They say beauty begins in the belly and they're right. It's safe to say that 2018 has been the year of gut-health, with more evidence and new studies proving that the gut is the foundation of our health. But even with all the research, it can be hard to decipher the good from the bad information and what we should apply to our own lives and guts. So we reached out to Carla Oates, founder of The Beauty Chef and author of The Beauty Chef: Delicious Food for Radiant Skin, Gut Health, and Wellbeing, to answer a few of our pressing questions.
As a young child, Oates suffered from eczema and allergies, so her mom took her to see a naturopath. After some diet adjustments, her skin soon cleared. It was then she learned the adage, "You are what you eat" firsthand, and her personal research and passion for gut health have continued ever since. After having her two children, Oates began lacto-fermenting foods in her Bondi kitchen, which is where she developed her best-selling Glow inner beauty powder with 24 bio-fermented, skin-loving superfoods.
Ahead, Oates shares some of her key insights in gut-health, the main ingredients we should be eating, and four exclusive recipes from her book to get started at home.
Why is gut health such a buzzy term right now?
I think it really comes down to the increased awareness we're seeing for the importance of gut health. When I first started The Beauty Chef, the realm of gut health was still quite new, and it was really only through my own experience with gut and skin issues that I began to understand the incredible impact nourishing my gut could have on my skin, health, and well-being. Although I did a lot of research examining the link between gut health and skin health, the world of inner beauty and our understanding of the beauty of bacteria and probiotics was really in its infancy—and a totally foreign concept to the beauty industry, too.
Since then, however, there has been a paradigm shift, and with more and more research supporting the link between gut health and our overall health, beauty, and well-being, people are beginning to understand that health is beauty and beauty is health.
In a broader sense, there has also been a movement toward organic whole foods, chemical-free skincare, and personal care products as we become more aware of the toxins and chemicals we're exposed to and how they affect our health—and gut health is at the center of this research, which is incredibly exciting to witness.
How does gut health have the capacity to change your life? Why?
It doesn't sound very glamorous, but the gut is truly where the seeds for optimal health, beauty, and well-being are planted. Our gut is where 70% of our immune system lies, it’s where we make nutrients and detoxifying enzymes, metabolize hormones and neutralize pathogens. Not only does this have a huge impact on the health of our skin, but our immunity, metabolism, brain function, and mood.
Although we often think that the main role of our gut and our gut bacteria is to feed us and supply us with nutrition, in reality, our bacteria can influence our health far beyond the gut wall and just like we each have our own unique fingerprint, research is also beginning to show that we have our own bacterial blueprint too—meaning we can begin to really tailor our approach to gut health on a more personal level.
How can diet change your gut health?
My philosophy has always been that beauty begins in the belly, and it's true. What we eat can have a medicinal effect on our bodies. Not only because food literally feeds our cells, but because when it comes to our bacteria, the species and balance of microbes in our gut are directly influenced by what we eat.
If you think of a garden, our gut is like the soil, and in order for plants to thrive and grow strong, the soil needs the right nutrient levels and bacterial balance to support growth. In the same way, in order for us to be healthy and flourish, we need to eat the highest quality, most nutrient-dense whole foods possible.
What are the main ingredients people should eat for improved/optimal gut health?
In my experience, one of the simplest ways to support gut health is to include more fermented foods in our diet. While fermentation has been around for thousands of years among traditional cultures, there has definitely been a resurgence in its popularity, and for good reason. Fermented foods are rich in beneficial bacteria, and while there are a bunch of delicious fermented foods you can include in your diet at home—including kimchi, sauerkraut, and miso—over the years I’ve found lacto-fermented foods to be particularly beneficial for both gut and skin health.
This is the method of fermentation we use to create all of The Beauty Chef formulas, and it uses the Lactobacillus species of bacteria. This process supercharges the ingredients and boosts their bioavailability, creating a natural broad-spectrum and food-based probiotic as a result. What makes lacto-fermented foods so powerful in terms of gut health, however, is that not only are they probiotic, but prebiotic too, helping to feed the beneficial bacteria in our gut and aside from helping to ease digestion, fermented foods can help to strengthen the gut wall, reduce inflammation, and support immunity.
What are the changes you notice in your health, skin, body, and mind?
It truly depends on the individual, but once you start to improve your gut health, you’ll notice more balanced digestion, experience more energy, and clarity of mind as well as clearer, firmer, more glowing skin and healthy, strong hair and nails. For many people, they notice the improvements in their skin first simply because our skin is such a great barometer for what’s going on inside our gut and where there’s gut inflammation, there’s also skin inflammation.
What are your favorite recipes for brain function? Gut health? Brain fog?
I'm such a foodie, so it's hard for me to pick a favorite recipe, but when it comes to brain function (and glowing skin, of course!), it's important to make sure you're including enough anti-inflammatory healthy fats in your diet. Omega-3 fats are particularly beneficial and found in oily fish such as salmon, krill oil, and sardines as well as flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.
Any foods that support gut health also help brain function as your gut is where you make 90% of the feel-good hormone serotonin. For supporting gut health, I'm a big fan of slow-cooked soups and stews with lots of veggies and anti-inflammatory herbs and spices with bone broth. And probiotic, fermented foods of course.
What should we steer clear of? Why?
I'm not one for fad diets or deprivation, but for optimal health and well-being, it's important to avoid inflammatory foods and eat unprocessed, low-HI or low-human-intervention foods. Processed, refined, or sugary foods are incredibly inflammatory, which is detrimental for both our skin and our brain health. Gluten and dairy can also lead to gut inflammation, so it’s important to listen to your body and avoid these substances if they are triggers for you.
Ahead, Oates shares four easy gut-health recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner from her book so you can get started on improving your health and well-being at home.
SPICED AUTUMN SMOOTHIE BOWL
Ingredients for the smoothie bowl:
1/ 3 cup (30 g) rolled oats, soaked in cold water for 1 hour, drained & rinsed
1 frozen banana, coarsely chopped
1 scoop BODY Inner Beauty Powder Vanilla
1 1/ 2 tablespoons almond butter
1 teaspoon raw honey
1/ 4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/ 2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/ 8 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1/ 2 cup (125 ml) almond milk
Ingredients for the honey granola:
2 tablespoons rolled oats
1 tablespoon flaked almonds
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped Brazil nuts
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped walnuts
3 teaspoons raw honey
2 teaspoons pumpkin seeds
2 teaspoons sunflower seeds
1 teaspoon coconut oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Ingredients for the topping:
Fresh fig, torn
Bee pollen (not suitable for those with bee allergies)
To prepare the honey granola, place all of the ingredients together in a medium bowl and toss to combine.
Spread out onto a baking tray, clumping together to form clusters. Bake, stirring frequently for 10 minutes, or until crisp and golden brown.
Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
To prepare the smoothie bowl, place all of the ingredients in a high-speed blender.
Blend until smooth. Pour smoothie into a shallow bowl. Add Honey Granola and topping.
KALE BOWL WITH QUINOA, FERMENTED VEGETABLES, WAKAME, AND AVOCADO
Ingredients for the bowl:
1/2 cup (100g) quinoa, rinsed 1 cup (250ml) water
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 bunches (approx. 800g) kale, stemmed and coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons white sesame seeds, plus extra to serve
2 teaspoons black sesame seeds, plus extra to serve
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
1 1/2 cups (230g) sweet and sour fermented vegetables
1 avocado, halved, stone removed and flesh sliced lengthways
1/2 cup (75g) raw cashews, roasted and coarsely chopped
Ingredients for the tahini sauce:
1/4 cup (60ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice 1/4 cup (60g) tahini
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 cm knob of ginger, peeled and finely grated
3 teaspoons tamari
2 teaspoons raw honey 1 teaspoon sesame oil
Place the quinoa and water in a medium saucepan and bring to the boil. Cover and decrease the heat to low and gently simmer for 15 minutes, or until almost all of the water has been absorbed and holes appear on the surface.
Keep covered and remove from the heat to finish cooking for a further 5 minutes, or until tails have sprouted and all of the water has been absorbed. Keep warm.
Meanwhile, soak the wakame in cold water for 5 minutes, or until rehydrated. Drain and squeeze out excess water. Slice into strips. Set aside.
To prepare the sauce, place all of the ingredients in a jar and seal with a lid. Shake vigorously to combine.
Heat the coconut oil in a large frying pan or wok over low-medium heat. Cook the onion and garlic, until softened.
Add the kale and cook, stirring occasionally, for 4-5 minutes, until wilted. Add the sesame seeds and chili flakes and toss to combine.
To serve, arrange the kale, quinoa, wakame, fermented vegetables, and avocado into serving bowls. Drizzle with the tahini sauce and scatter with roasted cashews and extra sesame seeds.
SPIRULINA, COCONUT AND VANILLA OMEGA-BOOST SMOOTHIE
1/4 avocado, peeled
3/4 cup (180ml) coconut drinking milk
1 large handful baby spinach leaves
1/2 frozen banana, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon ground LSA
1 tablespoon Vanilla BODY Inner Beauty Powder
1 teaspoon CLEANSE Inner Beauty Powder
2 ice cubes
1 medjool date, pitted
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
Pinch of Himalayan salt
Place all of the ingredients in a high-speed blender. Blend until smooth.
ZUCCHINI SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS
Ingredients for the pasta:
extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling Himalayan salt, to taste
1 small handful basil leaves
Shaved parmesan cheese, to serve
Ingredients for the meatballs:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
35 g pork mince
35 g beef mince
100 g organic chicken livers, finely chopped
1/2 cup (50 g) finely grated parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
1 cup (60 g) almond meal
1 large egg
1 small handful oregano leaves, finely chopped
finely grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
1 teaspoon Himalayan salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup (60 ml) olive oil
Ingredients for the sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
1 small handful basil leaves, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon Himalayan salt
To prepare the meatballs, heat the oil in a small frying pan over low-medium heat. Cook the onion and garlic until softened. Transfer into a medium bowl and set aside to cool slightly.
Once cooled add the remaining ingredients.
Using clean hands or a wooden spoon, mix together thoroughly. Shape into 24 meatballs and place on a tray. Cover and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Heat a little of the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Cook the meatballs in batches, turning frequently, for 3-5 minutes, until browned all over. Transfer onto a clean tray and set aside.
Meanwhile, to prepare the sauce, heat the oil in a large frying pan over low-medium heat. Cook the onion and garlic until softened. Add the tomatoes and l cup (60ml) water and bring to the boil.
Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, or until softened. Add the basil, maple syrup, and salt and stir to combine.
Add the browned meatballs to the sauce and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the sauce becomes thick and meatballs are cooked through.
To prepare the zucchini spaghetti, use a spiraliser to cut the zucchini into spaghetti-like lengths.
Alternatively using a mandolin, thinly julienne into lengthways strips. Drizzle with oil, season with salt and toss to coat.
To serve, pile the zucchini spaghetti into bowls.
Top with meatballs and sauce, fresh basil and shaved parmesan cheese.
Shop The Beauty Chef book below along with some of our favorite kitchen essentials to get started on your gut-health journey: