In 1996, Dr. Michael D. Gershon, then chairman of the department of anatomy and cell biology at Columbia University, coined the term “second brain” to refer to our “guts” (more scientifically called the enteric nervous system.) An internet Search on “gut brain connection” yields over 94 million results reflecting the robustness of research in this area which some may find is not yet optimally moving into clinical practice.
Coming to the rescue for those who can’t wait for that day is “Good for Your Gut: A plant-based digestive health guide and nourishing recipes for living well” by Vancouver’s Desiree Nielsen, a registered dietitian specializing in digestive health. Nielsen has been featured in Canadian Living, Chatelaine, Family Circle, SELF, Hello! Canada, People, Parade, Prevention, Eating Well, and appears regularly on local and national television.
The book’s introductory chapters offer an easy-to-understand primer on the gut, including the focus of recent research – our gut microbiome. Trillions of microbiota (microorganisms) live in our guts with no greater wish than to be well-fed and happy. Nielsen bluntly says that “our digestive health is in the toilet” and shares the estimate that “twenty million Canadians have digestive issues.”
While Nielsen addresses some specific gut-based illnesses and recognized nutritional therapies such as FODMAP (a diet low in fermentable carbs), anyone can benefit from the better care and feeding of our “second brain” which is being revealed to be a surprising control center . An unhappy gut can cause inflammation, and research is exploring gut links to many “non-digestive” conditions.
The study of the gut microbiome (which consists of both helpful and potentially harmful microbes) is a science that has been building over the last decade. Research has shown that helpful microbiota eat fiber which only comes from plant-based foods. (There is no fiber in meat, dairy, or sugar.) This explains the book’s focus on plant-based foods.
Food is part of health, but often not a prescribed part of healing. There is a lot about Nielsen’s advice that promotes a “buy-in.” She doesn’t focus on “NOT”, meaning that readers aren’t given an ultimatum list of all that they must not eat. In fact, Nielsen’s approach to her supports a slow and easy to embrace pathway to better digestive health. Meal plans are included and recipes are categorized as either Protect, Heal or Soothe depending on the state of the reader’s digestive health.
Nielsen’s support goes beyond her book, augmented by free newsletters and an informative website that includes all the up-to-date references used in compiling this evidence-based book. Her podcast from Ella (Allsorts) is also worth a listen.
The book offers over 90 gut-friendly, plant-based recipes with some – like the Ultimate Healthy Breakfast Cookies — also available on her website. Nielsen’s book passed my “sticky note test.” I begin putting stickies on recipes that appeal. After about a dozen I know a book’s a keeper. Treats are included (eg Peanut Ginger Macaroons) and my tummy almost feels soothed by just reading the recipes. The recipe included here reflects my bias toward Hungarian cuisine which uses kohlrabi often. I’m embarrassed to admit that it was later in life when I discovered that raw kohlrabi is delicious!
Kohlrabi Chopped Salad
I always thought that a chopped salad was a salad with crunchy chopped-up veggies. Turns out that a chopped salad is very much a thing and it involves lettuce. Introducing my kohlrabi chop with plenty of crunchy, low-FODMAP veggies and, yes, chopped lettuce. This has a fun, throwback Italian-style dressing that I can- not get enough of. Be sure to keep to the exact measurements of kohlrabi, chickpeas, and green beans to keep it low-FODMAP. If you’re not following a low-FODMAP diet, enjoy at least 1/2 cup (125 mL) of chickpeas per serving for more protein.
Dairy-Free • Gluten-Free • Grain-Free • Low-FODMAP • Nut-Free • Vegan
20 green beans, chopped into 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces
1 heart of romaine, trimmed and chopped
2 cups (500 mL) peeled and cubed kohlrabi
1 cup (250 mL) cubed English cucumber
1 cup (250 mL) canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained
½ cup (125 mL) Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
4 green onions (dark green parts only), sliced into ½-inch (1 cm) pieces
2 tbsp (30 mL) raw sunflower seeds
¼ cup (60 mL) red wine vinegar
2 tbsp (30 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp (15 mL) nutritional yeast
1 tsp (5 mL) organic cane sugar 1 teaspoon (5 mL) salt
½ tsp (2 mL) dried oregano
Freshly cracked black pepper
1Blanch the green beans: Bring a small pot of water to a boil over high heat. When the water is boiling, add the green beans and blanch for 2 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold running water.
twoMake the dressing: In a small mason jar, add the red wine vinegar, olive oil, nutritional yeast, cane sugar, salt, oregano, and pepper. Place the lid on tightly and shake.
3Assemble the salad: In a large bowl, toss together the romaine, kohlrabi, green beans, cucumber, chickpeas, olives, green onions, and sunflower seeds. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss again.
Recipe excerpted from Good for Your Gut by Desiree Nielsen. Copyright © 2022 by Desiree Nielsen. Published by Penguin Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.
Desiree Nielsen: Transformative Nutrition
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