We are both fascinated by the gut! The reason we started Squirrel Sisters is because Sophie had a gluten-intolerance and I (Gracie) used to make our snack bars for her when we lived together after uni, way before Squirrel Sisters was a business idea. So for the past 8+ years gut health and how to improve the health of our gut has been a huge interest of ours.
Gut health is a topic that comes up a lot around the family kitchen table, not only because Sophie has suffered with gut issues but so has Ian (Sophie’s husband and our Squirrel designer). Ian had Ulcerative Colitis , which is an inflammatory bowel disease and after lots of testing found out that he was allergic to gluten. So, he has to avoid gluten and eat a diet, which would be suitable for those with coeliac disease. Not only do gut issues effect our immediate family, but when we speak to our friends it seems that most have suffered with gut problems, from IBS symptoms to food intolerances, at some stage in their life; it can have a pretty devastating effect on people’s day to day lives, making them feel miserable and lack confidence.
One thing that has really interested us is the impact that diet can have on our gut health, and how in some cases, it can ‘fix’ or at least help make gut issues more manageable. Since both of us became more aware of what we were consuming and made changes to our diets we have both noticed a huge difference in how we feel, both mentally and physically. Swapping a bag of crisps for one of our snack bars and just being more mindful when it came to listening to our bodies. Sophie in particular has noticed a huge difference, with her gluten-intolorence pretty much going altogether.
We’ve all heard the gut being referred to as ‘the second brain’ and according to Steve Bennett (author of Primal Cure) 90% of all known illnesses can be traced back to an unhealthy gut. So the gut is a pretty big deal and we want to know more about it, how it works and what we can do to make it better.
When we spoke to Steve in more detail he explained that our bodies are covered in over 100 trillion microbes that live in and on our body. There are more than 10,000 different species, which we refer to as our microbiome. Steve went on to explain that while these tiny creature exist all over our body, it is primarily their accumulation in our gut that has the biggest impact on our health. Getting the varieties of microbes in our gut balanced is now believed by cutting-edge science to have positive effects on all aspects of our health. From weight control to a healthy heart, from food metabolism to a good memory, these little creatures need to be respected and controlled.
Why is the gut so important?
“The gut provides one of our first lines of defence against invading pathogens, including bacteria and viruses and helps to protect us from infection. It is also the site of all digestion and absorption of the foods we eat, this means that everything we consume is broken down into molecules that are small enough to be absorbed through the gut into the bloodstream where they will perform all sorts of functions within the body. The gut is also the site of excretion and enables us to eliminate toxins and waste from our bodies. So the gut plays many an important role in our general health.” Elisabeth Linford
How do we know if our gut is in need of a little help?
“Signs that there is some compromise in the functioning of the gut can vary hugely from person to person, and will vary depending on what exactly is causing the problem. A client may present with abdominal discomfort, bloating, flatulence, reflux, constipation etc which is an obvious indicator that the gut is not functioning optimally. However less obvious signs of gut disfunction may be headaches, fatigue, food intolerances, poor immunity, allergies, autoimmune conditions such as eczema and arthritis, yeast infections, acne…… the list really does go on.’ Elisabeth Linford
Claire Barnes helped us delve in a little further when we asked her to explain what exactly goes on in our bodies when we experience the 4 most common signs, which include consipation, diarrhoea, bloating and flatulence…
Constipation: “This could be a sign that your gut microbiome is imbalanced with an overgrowth of potentially more harmful bacteria, referred to as dysbiosis. Those more harmful bacteria produce chemicals in the gut that can slow down stool motility. The slower the transit, the more water is taken out of the stool, leaving the stool hard to pass.”
Diarrhoea: “There are a number of potential causes of diarrhoea, including food intolerances (such as dairy or gluten) and infections. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter produced in the gut by intestinal cells and can be regulated by the gut microbiome. Serotonin can speed up the muscular movements within the digestive tract to move contents through quicker and excrete them from the body; this is useful in terms of infection, however, if you regularly suffer with diarrhoea this can reduce your absorption of nutrients and leave you dehydrated. A healthy gut microbiome helps to regulate serotonin levels in the gut, therefore helping to regulate bowel movements.”
Bloating: “Try to determine how long after eating the bloating occurs. If shortly after (within 2 hours) it could be a sign that stomach acid and digestive enzymes are low. Whereas after this time it could suggest that harmful bacteria are fermenting the food in the intestines and producing gases and by-products leading to the bloating. Increasing beneficial bacteria through fermented foods (sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, etc) and live bacteria supplements can help to rebalance the gut microbiome. Certain gut bacteria can also produce their own digestive enzymes encouraging the breakdown of the nutrients within the food.”
Flatulence: “Like bloating this can be a sign that foods are not being broken down properly through the stomach acid and digestive enzymes or that more harmful bacteria are fermenting these foods. The more harmful bacteria can produce methane, the chemical responsible for the smelly odour and excess wind. Certain foods may be more likely to cause flatulence, often these are fermentable fibres such as onion, garlic, oats and legumes (yes beans!) avoiding these high fermentable fibres until the gut microbiome is rebalanced.”
Can you tell more about your gut from the condition of your skin?
“Your skin can be a great tool to use when trying to understand what is going on inside our bodies, and although issues such as acne and pimples can be the result of imbalanced blood sugars, and hormonal issues, they too can point to a toxicity within the body which may result from poor elimination due to slow transit time wishing the gut, or to an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria or yeasts within the gut. Eczema is a key indicator that the immune system is not functioning as it should be, and with the gut being one of the key organs involved in a healthy immunity, it is frequently found that imbalances in the gut can contribute to the development of eczema.” Elisabeth Linford
What impact does diet have on the gut?
“What we eat and how our digestion functions is intrinsically linked. If we make poor dietary choices this can result in an imbalance in the bacterial levels within the gut, the main culprit here is sugar. The non-beneficial bacteria and yeasts in the gut tend to favour a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates and when we consume these foods on a regular basis we are allowing the proliferation of these bacteria, which can soon overwhelm the beneficial bacteria. However it is not just what we eat, it is also when we eat, and eating too frequently or too much can cause a problem for digestion as our bodies will struggle to maintain the demand for the enzymes required to digest these foods. This can result in foods being fermented in the gut rather than digested and absorbed. This can cause loading, gas and discomfort.” Elisabeth Linford
Could no added sugar, 100% natural products like our snack bars be good for the gut?
Sophie noticed that when she made changes to her diet (eg. she started only snacking on what are now our award-winning Squirrel Sisters snack bars) that her gluten intolerance became a lot more manageable and now has pretty much gone altogether. Sugar seems to be one of the main culprits when it comes to gut health so could it be the fact that our products have no added sugar and only contain sugar from natural sources (the whole dates we use to bind and sweeten our products) that make them a good choice if you’re trying to improve or manage your gut health?
“The benefits from something like Squirrel Sisters bars on the gut, include the high fibre content from the nuts, seeds and dried fruit, which will help to feed the beneficial bacteria and keep the gut moving along with a low sugar content, which is important for suppressing the growth of the non-beneficial or pathogenic bacteria that may be present. Dried, fruits, nuts and seeds are really good sources of minerals such as zinc, and vitamins such as vitamin E which are important in the maintenance and repair of the gut lining.” Elisabeth Linford
Claire Barnes went on to explain that “when choosing a snack, it’s important to keep blood sugar levels balanced which also helps to keep hormone levels balanced. So if choosing fruit remember to balance it with healthy protein and healthy fats, such as nuts and seeds. Nuts, seeds and dried fruits all contain phytochemicals which act as antioxidants, helping to protect your body from free radical damage. As well as providing a balanced energy snack and antioxidants a Squirrel Sisters bar also provides a source of fibre. Fibre is not absorbed by the body, but helps to provide bulk to stools and improves bowel motility. Fibre can also act as a food source for our gut microbiome. The beneficial bacteria in the gut are able to utilise these fibres and produce extra vitamins that our bodies can absorb as well as short-chain-fatty-acids (SCFAs). One particular SCFA (butyrate) helps to keep our gut lining healthy.”
Tell us 4 of the best ways to look after your gut
Elisabeth Winford tips:
- Consuming prebiotic foods, these are the foods which contain beneficial bacteria, including live yoghurt, kefir, fermented vegetables, kombucha etc, and will help keep maintain an optimal balance of bacteria within the gut.
- High fibre foods like Squirrel Sisters bars, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds as well as wholegrain will provide the feeding substrates for these beneficial bacterial and will enable them to grow in number. Fibre is also very important to ensure healthy elimination of toxins and waste from the digestive system.
- Starting the day with hot water and lemon juice allows a very gentle detox of the gut and also triggers the release of all important digestive enzymes, which gets us ready to eat and digest.
- Give your gut time to rest is key, so allowing a decent length fasted period over night and not eating too frequently throughout the day.
Claire Barnes’ tips:
- Relax before eating. Find somewhere quiet away from distractions, preferably gazing out of a window into the distance. Chew your food well to manually start the digestive process.
- Cook from scratch using whole foods. Eat a diverse diet of rainbow coloured vegetables and fruits, healthy proteins (legumes, pulses, free-range eggs, grass-fed meats, wild fish, nuts and seeds) and healthy fats (avocados, oily fish; such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, olive oil and coconut oil).
- Regularly consume bone broth and fermented foods to both heal the gut and maintain a healthy and diverse gut microbiome.
- Get outside as often as possible. We spend far longer inside than our ancestors ever did; meaning our exposure to microbes is much lower, affecting both our gut microbiome and our corresponding immune system.
Is that ‘Gut Feeling’ actually a thing?
When it comes to making decisions with our business and personal life we always come back to the saying ‘trust your gut’! Everytime we have trusted our ‘gut feeling’ we have ended up making the best decisions. How does this work?
“The gut and brain are linked on what we refer to as the gut brain axis, so depending on how we are feeling emotionally, this can affect how we feel in our digestive system. We can experience physical symptoms within the gut as a result of worry, anxiety, panic, unease, stress, and similarly a lack of digestive symptoms when we feel happiness, relaxation, calm and peacefulness. So yes we can have that ‘gut feeling’ which is actually just a physical representation of what we are thinking or feeling emotionally.
Claire Barnes goes on to explain that “what’s going on in the gut can have a huge influence over our mood. A study published in 2013,1using brain imagery technology found that giving a multi-strain live bacteria drink for 4 weeks to healthy women altered their brain connectivity to emotional tasks. The study suggests that our gut bacteria can have a direct influence on our emotional state.”
Tried & Tested
Behind the scenes at Squirrel Sisters HQ we have been trying out a range of products that claim they can aide gut health. Here’s some of our favourites:
1. Willy’s Apple Cider Vinegar
Willy’s ‘ACV is alive with the all-important ‘Mother’, a powerful natural colony of proteins, enzymes and gut-friendly bacteria. The Mother infuses the Apple Cider Vinegar with millions of probiotic cultures which you can see alive and present in every bottle of Willy’s ACV. Known for its well-documented health benefits from boosting the immune system, improving gut health and regulating blood sugars, to treating cosmetic complaints like acne, dry skin and even relieving symptoms of sunburn, the benefits are truly endless.
2. Probio7 Advanced
Probio7 contains live bacteria to compliments the gut flora naturally present in your digestive system. Each capsule provides 10 billion friendly bacteria from 8 strains.
3. Nature Boutique Artichoke Tea
We love this Natur Boutique tea! Research shows artichoke may be able to help lessen some IBS symptoms (which affects up to 12 million people in the UK) and bloating. Other benefits include helping digestion, reducing cholesterol, and aiding liver health.
4. Bio-Kult Advanced Multi-Strain Formulation
Bio-Kult is a unique multi strain live bacteria supplement which contains 14 strains of live bacteria, strengthening your body’s natural defences, by helping maintain a well-balanced gut.
5. Lost Coast Apple Cider Vinegar Juices
Lost Coast juices contain 5% ACV so provides all the benefits of apple cider vinegar, but with all the tasteof a refreshing sparkling fruit juice, and offer a healthy replacement for beer and wine.
This blend of powders from Naomis Blend supports the gut health, skin health, immune system and mental health.
7. FutureYou Probio8+
FutureYou Probio 8+ is an ‘anti-bloating’ probiotic cocktail of eight different bacteria strains designed to shrink a stomach swollen by gas from fruit and vegetable digestion as well as the fizz from soft drinks and lager. Ideal to take pre or post-holiday over indulgence.
8. Life plan Apple Cider Vinegar Complex
While for some the idea of drinking a dose of apple cider vinegar does not appeal, Lifeplan has created an easy to take capsule alternative. These Capsules are enhanced with Chloride, which helps to support normal digestion by producing hydrochloric acid in the stomach. Hydrochloric acid is required for the functioning of our digestive enzymes and absorption of nutrients. It also helps to prevent the growth of bad bacteria in the stomach.
9. Atlas Biomed Microbiome Test
The Atlas Biomed Microbiome test identifies the composition of bacteria, enabling you to understand how to protect your gut health and therefore protecting and preventing you from potentially serious illness. With this test you can:
- Learn how microbes can protect you from disease
- Understand how your diet affects your gut bacteria
- Optimise your microbiome’s ability to synthesise vitamins
- Understand your bacteria’s potential to break down dietary fibre
- Discover your personalised food recommendation (you are provided with a list of top 10 recommended foods completely personalised to you invidiual microbiome and gut bacteria).
10. Bioglan Superfoods
Bioglan superfood powders give your body natural vitamins and minerals in a hassle free and cost effective way.
1 Tillisch K, Labus J, Kilpatrick L, et al.Consumption of Fermented Milk Product With Probiotic Modulates Brain Activity. Gastroenterology2013; 144: 1394–1401.e4.