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Foods that heal your gut

There are three dimensions that contribute to overall wellness: the physical, mental and social aspects. There is a lot more to good healththan just being free from illness. Being in the best of health means you are aware of all the dimensions of wellness and you approach it from each avenue, holistically.

Sometimes when you’re feeling stressed and anxious it can make you feel sick to the stomach. There is a good reason for that: the stomach or gut is one of the key connections to brain and emotional health. Looking inside your gut or “second brain” and improving your gut bacteria can help to turn tummy turmoil around and improve not only your general health but also your emotional health and wellbeing.

This connection between the gut and the brain is also known as the gut–brain axis, a term that highlights the interdependency between these two areas. In fact, your body has two nervous systems: the central nervous system, which comprises your brain and spinal cord; and the enteric nervous system, which is the intrinsic nervous system of your gastrointestinal tract.

Your two nervous systems are formed at the same time during foetal development from identical tissues connected via the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the 10th cranial nerve that runs from your brainstem to your abdomen and is the primary route your gut bacteria use to transmit messages to your brain. Knowledge of the vagus nerve completely flips the idea that the brain is in charge of the rest of your body. Your gut sends far more information to your brain than your brain sends to your gut!

Just as you have neurons in your brain, you also have neurons within your gut. This includes neurons that produce neurotransmitters such as serotonin. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of wellbeing and happiness and it’s found in its greatest concentration within the gut, not the brain.

The ability of the gut microbiota to communicate with the brain and influence behaviour is emerging as a very exciting concept in the scientific world of health and disease. Research proves that your own unique combination of microflora interacts with you, the host, to form essential relationships that govern the balance and functioning of your entire body.

There is no doubt that good bacteria in the gut alter the function of the brain. Research has shown that the presence of the bacteria known as Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001 normalises anxiety-like behaviour in mice. Other fascinating findings include the ability of certain probiotics to modulate antidepressant-like behaviour by reducing pro-inflammatory cytokines and increasing levels of tryptophan, both which have been implicated in depression.

The close connection between stress-related psychiatric symptoms such as anxiety and gastrointestinal disorders like irritable bowel disease provide further proof of the gut–brain axis. The impact of poor gut health on the functioning of the brain has been scientifically linked to a range of illnesses, including ADHD, autism, chronic fatigue, OCD, Tourette syndrome, and anxiety and depression.

Food alone will not create a thriving colony of healthy bacteria in your gut. Stress and emotional factors can override even the most perfect diet. Stress can be both acute and chronic, and chronic, long-term stress is incredibly damaging to your gut health. Stress causes many changes within the gut, including alterations in gastric secretion, gut motility, mucosal permeability, viscal sensitivity and barrier function.

Evidence also suggests that bacteria respond in damaging ways to the negative emotions and stress of the host. The hormones secreted during a stress response contribute to the overgrowth of bad bacteria.

Your gut and your emotions are a two-way street. Each has the potential to negatively affect the other, so addressing the state of your mental health — not just the food you eat — is incredibly important.

Here are some wonderful gut healing recipes from my e-book Heal Your Gut.

Kefir Yoghurt

Serves: 2
Prep & activation time: 24-48 hours


Turnip & Cauliflower Soup

Serves: 4
Cooking time: 30 mins


Super Green Soup

Serves: 2–3
Cooking time: 30 mins


Foods that heal your gut

By: Lee Holmes

Explore the gut–brain axis with wholefood chef Lee Holmes, plus enjoy three delicious gut-healing recipes.


Prep time

Cook time



  • A sterilised glass bowl or large jar, blender, strainer, cheesecloth, elastic band, wooden spoon. (Avoid using metal and store in glass jar.)
  • 3 young coconuts (room temperature)
  • 2 probiotic capsules or 1 tbsp powder (dairy-free)


  • Open coconuts and strain water into glass jar and set aside. Scrape out coconut flesh, trying not to get any husk, and place in a blender. Add coconut water and blend until creamy. It should be the consistency of yoghurt.
  • Pour mixture into a glass bowl and add probiotic capsule or powder. Cover bowl with cheesecloth and elastic band and place in cool, dry, dark place for 24–48 hours until ready; it should taste fairly sharp without a hint of sweetness. Add stevia to taste or serve with fresh berries.


Tried this recipe? Mention @wellbeing_magazine or tag #wbrecipe!

Lee Holmes

Lee Holmes

Lee Holmes is a nutritionist, yoga and meditation teacher, wholefoods chef, Lifestyle Food Channel’s Healthy Eating Expert, blogger and author of the best-selling books Supercharged Food: Eat Your Way to Health, Supercharged Food: Eat Yourself Beautiful, Eat Clean, Green and Vegetarian, Heal your Gut, Eat Right for Your Shape and Supercharged Food for Kids.

Lee’s food philosophy is all about S.O.L.E. food: sustainable, organic, local and ethical. Her main goal is to alter the perception that cooking fresh, wholesome, nutrient-rich meals is difficult, complicated and time-consuming. From posting recipes, her passion to share her autoimmune disease story and help others has snowballed and the blog has recently taken home the overall prize at the Bupa Health Influencer Awards as well as the best blog in the Healthy Eating category. She also runs a four-week online Heal Your Gut program.

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