction of sugar in the 17th century, with it came all the health related problems of our modern era. Honey is far more natural for our bodies than sugar and has a lot of health benefits: it works as an antiseptic, it has vitamins, minerals and aminoacids as well as other bio-active substances depending on the flower it came from. Traditionally honey has been used to treat digestive disorders, chest and throat, arthritis, anemia, insomnia, headaches, etc. It can be applied topically to wounds , eczema, skin rashes as well.
Best drinks are water, freshly pressed juices and meat/fish stock. Herbal teas are allowed as long as they are made from fresh single herbs not commercial tea bags. Freshly made ginger tea is a good digestive.
Water should not be chlorinated, tap water is usually always so. Chlorine damages the gut flora so it is best to drink mineral or filtered water. It is a very good habit to start the day with a glass of water on an empty stomach. Some freshly squeezed lemon juice or apple cider vinegar added will improve the benefits of the water. Water can be drunk during the day, around 1 or 1/2 a gallon but not during meals as it could interfere with digestion. With meals it is best to drink homemade meat stock as it stimulates the production of digestive juices in the stomach.
Freshly pressed fruit and vegetable juices are highly recommended, specially vegetable juices as too much fruit can upset our blood sugar. Homemade fresh organic vegetable juices will help detoxification and the liver.
Commercially produced vegetable juices are pasteurized so they are not recommended. Soft drinks should be avoided completely.
Fats and oils
We have looked in depth at fats in previous blog, but let us just remember some basics about fats.
All the fats present in meats contain great nutrition to heal the gut, the nervous and the immune system. They are the best to cook with because cooking doesn’t change their chemical structure when heated as opposed to cooking oils that turn into dangerous trans fatty acids. Dr. Natasha doesn’t recommend any of the commercial oils for cooking, except ghee and butter, which are also good for cooking as well as non-hydrogenated coconut oil. Cooking with virgin cold pressed olive oil destroys the nutrients and turns unsaturated into trans fats.
Other cold pressed oils like flax seed, evening primrose oil and avocado should not be used for cooking. All margarines and butter replacements and all other artificial fats should be avoided entirely.
Whole sea salt contains all the minerals and trace elements the body is made out of, so in its natural state salt is not only good for us, it is essential. Table salt is far from this natural salt. Dr. Natasha describes it as a ‘villain’ because it upsets the balance of minerals in our body. Our body, she explains, is made to receive sodium chloride together with all the other minerals and trace elements present in natural salt. Pure sodium chloride alone pulls water to itself causing water retention, edema, high blood pressure and poor circulation. As the body tries to get rid of excess sodium chloride harmful acids and gallbladder and kidney stones are formed. Excess sodium chloride also causes the other minerals and trace elements to get out of balance: potassium , calcium, magnesium, copper, zinc, manganese, etc affecting the heart. Natural salt is just as fundamental to our body as water is. Himalayan crystal salt or unprocessed sea salt (celtic sea salt) are great options.
Summing up, diet should take into account digestion and absorption as well as support the healing of our digestive system. This is accomplished by introducing foods that build up our stomach lining and minimize inflammation. In our next blog, we will study how supplementation is critical for an anti-inflammatory diet.
Thank you for reading.