I am a huge fan of asparagus – particularly British asparagus, you really can’t beat it! So, I am super excited that it’s currently in season!
But did you know that as well as being completely delicious, asparagus is a real powerhouse of a veggie. Asparagus is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals especially folate and vitamins A, C & K. Plus, it is a great source of both insoluble and soluble fibre making it the perfect partner for a healthy gut and good digestion.
4 fillets cod
1 large bunch asparagus, cut into 3-4cm pieces, tough ends removed
1 fennel bulb, very thinly sliced
½ white onion, very thinly sliced
1 lemon, very thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
Seasoning to taste
THE MICROBIOME – HOW IT KEEPS US HAPPY AND HEALTHY
An adult human has around 2kg worth of microbes in our large intestine comprised of bacteria, viruses, archaea, fungi… and sometimes parasites. In fact, our guts are so well populated that we actually have more bacterial cells in our bodies than our own cells. And as odd as this may sound, this tiny ecosystem in our gut plays an essential role in our health and wellbeing, both physically and mentally.
When the bacteria in our gut are living in balance, with the right combination of good variety of types of bacteria, we have a wonderful symbiotic relationship with them, where we feed them fibre and, in return, they fulfil a number of roles for us:
Finally, our microbiome plays a key role in our mental health. This may be no surprise when you think about getting butterflies when you’re nervous or needing the loo when you’re frightened – the connection between our gut and our brain is very real indeed. Research shows that a happy gut is a happy brain and vice versa.
Sometimes called the Microbiome-Gut-Brain axis, the connection via the Vagus Nerve allows two-way communication between our brains and our guts, and scientists believe that this is to allow and monitor integration of gut signals into the emotional and cognitive centres of the brain. This allows our brains to have up-to-the-second information on our immune system, our gut function, plus production of certain gut-derived neurotransmitters, such as the feel-good serotonin. In turn, the brain supplies the gut with information to control immune function, motility and the permeability of the barriers.
Working alongside the central nervous system in such a way means that the microbiome and gut may have real influence over our emotional states, particularly when it comes to stress responses, anxiety and memory function. And this can often be seen in action with people with altered gut function, such as IBS, where other symptoms may include anxiety and low mood.
Looking after our microbiomes is therefore key to our overall health and mental wellbeing.
Xenoestrogens are environmental pollutants with chemical structures that can mimic oestrogen in the body. These chemicals can lead to detrimental effects to our bodies, therefore awareness of xenoestrogens and avoidance where possible are the key to good health.
For example, research shows that pollution by xenoestrogens can affect:
By mimicking the action of our own oestrogen, xenoestrogens can affect our bodies and alter our hormone activity. Currently, approximately 70,000 chemicals have been registered as having hormonal effects. These chemicals have been seen to increase the oestrogen load in the body over time and are sometimes more difficult for the liver to detoxify and clear from the body.
These chemicals can be found in our water, air, soil and food chain, as well as in many cosmetic and household products. The human body is being bombarded with these harmful chemicals every day which may over-burden the liver, weaken our immune systems and disrupt our delicate hormonal balance.
So, where can we find them? And how can we avoid them?
Many household products contain xenoestrogens, but specifically look out for laundry detergents and fabric softeners, as they may leave residues on clothing, towels, and things that touch our skin. Air fresheners and insect repellents are also major sources of xenoestrogens.
Xenoestrogens absorbed by the skin are thought to be ten times more potent than those eaten or drunk, as they travel directly to the tissues instead of passing through the liver. Therefore, be careful with your choices – look for natural plant-based products and check the ingredients carefully. Some things to avoid are:
Plastics, especially soft plastics, contain many compounds that are considered to be xenoestrogens. One type are phthalates, which are a kind of plasticizer which are often used to make plastics soft and flexible. These compounds can leach out over time or in response to heat or light. Unfortunately, phthalates are used in a range of products from food containers and packaging to children's toys and bottles.
Bisphenol-A (BPA) is another offender that is used for food storage or to line tin cans for canned goods. Although this protects the consumer from a metallic taste in the foods, BPA is a known xenoestrogen that can leach into the food when exposed to hear or acid.
Unfortunately, water treatment plants are not currently designed to remove hormonal pollutants, and agricultural and pharmaceutical runoff have created a curious epidemic among fish and frogs in many waterways in the developed world.
Have a look at the products you use, food you eat, water your drink, plus storage and containers, cleaners and cosmetics. Think about what you can afford to change, and maybe put in a plan to replace things gradually over time. Each small change you make will be a benefit to your health in the long term.
This is a popular, spicy condiment that can be used in a variety of way – side dish to a curry, stir-fry or salad, as an element of a sandwich or wrap, or to spice up any dishes that need it.
It’s also a great way to get some of the delicious Hisby cabbage into your diet! Slightly sweeter than your traditional cabbage, it is sometimes known as sweetheart cabbage or pointed cabbage. Cabbage is part of the Brassica family and as such is a superhero in the nutrition world! Rich in vitamins K, C and folate, it also packs a fantastic fibre punch. Cabbage is excellent for gut health – the soluble fibre it contains make a great meal for the microbes in our gut, which in turn keep us healthy. And it is fantastic for hormone health.
1 Hisby or pointed cabbage
1 tbsp sea salt
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp grated ginger (fresh or frozen)
2 tbsp chilli sauce (hot not sweet)
2 tbsp fish sauce or veggie fish sauce
1 tsp honey
3 tbsp rice wine vinegar (or white wine vinegar, if you don’t have this)
2 carrots, grated
1 onion, finely sliced
Makes 1 x 1 litre jar
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