by The Culinistas

If you want to understand the gut, you have to start at the brain. That’s what Dr. Emeran Mayer taught us in his book The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health. Not to get all heady but when it comes to gut health, well, Dr. Mayer is a genius. 

Here, he dishes on why gut health is more than a trend, the one thing you can start doing right this very instant to take care of your gut, and why his gut most closely resembles a Buddhist monk. Color us intrigued. 

The Culinistas: So little is known about the gut. What’s a misconception people might have about gut health?

Dr. Emeran Mayer: Traditionally, gut health referred to a person without a specific gut disease, like celiac disease, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease or IBS.

But in the last 5-7 years, the term gut health has taken on a whole different meaning: a healthy gut-based immune system, gut-based nervous and endocrine system, gut microbiome, a tight intestinal barrier without leakiness and absence of low-grade immune activation. This new Gut Health concept has become the central theme in discussions about overall health and wellness.

A major misconception is that trendy interventions, like cleansing, fasting, taking pre and probiotics and other supplements is sufficient to maintain a healthy gut.

TC: What’s one easy thing anyone can do to take care of the gut?

EM: Everybody can switch to a healthy diet. A diet that is optimal for the gut microbiome (high diverse fiber, different types of polyphenols, high in omega-3 Fatty Acids) is also optimal for gut health.  Such healthy diets are largely plant-based diets with a small amount of fish and poultry. They include the traditional Mediterranean diet, the traditional Okinawan diet and many traditional Asian diets. There is unequivocal scientific evidence supporting a wide range of health benefits of a largely plant-based diet.

TC: What hooked you in wanting to become an expert on gut health?

EM: When I had to pick a clinical specialty early in my career, gastroenterology seemed to be the most appealing choice: a wide range of diseases, and the important role of diet and the mind in clinical outcomes. From the beginning, I found the connections between the gut and the brain the most interesting part, long before gut health was such a hot topic. I have pursued research on brain/gut microbiome interactions for the past 30 years, and have expanded my research interests into the role of gut health in cognitive decline, food addiction, autism spectrum disorders, depression and Parkinson’s disease.

TC: If your gut was a celebrity, who would it be and why?

EM: It would be a very wise person, mindful, full of empathy and compassion. Maybe some famous Buddhist monk like Matthieu Ricard.

TC: Tell us about a time when you followed your gut and it paid off in spades.

EM: Two major decisions come to mind: 1) When I had just finished my medical internship in Munich, Germany, I got an unexpected offer for a training position in Internal Medicine at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, and I had one week to make a decision on the offer.  I agonized over it for four days and then made a gut-based decision to leave Germany and move to Canada, against all the advice of friends and family. 2) When I first met my wife on a blind date, I knew within 30 minutes that I was going to marry her (luckily she made the same gut decision!).

TC: What’s one thing you’ve never had the guts to do, but always wanted to try?

EM: Climb Mount Everest.

TC: What is your gut telling you is in store for 2021?

EM: I go back and forth between a very dark vision with the disintegration of the Western world as we know it, both in the US and in Europe, more climate related catastrophes and political and economic instability, and more fallout from the pandemic. On the other hand, I try to be optimistic, hoping that people will come to their senses and realize that many of our problems are solvable if we work together and overcome our divisions. It will be another challenging year!

We asked Dr. Mayer to select six items from our Go With Your Gut menu and tell us why.

Blueberry Chamomile Parfait (blueberry, chamomile, greek yogurt, walnut, coconut, honey, sumac, allspice, solstice blend)

“I love blueberries and walnuts and have them every morning. They not only taste great, but both are full of Flavonoids (polyphenols) which are the plants’ own medicine. There are thousands of polyphenol molecules in different plants and fruits. Due to their size, these molecules cannot be absorbed in the small intestine and require the ability of the gut microbes in the lower intestinal tract to break them down into smaller, absorbable and health-promoting molecules. At the same time, polyphenols also are prebiotics, e.g. they are “food” for certain microbes. Yogurt contains several microbial strains that add to a healthy gut microbiome. “

Overnight Oats (oat, pear, ginger, walnut, coconut milk, honey, allspice, solstice blend)

“Another great and tasty combination of high fiber-containing foods (pears, oats, walnuts), high polyphenol containing food (walnuts) and high omega-3 fatty acids (walnuts). It is important that the fiber comes from different sources (e.g. great variety of fruits and vegetables) as there are hundreds of different fiber types, all of which require different microbial strains to digest them.  This variety of ingested fiber will support a highly diverse, e.g. healthy gut microbiome.”

Smoky Salmon with Summer Squash (wild salmon, zucchini, yellow squash, yogurt, parsley, lemon, urfa, cumin, cayenne, onion powder)

“Wild salmon has a high omega-3 fatty acid content and always tastes delicious. Sustainably harvested salmon is one of the best sources of healthy fat, good for your brain and for the gut. I love the combination with the two vegetables and the yogurt.”

Mushroom Grains Bowl (buckwheat, mushroom, apple, gouda, parsley, lemon, cumin, cayenne, onion powder)

“Another diverse fiber-rich dish, which promotes the richness and diversity of the gut microbiota.  While many health claims about mushrooms have been made, very few are evidence supported. However, mushrooms have a high amount of fiber and add a delicious flavor to any dish.”

Wild Rice Salad (dandelion green, wild rice, mushroom, pecan, dried sour cherry, lemon, cayenne, onion powder)

“Another gut-healthy recipe with a high variety of fiber and omega-3 Fatty Acids.”  

Make sure to download our fun gut health bracket for your chance to win a set of our 10 Grove kitchen linens.