Pretty much every morning I wake up, clap my hands and wonder what I might eat for breakfast. I am a foodie, in love with the changing seasons that bring asparagus in spring and plums in summer, and I’m endlessly fascinated by the diverse flavours of food from around the world. I am not a trained chef and yet I have always cooked, devouring recipe books greedily as soon as I could read. From my teenage years in a rural commune, where I learnt to make great pots of spicy dhal and bake show-stopping birthday cakes, to more recent holidays in Italy where the vegetables were so good they only needed a slick of olive oil to sing, cooking and eating have been at the centre of my life.
What sparked your interest in gut health? Food took on a different meaning for me for a while when I was diagnosed with coeliac disease, becoming a source of anxiety and often disappointment; restaurants were fraught with danger, and old favourites, like crusty bread, were off the menu. I could have sulked and pined for what I was missing, but I chose instead to embrace the new challenge and celebrate the wonderful things that I could still safely and joyfully eat. I learnt about the mysterious business of what goes on in the gut, and that what I ate, how I lived and my emotional state all had a profound influence on my health.
Can you give our readers some insight into your book? Eating is such an integral part of our lives and an opportunity for each of us to comfort, delight and nourish, that I have made it my mission to help others discover how delicious it can be to take care of your gut. The recipes in Food for a Happy Gut encourage everyone to diversify their diet, including those who have no digestive issues but want to improve their microbiome and support their immune system, thus enjoying greater energy and wellbeing. This book offers you over a hundred opportunities to expand your repertoire and feed your microbes interesting foods that allow them to flourish. Variety truly is the spice of life, especially where your gut is concerned, so embrace your desire to try new things, knowing that this will make you more vital.
What's your best tip for eating well with a busy lifestyle? The key to eating well while leading our busy lives is to take a little time out each week to prepare food in advance. Soak and cook grains and pulses, slow-cook some hard-working cuts of meat, make bone broth, and get the family involved in some simple kitchen work to make a busy week fly by in a stream of delicious dinners. Everything in my book is bursting with flavour and nothing is difficult to prepare; from Broad Bean Hummus to Lick-Your-Fingers Chicken, a few choice ingredients can make any meal sing with flavour. By using wonderful fresh produce and filling your pantry with pickles, sprinkles and sauces from the Heal section, your meals will reward you throughout the year, keeping both your taste buds and microbes interested. Try making a jar of spicy Dukkah or some Sunshine Sauerkraut to add instant zing to the simplest of plates. I also encourage you to listen to the murmuring of your body as it guides you to what it needs. During busy times, it might tell you that it is really craving restorative Miso Soup and soothing Jelly Sweets, or after an exhilarating run it would really like a refreshing glass of Water Kefir. When your body gets the nourishment it craves, you will feel properly satisfied by your food, and when your microbes are happy, they will help you thrive in what promises to be a wonderful lifelong partnership. It doesn’t matter who you are, absolutely everyone can benefit from giving their gut a little TLC. I want to shift the emphasis from eliminating foods to celebrating a wonderfully diverse range of foods that will calm and nourish your gut microbes.
Naomi Devlin is the author of Food for a Happy Gut, published by Headline and available in all good bookstores.
Photo credit: Laura Edwards