Soup is probably my husband’s favourite thing to eat, ever. If I made soup (or stew for that matter) every day for the rest of our lives, he would be thrilled. Talk about simple pleasures eh? Luckily I love soup too – for many reasons! I get chilled easily, and when I get chilled, there’s no recovering without a hot cup of something. Soup absolutely fits that bill! More importantly, soup is an incredibly easy way to get a TON of nutrients into your body at once. Have you ever noticed that if you were to take a huge salad and cook it down for a few minutes, the volume dramatically reduces? Well soup takes it even further – you can jam gazillions of nutrients into each bite by throwing in all sorts of veggies, seasoning it with fresh herbs and using homemade broth. Why homemade broth you ask? Well it is a magic elixir that cures everything. Stay tuned for a post on exactly what allows me to make that claim, (UPDATE: check out my post on Bone Broth here) and in the meantime, go ahead and check out this one instead! To sum it up in a few words:
Bone broth heals joints, repairs the digestive tract, protects our cardiovascular system, encourages healthy skin and nails, and is a concentrated source of minerals required for every system in the body.
Since the last few weeks have been incredibly stressful for us (good stressful! We launched Beatty Naturopathic!), I have been doing everything possible to get as many nutrients in us as we can. And since stress causes leaky gut, I’ve been eating soup daily to keep my gut locked up tight to protect my body! So far it seems to be working – neither of us have gotten sick!
I have a variety of soups that I make, but I always come back to this simple favourite: Thai Butternut Squash Soup. Rich and creamy, this nourishing soup makes a fabulous snack or meal. I often eat it for breakfast! As always, I’m using my favourite brand of Thai ingredients:
Their curry pastes are one of a kind. Perfectly clean ingredients – no additives, stabilizers or unnecessary junk. I’ve gone on and on about their coconut milk before, but I’ll say it again: there’s no other brand that compares! With only 2 ingredients (coconut milk and water) it has the best flavour and zero gut irritants!
Bonus: this recipe can be made vegan if you use a veggie broth instead of the (magical elixir) bone broth!
Thai Butternut Squash Soup
A rich, creamy and incredibly nourishing soup. Gluten, grain and dairy-free, with a vegan and nightshade-free option!
I recently was engaged in a conversation where I was informed that vegetarianism is what will feed the world, and while I was making a better choice by choosing ethically raised meat, I was sacrificing the environment for trying to achieve optimal health. And boy did that get me thinking. (UPDATE I wish I had this article then: Letter to a Vegetarian Nation). I do not claim to know everything about nutrition, in fact anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely LOVE to learn, and continue to do so on a daily basis. I spend hours every day (non-paid since I’m self-employed) reading and studying every piece of information I can, trying to be as unbiased as possible (which I’ll admit, can sometimes be challenging), to make the best choices I can. I also try to take science and knowledge out of textbook scenarios and apply them to my small life/community, my country and the world in its entirety.
Why do I do that? Because that is how I was raised.
We had 2 rules in my family growing up:
Family comes first.
Always do the best job you can.
There were never any asterisks on those rules, they simply were, as they are. Honest, grounded, foundational rules. They provided the framework on which every one of my achievements was built. I nailed job interviews. Got solid grades (not perfect, but the best I could) which opened up doors. Prioritized my family and my (now) husband’s family, who in turn support us through thick and thin and without which, we would not be where we are today.
Always do the best job you can.
This is the biggest lesson I try to impart on my clients. Doing the best you can, with the resources you have available, with the knowledge you have right now. And when you know more and have more? Then do a bit better. It’s easy to get caught up in what my Coaching Teacher called “shoulding” yourself. You know, “I should do this…”, “I should be doing that…”. If we all stopped “shoulding” ourselves and simply started making the best choices we can, right now, the world would be an even more incredible place.
Optimizing Your Health = Sacrificing the Earth?
On the same train of thought, I began thinking about the definition of “optimizing health” and whether striving for that was inherently incompatible with being respectful to the earth and in turn, human kind. For a split second, I started questioning some choices I have made, but instantly shook myself out of that because when I look back to where I started, at the beginning of my personal health journey, I believe with every cell in my body that I am doing the best I can for myself, my family, my environment and my fellow humans. I tried very hard to be vegetarian – oh I wanted to be one so bad. I even started getting repulsed by meat, even though I had always enjoyed it growing up, because I wanted to be a vegetarian. I felt guilty eating meat because I was told it was destroying the environment. I was scared because I was told it would give me heart disease and cancer. And something else happened.
My body fell apart.
Very few people other than my husband truly know what I used to go through. More days than not I was levelled by a migraine by 4:30pm. Nauseated, in tears, writhing on the couch in pain. Nothing worked – alcohol, caffeine, NSAIDs, muscle relaxants, acupuncture, heat, ice…nothing. Digestive pain so excruciating it would wake me up in the middle of the night, I could barely stumble to the bathroom. Nothing would happen, but lying on the cold floor for about an hour was the only way I could tolerate the pain. Destructive self-talk that resulted in a sad relationship with my body and food. Crippling anxiety that threatened my relationships with friends, family and my amazing partner. Anxiety that threatened my relationship with myself and the incredible world I am so lucky enough to be a part of.
Over the course of 5 years, with the support of my incredible partner and family, I slowly recovered my health and found incredible joy and empowerment in the fact that predominantly through food, I was able to literally change who I was. Change what had come to define who I was. Change the path I was down, which was sure to end up in a very bad place.
What were the biggest changes I made?
Here are the foods I eliminated, in order. And not because any dietary philosophy told me to, or a book suggested it. But because over the course of 5+ years, I was an experiment of 1 and I could not ignore the results.
Dairy – which was causing epic digestive pain
Gluten – total body inflammation, puffy joints, not fitting in my clothes
Legumes – debilitating migraines, even in the smallest amounts (ie. rooibos tea, guar gum)
Whole grains – while I can still tolerate them in small amounts, anything more than a few bites results in damage to my digestive tract caused by constipation that lasts for 3-4 days (sorry if that’s TMI)
Corn and alcohol – again, in small amounts these are fine, but both trigger anxiety if I overdo it. Even a few glasses of wine will cause me to wake up the next morning with the weight of the world on my chest.
As you can see, with the exception of nuts and seeds, these foods make up all plant-based protein sources. The foods I was so desperately trying to eat for the sake of my own body and the environment, were slowly but surely breaking me and preventing me from being a contributing member of society.
I unintentionally stumbled into the paleo lifestyle out of necessity. And while many people condemn this lifestyle (and yes, I mean lifestyle, not just diet) for being a way to ease their conscience when eating meat, that could not be further from the truth in my case. When I look back to where I’ve come from, oh my goodness I am proud. I am so healthy, almost migraine-free, free from digestive pain, and my anxiety, while it still likes to rear its ugly head from time to time, hasn’t been in control of my life for a good while now. And that self-talk that was so destructive? It was kicked to the curb about 8 months after making the decision to jump in 100% into a lifestyle that makes me the best version of me possible. And now what is that allowing me to do?
Contribute to my community, help other people and make even better choices.
I had the confidence to become an entrepreneur.
I have the sympathy, empathy and experience to gain the trust of others to allow me to guide them to their own recovery.
I now have the financial ability to purchase ethically raised food to take better care of the environment.
I am able to spend time, creating free content for clients, friends, family and strangers, to help them be better versions of themselves, so they can be better contributors to society.
By living my truth, I am able to change lives.
All because I did the best job I could, with the resources I had at the time, which continued to grow as I continued to learn. So yes, I will continue to eat ethically raised meat, because aside from the fact that it is nutritionally complete (ie. no supplements are needed) it allows me to make a difference in the world.
And my promise to the world, is to continue to do the best I can, to take care of this incredible planet we get to call home and to continue to help change lives to allow other people to do the same thing.
This is the second in a series of posts on digestive health and leaky gut. If you haven’t read the first post, you can find it here. It discusses how the digestive system is supposed to work and why leaky gut is so dangerous to the overall health of the body. As a quick reminder, here is a brief summary:
The cells in the gut lining, as well as the proteins that hold them together (known as tight junctions) deteriorate, effectively creating “leaks” in the gut barrier. This means that our immune system has been seriously compromised. This is never ideal, but it is especially risky at this time of year! The separation between cells also allows undigested food particles, bad bacteria and environmental toxins to bypass the strictly regulated absorption process and go directly into the bloodstream, where they do not belong. Once in the bloodstream, chronic inflammation is inevitable. Additionally, food particles, bacterium or toxins can trigger an inappropriate immune response by the body, leading to an autoimmune reaction.
It is clear that maintaining the integrity of our digestive tract is pivotal for reducing total-body inflammation and supporting a healthy immune system that will protect us from pathogens and not misidentify our own tissues as pathogenic! So what actually triggers the gut lining to deteriorate?
What Causes Leaky Gut?
Every bite of food we eat comes into contact with our digestive tract lining. Therefore it makes sense that food will have a significant impact on gut health. The following foods are the riskiest when it comes to intestinal permeability. I apologize in advance for the highly technical jargon, especially with regards to gluten. Scroll down to the last few sentences starting with “MORAL OF THE STORY” to skip over the science!
When our body is exposed to a stress (financial, emotional, food sensitivity, environmental toxin…anything!) it only has one way of responding. It responds the same way it would if you are confronted with a grizzly bear. It diverts all of its energy and resources to the organs and tissues required to fight or run away, with the singular goal of saving your life. It does this by sending a flood of hormones through your body, one of which is the hormone is cortisol. When cortisol is released, it causes a weakening of the tight junctions which keep your gut lining in tact. It also diverts blood away from digestion (because clearly nutrient absorption is not a priority right now!) which slows down gut transit time. Slowed transit time, or constipation, results in an overgrowth of bad bacteria which can cause and/or worsen leaky gut.
Another stress-hormone called corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), opens tight junctions in all barriers within our body – gut, skin, lung, and blood-brain. This puts our body at a significant disadvantage when it come to fighting off pathogens. Exercise is a great way to manage stress in the body, but it is important to recognize that exercise is also inherently a stressor. Overtraining causes elevated cortisol and CRH, and chronically diverts blood away from digestive processes. This lack of blood supply causes damage to the gut cells, which in turn, increases susceptibility to leaky gut. Additionally, prolonged and high intensity exercise can directly cause tight junction damage.
Medications can cause or worsen leaky gut. Interestingly, one of the most implicated groups of pharmaceuticals are NSAIDs such as ibuprofen and aspirin. It is not uncommon for people to casually pop a few Advil on a daily basis to manage a headache, injury or muscle soreness from overtraining. Only use ibuprofen when absolutely necessary, and consider working with a holistic health practitioner to determine why you require an anti-inflammatory drug so frequently.
Genetically Modified Foods are a newer concern in our food supply. While there are no studies proving the harm of GMOs, unfortunately there are also no long term studies on their safety. One of the major concerns is some GMO crops, such as corn, have been genetically modified to secrete their own pesticide. This pesticide works by damaging the gut lining of the insects that eat it, causing their gut bacteria to flood their body and eventually causing death by blood infection. There is growing concern that the same action may occur on human digestive tracts as well. Avoid common GMOs by choosing organic corn, soy, canola and sugar – or avoid these foods altogether!
Start taking care of your digestive tract by eliminating harmful foods such as gluten, sugar, dairy and alcohol. Avoid GMO foods and unnecessary pharmaceuticals. Check in with the amount of stress in your life and work on managing it. Exercise in moderation based on your individual health level, adopt a meditation practice, learn to say no and make sure to ask for help!
One of the things I always preach is to focus on what TO DO, not what NOT TO DO, but in this case I had to lay down the groundwork to emphasize the WHY. So check out part 3 – Healing Leaky Gut – where I discuss what foods promote a healthy gut, how to provide your body with nutrients required for healing and what lifestyle changes can make a big difference!