In an era of ‘slashie’ careers amongst millennials, Liz Earle MBE was possibly one of the first to forge a livelihood across multiple sectors- from beauty editor to skincare entrepreneur, organic farmer to TV presenter and founder of Liz Earle Wellbeing , she’s got a lot of finely tuned strings to her bow, but her latest focus is on our internal health, and in particular, our guts. Seems unglamorous, but one look at Liz and you get the sense that she’s definitely onto something- she’s still trampolining with her teenagers for a start. Having recently published The Good Gut Guide , we had a tête-à-tête with Liz to discover why she’s developed such an interest in our digestive systems, and how a little good bacteria has changed her life.
How did you change your diet to make it more 'gut friendly'- what did your diet look like before?
“I’m a great believer in feel-good food so I’ve always tried to embrace seasonal, local, organic produce where possible as the mainstay of my meals. I’ve never eaten many things that come out of a packet, have always aimed for lots of fresh veg and avoided anything my grandmother wouldn’t recognise!”
“When I started researching gut health, one of the most effective and easiest changes I made to my diet was to introduce a daily dose of probiotics , in the form of plain live yoghurt or fermented foods such as kefir and pickled vegetables.”
What was the incentive to investigate the gut more closely?
“Over the last 30 years, my research and writing have looked at how we can best improve our outer beauty and inner wellbeing and I have long been fascinated by the increasingly recognised link between the gut and our physical and mental health. Modern science and medicine are only just uncovering the secrets of gut health and why it has the power to totally transform the way we look and feel. I wrote my book on the gut, The Good Gut Guide to bring this research to a wider audience, not just with the science backing it but also a very practical way of putting this into practice with family-friendly recipes and home-health ideas.”
What have been the key changes you've made, and what has made the most difference to your health and energy levels?
“The three changes that have made the most difference include drinking fermented beverages, going organic and taking a daily probiotic. I now always have some kind of ferment on the go in my kitchen!”
“In particular I start my day with a glass of kefir, a live yoghurt drink packed with powerfully beneficial probiotics, and I find that this gives me a real boost in the morning and has made a huge difference to my overall health and wellbeing.”
“I make my own kefir at home using kefir grains and cow’s milk, although you can use coconut milk, coconut water or any other nut ‘milks’. The longer you leave it to ferment, the thicker and creamier it gets, although make sure your family know not to throw it out- it hasn’t gone off, it’s meant to smell like that! It does tend to have the smell and consistency of sour milk, so it does take some getting used to- you might want to add fruit or raw honey to sweeten at first.”
Any tips for anyone starting out with fermented foods? They can be quite an acquired taste…
“I’d always say to introduce them gradually. Yes, they can often be quite tangy and tart but they add a nice balance to dishes that might otherwise be too sweet or even bland. They may take a bit of getting used to, but trust me, you’ll soon grow to love them and may even develop a healthy addiction to their tanginess.”
How did you win your family (especially kids) round to eating in a gut friendly way? What's been most and least popular with them?
“My children have always enjoyed seasonal and healthy foods which is a good starting point for a gut friendly diet so there hasn’t been a huge shift in the way we eat since my research started. The only big change when I started looking into gut health many years ago now was the introduction of a daily dose of probiotics into our diets, such as live yoghurt or kefir.”
“One of my children’s favourite recipes is my all-in-one roast chicken tray bake with gut friendly and digestion boosting garlic, artichokes and leeks. Tray bakes are so easy and a brilliant dinner solution for large families like mine!”
“In terms of what hasn't gone down so well with the children, I would say that they prefer shop-bought kefir over my homemade as it is milder and I tend to make mine from live Kefir grains, so it's quite sharp in taste and slightly sour. They are also not keen on kombucha , although my teenagers are prepared to be a bit more experimental and will add a splash to lemonade or ginger beer.”
What do you perceive as the link between good gut health and skin? Has your skin noticeably changed or improved since you started focusing more on gut health?
“A healthy gut is so much more than good digestion, as it improves our levels of skin-friendly flora which in turn leads to smoother, clearer skin. The secret to glowing skin is to feed it with the right nutrients as well as apply vitamins and antioxidants topically.”
“Probiotics come into play here and one of the most important ingredients to look out for is lactoferrin, a protein found in lactic acid, which helps to control inflammation and it is especially helpful for calming breakouts and even improving acne long-term. Yoghurt, buttermilk, sour cream and kefir are all good sources of lactoferrin and I attribute my clear complexion to my daily dose of probiotics and lactoferrin.”
What will we always find in your fridge?
“Kefir has become my fridge staple- if I have nothing else, I like to make sure I’ve made some kefir! I use it in a number of different ways- sipped by itself (great first thing on an empty tummy), as a base for smoothies or as a splash of ‘milk’ on muesli or granola. I even use it as a naturally ‘live’ skin cleanser and leave a layer on my skin at the weekends for smoother, brighter skin.”
What are your favourite gut friendly meals? If we came over, what would you cook?
“My favourite gut friendly meals include salmon and leek chowder, miso stir-fry and my superfood sunshine salad. If you came over I’d cook kimchi marinated steak followed by griddled pineapple with ginger and star anise. The steak dish is packed full of goodness with the garlic, onions, pak choy and kimchi all working to help feed the bacteria in our gut, while pineapple contains the digestion-improving enzyme bromelain, which has been used since Roman times as a digestive aid.”
Have any lifestyles changes in particular improved your digestive health?
“It’s really important to allow our body, and therefore our gut, to rest from time to time. Whenever possible therefore I try and rest my gut overnight, calculating a clear 12 hour window when nothing is eaten and I occasionally have juice only days to fully rest my digestive system.”
What's your workout of choice?
“I’m a recent convert to running and enjoy early-morning (quick!) runs around my West Country farm, or a park if I’m in London. I also love Nordic walking, using poles to stride out across the fields around the farm, as it works the entire body and is especially good for releasing tension from shoulders and neck whilst toning upper arms.”
How do you like to unwind?
“I live on a glorious farm so I really enjoy the chance to make the most of family time outdoors. I love picnics, farm walks, pushing children on a swing under the oak tree, jumping on the trampoline, kicking a ball around on the grass – very simple, yet very special, family times that make for happy memories.”
The Good Gut Guide is published by Orion Spring, RRP £25, buy online
Follow Liz on Instagram @LizEarleWellbeing and Anna @annyhunter