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Y’all know I’m a proponent of agrarianism – a way of life that connects us to the land, the soil that feeds us, and the direct Provision of God. So, it is interesting to me that we are finding a correlation between gut health and contact with living soil and animals. Why is this? Well, I have theories, which I’ll spare you from, but I think it’s not a stretch to say it all comes back to microorganisms and the synergy between the human gut, soil, and bacteria.

To take it further, perhaps this is just another piece of the gut-bacteria puzzle. In vegetable fermentation we talk about the naturally occurring bacteria that exist on the surface of vegetables. We utilize that bacteria from the soil almost as a starter culture in the lactic acid fermentation process. People will pay big bucks for probiotics and fermented vegetables but there it is, raw and rampant in healthy soil  all free for the taking.

Is it really possible that the missing link in our health, and that of our gut, is as simple as dirt? (Well, soil, but you get the idea.)

This is what makes me leery of over-cleaning and even sterilizing our children’s bodies and surroundings. It has become the norm to want to kill all of the bacteria. Cleaning products even boast about it and we buy it – the products and the theory behind it – because bacteria make us sick, right? Anti-bacterial gels and soaps, bleach, and other strong disinfectants make us feel like we’re killing the bad guys, but I believe we’re just creating a microbe vacuum that isn’t natural or healthy.

And this is what concerns me about the germ theory. If we believe that germs cause illness and if we do not have a more holistic understanding of immune defenses and the balance of this whole world of microorganisms that we do not fully understand, then what exactly are we trying to eradicate? And what damage are we doing in the process?

I say let them eat dirt. Let them frolic with animals. Don’t wash their hands incessantly. Don’t clean with anything stronger than real soap. Get them out of the house, off the concrete and into the garden and onto the land. And let us adults do the same.

That is the end of my dirty, healthy baby manifesto.

The Heal Your Gut Cookbook

If you’re looking for some background behind how gut healing works and why gut health is related to more physical and mental problems than we think, here are those resources that I’ve found helpful:

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If the GAPS book is the why behind a gut healing protocol, then the Heal Your Gut Cookbook is the how. While I am a proponent of this protocol I also want to state that it is intense. During the GAPS diet there are definite ups and downs, more of the latter than the former when first starting out, I’m afraid. Energy is low, the cook often feels weary, and the “patients” often grow tired of soup and broth.

That is where this book comes in handy. The Heal Your Gut Cookbook walks you through all of the stages of the GAPS diet from Intro to full GAPS. Within each phase you’ll find delicious and beautifully-photographed recipes to lean on. Everything from soups to condiments to meats and vegetables and ferments and treats are included – all GAPS legal.

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Before all of that is an introductory section that helps you stock your pantry, shows you a bit of how all disease begins in the gut, and teaches you how to make staples like homemade yogurt and coconut flour. One section I found particularly interesting was a discussion on bone broth vs. meat stock in which the differences, applications, and benefits of each.

The recipes come from Hilary Boynton, mother to five, and you can tell that these recipes – and this book – came out of the labor of love that was nourishing her family through the GAPS protocol. While many are quite complicated and beyond what I would endeavor to experiment with here on the homestead – homemade coconut flour and marshmallows come to mind – there is inspiration for all of us within these pages.

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And I think that is where this book excels. Not only does it provide you with a stage-by-stage guide along with handy lists similar to those found in GAPS, it gives you creative ideas and solutions that work. When you’re the weary cook or the tired patient, recipes like Creamy Cabbage Casserole with Chicken Thighs, Lacto-Fermented BBQ Sauce, and coconut flour tortillas may be the little bit of help you needed to continue on.

As I contemplate another round of this healing diet for my family, I am grateful to have this book to turn to for such inspiration.

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Part One

We’ve done this before, attempting to fix underlying health issues by addressing gut problems. We started years ago by adding fermented foods. It helped, but it seemed like there was something else missing. And so I read up some more on these concepts of gut healing and sealing.

I learned that for most of us with highly damaged guts, and that’s probably many of us, just adding probiotics and fermented foods isn’t enough.

Two more things need to happen:

1. Remove foods that irritate or slow down gut healing. You want foods that are not going to tax your gut while you’re trying to heal it. I know there’s a ton of rhetoric on both sides of the food sensitivities argument, but I think the bottom line is this: most foods, if they are real to begin with, are only allergens to us when our gut health is compromised.

We don’t need to make blanket statements about grains or dairy (or raw vegetables, which are also on this list) being inherently bad. We just need to step away for a bit in order to heal and let our guts gain some perspective. And some of us might find that staying away from excessive amounts of grains or pasteurized dairy in the long-term can also be beneficial.

To me, changing the way we think about why we have food sensitivities is critical. I think it’s easy to blame a food, take our eyes away from the systemic problem of our own lack of gut health, and continue to struggle because we’ve put a band-aid on a gaping wound.

There are, of course, always extreme cases in which a full GAPS diet isn’t as helpful to some as it is to others. I think of my cohort Erin at Plan to Eat who has gone to tremendous lengths to heal her gut through GAPS and an Autoimmune Protocol. I have so much respect for what she’s endured, the grace she’s shown through the process, and her courage to at least try to do something about her struggles.

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2. Utilize foods that both heal and and build up the gut. The three main foods, according to the GAPS protocol and my own findings, are

  • homemade bone broth
  • fermented foods
  • pastured/grass-fed animal fats.

I try to think of it as a soothing anti-inflammatory diet, so animal fats from factory-farmed and primarily grain-fed animals would be out.

So, not only do we add in those beneficial bacteria (and other elements) from fermented foods, but we’re also giving our digestive system a rest while attempting to heal and seal it with nourishing foods.

Fermented Foods vs. Probiotics

Not surprisingly, many studies are finding that fermented foods and the probiotics and other beneficial factors in fermented foods are more affective than probiotic supplements. One source claims that fermented foods give us not only more types of bacteria, but also a larger volume of these beneficial beasts than a probiotic supplement can provide.

Probiotics obviously have their place, but getting our nutrients and bacteria from real food always makes more logical and economic sense, right?

For that reason, many people call fermented foods the missing link in a healthy diet. I agree; we always feel better when we’re consuming ferments every day, and ideally more than one variety.

But I actually think there’s another missing link that is just beginning to see some light in the scientific community. And it has more to do with where we’re at than what we eat. More on that next time.

Further Reading

These are some of the resources I found helpful in researching this topic over the years: