A healthy gut can boost your energy levels, immunity and improve mental wellbeing. And, more importantly, red wine, cheese and bread can help, says nutritional therapist Eve Kalinik
Eve Kalinik is the first nutrition expert who’s ever told me to eat a cheese and pickle sandwich. Admittedly, she’s talking unpasteurised, aged cheese, fermented pickle, served on sourdough. She’s also often heard to advise her clients to drink full-fat organic, unhomogenised milk, especially when it’s made into kefir, the yoghurt-like drink from eastern Europe. And she’s partial to “a decent drop of natural red on the side”. When we meet, at Daylesford in Marylebone, London, she orders actual coffee, albeit cold-press coffee (made with cold water).
“People are so surprised when I tell them to eat cheese,” she says. “But I think they’re the most surprised of all when I tell them to eat potato salad.” Potatoes, it’s true, according to current nutritional fads, are just a step above lemon sherbets. She begins to wax lyrical on the benefits of cheese, the incredible variety of bacteria found in it. It’s a clue: the reason she’s championing all these foods is, of course, that they are super gut friendly. Meaning either they contain beneficial bacteria and/or microbes that increase the health of your gut, or they feed said microbes. So what’s so good about potato salad? “Cooked and cooled potatoes contain resistant starch, a potent source of food that’s good for the gut,” she says.
Kalinik wants to improve your microbiome, your personal mix of gut microbes, because firstly there is an epidemic of gut problems, such as IBS. And secondly, a whole raft of new research is revealing your gut as the core of good health. Physically, the gut affects everything from production of B vitamins, cardiovascular health, energy levels, mineral absorption, immunity, hormones and appetite, plus it’s been linked to mental health, including the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine.
As well as general health, there’s a specific and perhaps not unexpected effect from eating for your gut. Feedback from her clients has informed her that eating this way helps reduce IBS symptoms, so you go to the loo regularly, comfortably, satisfactorily, she says. “I think people are getting more open-minded, going to the loo is a lot more widely talked about, and that can only be a good thing. People often lose weight on her programme “even as a side effect”.
What her approach isn’t about is eliminating foods. “I don’t believe in cutting out whole food groups unless you have to. So many people come into my practice who’ve cut out sugar, then gluten, then dairy… this, from a gut as well as a mind perspective, is a catastrophe.” Indeed, when it comes to the gut, diversity is key. Eating a wide range of food encourages a wide range of bacteria – and that is exactly what you want for good health.
Gut health has been on the health radar for a while but Kalinik is the one who’s making it a priority – and delicious. Her interest began for personal reasons, while working as a fashion PR. “My story is not too dissimilar from that of my clients. After a healthy-ish childhood. 1 picked up a gut parasite while travelling in north Africa. I ate a haphazard diet as a student, so by my twenties I was having a lot of bloating and constipation, pain and feeling miserable.” This turned into recurrent UTIs and kidney infections. Recurring so often, in fact, that all her doctor could offer was antibiotics. An increasingly desperate search for answers led her to a consultation with a naturopathic nutritionist. “I started making changes to my diet and, over time, my symptoms began to improve. People expect a quick fix but if the problem comes from decades of lifestyle, it’s not going to improve instantly.” In her practice, Kalinik sees evidence every day of the modern epidemic of dysbiosis, exactly what happened to her. It’s down to lifestyle: antibiotics, stress, processed food, low fibre, genetic predispositions, high sugar, exposure to bacteria or parasites. “It’s usually a combination – there’s rarely a single cause,” she says.
Kalinik’s huge health change led her to study nutrition at the College of Naturopathic Medicine, qualifying four years ago, aged 34, and setting up her clinic. The basis of her plan – and her new book – is ‘ancestral eating’, using foods cultivated and cooked in more traditional ways. “My motto is: nothing too extreme, overwhelming or expensive.” And the key is, humans have eaten fermented foods in all their smelly glory since food cultivation began. So Kalinik loves sauerkraut, packed with good bacteria, which “costs pennies to make” and kefir, “it takes a minute each day”. “It’s about coming back to real foods,” she says. We promise they’re delicious, too.
Be Good To Your Gut: The Ultimate Guide To Gut Health – With 80 Delicious Recipes To Feed Your Body And Mind by Eve Kalinik (Piatkus, £20)