by Aglaée Jacob, MS, RD, author (posted on Paleo Parents’ blog on July 20, 2014)
“Health starts in the gut” is something Hippocrates said a long time ago but that still holds true today. Without a healthy gut, even the highest quality organic and pastured foods can be useless… because their nutrients will simply end up in your toilet, unabsorbed. What a waste! Without a healthy gut, your body might also be constantly fighting inflammation and you’re more likely to suffer from nutritional deficiencies, mental health problems and even a disoriented immune system as seen with autoimmune conditions. If you want to be healthy, you really need to pay attention to your gut health!
Healing your gut with REAL food
The good news is that it is totally possible to heal your gut. Whether you have IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), FODMAP intolerance, fructose malabsorption, SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), leaky gut, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, you don’t have to live with daily symptoms of bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue and a miserable quality of life. You and your body deserve better.
My digestive health story
I have to admit that there wasn’t any emphasis on digestive health as part of my training as a registered dietitian and that I didn’t pay too much attention to it… until I backpacked in South America for a few months and came back very sick with an unwanted souvenir: a parasite.
Even though we treated the parasite, my digestive health was never the same afterwards (even though I was already eating Paleo) and this drove me to learn everything I could about digestion. I designed my own REAL food-based elimination diet and the healing process allowed me to not only control my digestive symptoms, but also get rid of my brain fog, depressed mood, skin rashes, low energy while even boosting my fertility (I have PCOS and am fortunate to now be 8-month pregnant with my first child!).
This is what motivated to spread the REAL food word by writing the book & cookbook “Digestive Health with REAL Food” because a well-designed, anti-inflammatory and nutrient-dense elimination diet is often the best place to start.
An Elimination Diet Doesn’t Mean Eliminating Taste
The term “elimination diet” is definitely not sexy. I remember how I thought I could never live without my morning oatmeal, my peanut butter and my low-fat cookies before going Paleo, but you probably agree that these lifestyle changes all become easier once you discover new favorite foods that help your body function optimally.
It’s the same thing with any elimination diet. Of course, it can be hard at first but instead of thinking of it as the elimination of your favorite foods, think of it as a way to eliminate your symptoms. This is really what it’s all about.
What type of elimination diet do I need?
This question is hard to answer because there are as many answers as there are root causes of digestive issues. And there are many different foods and ingredients, Paleo or not Paleo, that can damage your gut lining, feed an unhealthy gut flora and worsen the inflammation within your body.
Of course, grains (with and without gluten), dairy, soy, peanut, legumes, sugar, and processed vegetable oils are potential offenders that we are fortunately already avoiding on the Paleo diet. However, Paleo foods like nuts and seeds (almonds, chocolate…), caffeine, FODMAPs (sweet potato, avocado, broccoli, cauliflower, cashews, apple, pears, cherries…), nightshades (tomatoes, white potatoes, eggplant, bell peppers, hot peppers…) and even eggs might be problematic if you have a sensitive tummy.
What will be left to eat?
You might be pondering this question, wondering what will be left for you to eat while you follow an elimination diet to eliminate your symptoms and heal your gut. Don’t worry, there is still a good variety of food left on the list, including:
animal protein (meat, poultry, organ meat, fish, seafood…),
traditional fats (coconut oil, olive oil, ghee, lard, tallow, duck fat…),
low-FODMAP and non-nightshade plant foods (zucchini, carrots, spinach, bananas, blueberries…),
and tasty seasonings (fresh herbs, unrefined salt, lemon juice…).
Coconut is your friend!
Coconut is a wonderful fat and although the word include “nut”, it’s not a tree nut and is therefore well-tolerated by most people going on an elimination diet. Coconut oil is completely free of FODMAPs and also offers wonderful fats called MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides).
This special type of fat is hard to find elsewhere (other than breastmilk!) and can give you a quick caffeine- and sugar-free boost of energy, protect you with its antimicrobial properties and even facilitate your digestion (no bile required!).
Other coconut products like coconut milk, coconut butter or shredded coconut do contain some FODMAPs, but only if consumed in large quantities… and they all provide the same amazing MCTs.
Sneak preview of “Digestive Health with REAL Food: the Cookook”
The following recipe is a preview from my cookbook released earlier this year as a companion cookbook for my book“Digestive Health with REAL Food”, called the “digestion bible” by none other than Robb Wolf!
These Coconut MCT Balls make a quick easy-to-digest and energizing on-the-go snack that is compatible with most elimination diets. The recipe is also autoimmune-friendly and even low-FODMAP if you stick to no more than 2-3 Coconut MCT balls at a time.
Coconut MCT Balls
Yield: 12 Balls
- ½ cup (125 ml) coconut butter (same as coconut cream concentrate or coconut manna, but NOT coconut oil!)
- ½ cup (125 ml) unsweetened dried shredded coconut
- 1 Tbsp (15 ml) water
- to taste vanilla extract
- Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl.
- Form balls using about 1-2 Tbsp (15-30 ml) of the mixture. If the mixture is too runny, refrigerate it for 15-30 minutes.
- Place the coconut balls on a lined baking sheet.
- Bake at 350°F (180°C) for about 20 minutes until fragrant and slightly golden.
- Let rest for about an hour (DO NOT TOUCH NOW or they will crumble!). Then it is best to put them in the fridge for a few minutes before handling to make sure they hold together well.
TIPS: These Coconut MCT Balls can be kept at room temperature for many days without any problems and can even be frozen. Add flavors! Once you tolerate more ingredients as your gut heal, you can try adding dried fruits, nuts, cinnamon, and/or unsweetened cocoa powder, and even sweeten with honey or maple syrup if desired (decrease the water to compensate).
Connect with Aglaée!
Aglaée Jacob is a registered dietitian and author of the book & cookbook “Digestive Health with REAL Food”. In her books, she shares the holistic, natural and common sense approach she used to heal her own chronic digestive problems and that of hundreds of people she worked with. Aglaée is passionate about health, food, languages, yoga and travel. She currently studies naturopathic medicine in Toronto where she lives with her husband and is expecting her first baby in September 2014. You can find her blog at RadicataMedicine.com and follow her on facebook, twitter and instagram.