Henrik Ennart, Recipes

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Happy Super Salad with Beans, Grains, Jerusalem Artichoke and Apple

When Henrik Ennart sent us his latest column about chronic fatigue syndrome, he attached this recipe from the book Happy Food, written by Henrik and the chef Niklas Ekstedt. Different types of intestinal bacteria prefer different foods, and therefore, it’s important to eat a wide variety of foods. This salad contains all sorts of fiber and will make all dinner guests (and their gut bacteria) happy.

Happy Super Salad with Beans, Grains, Jerusalem Artichoke and Apple
4 servings

0.5 cup black beans, cooked
0.5 cup whole grains, cooked
6-10 Jerusalem artichokes
1 apple
a handful fresh thyme
8-12 mushrooms
0.5 cup roasted hazelnuts
2 tbsp dried cranberries
0.5 cup fava beans
5 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (or 180 degrees Celsius). Wash and cut the artichokes lengthwise. Cut the mushroom into wedges. Put Jerusalem artichokes and mushrooms in a roasting pan, and add thyme, some of the olive oil and salt. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes, or until the artichokes are almost tender. Cut the apple into wedges and add to the same roasting pan. Continue to roast for about 10 minutes. Mix beans and grains with vinegar and the rest of the olive oil, and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with the roasted vegetables, hazelnuts and dried cranberries.

Recipe: Niklas Ekstedt, from the book Happy Food.

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Henrik Ennart

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New Research on the Disease ME/CFS

Over the last few months, I’ve been busy doing two things. One of them is talking about the book Happy Food, written by Niklas Ekstedt and me. It’s about the connection between the brain and the intestinal flora. The second thing that comes to mind is a couple of articles about CFS/ME, generally and often mistakenly known as chronic fatigue syndrome, that I’ve written for the Swedish newspaper SvD.

The emails have been pouring in. And I have been deeply touched by the stories people have generously shared with me.

Like so many of us, I know people who have experienced exhaustion and burnout. For most people, things get better. But if they’re struggling with chronic fatigue syndrome, that’s rarely the case. I have read what sometimes seemed like endless stories of suffering. Friends and family of those who suffer describe it as a debilitating disorder characterized by extreme, lifelong, painful and paralyzing fatigue. It doesn’t go away with rest, but stays forever, decade after decade. It doesn’t kill you, but it will take your life away.

Also, our national healthcare systems don’t always support people who have ME. The illness is often misunderstood and might not be taken seriously by healthcare providers. According to the CDC, more than one million Americans have ME. At least one-quarter of them are bed bound or housebound at some point in the illness, and most never regain their pre-disease level of functioning.

I’ve talked to numerous people who suffer from ME, and they are no longer able to live their lives in the way they did before. For many of them, it’s been like that for 20 or 30 years. Almost all of them used to live healthy and active lives until, all of a sudden, they got symptoms similar to those of flu or an infection. And then they never recovered, it never stops. Literally, IT NEVER STOPS. Gradually, more and more symptoms are added: fever, shivers, headache, abdominal pains, dizziness, cramps, and increased risk of allergic reactions.

Also, the illness is often misunderstood and mistaken for stress-related exhaustion disorder. Unfortunately, what will help people with stress-related exhaustion, like exercise, will worsen the symptoms for someone with ME.

So, how is this related to food? A couple of months ago, I visited the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, close to Washington DC. NIH is one of the world’s foremost medical research centers and an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They’ve finally decided to closely examine the clinical and biological characteristics of the disorder and improve our understanding of its cause and progression.

Vicky Whittemore and Joseph Breen, program directors for the NIH’s ME study, believe that the disease is not psychosomatic, but a chronic autoimmune multi-systemic disease, that is physiological in nature. According to NIH, the illness may also be related to the so-called Gulf war syndrome. The causes aren’t well-understood, but some theories include viral infection, stress-related immune changes, or a combination of factors.

This is where the food comes in. Over the last few years, scientists have grasped how critical a rich and thriving intestinal flora is to our health. And why shouldn’t it? The bacteria in our intestine help extract nutrients from the food we eat, and at the same time, our intestine is a total pro at protecting itself against bacterial and viral invaders.

To protect ourselves, we have to be on good terms with the bacteria in our colon. They can’t live without us, and we can’t live without them. When we’re healthy, and the good bacteria exist in an environment in which they thrive, we form a dynamic ecosystem together that will easily mow down every enemy in its path.

Problem is, the diet most of us subside on today is more likely to strengthen the bad bacteria than the good, and our good bacteria die out when we fail to take care of them. Compared to some indigenous populations, westerners have decimated large sections of our gastrointestinal flora. And, as we all know, if too many species go extinct, entire ecosystems will disappear.  

In line with this, NIH will study the connection between the intestinal flora and ME, and some interesting findings have already been made.

Scientists know that more or less all chronic diseases can be associated with an imbalanced gut flora. And unfortunately, autoimmune diseases in general are increasing. Some are well-known, like MS, rheumatism, and fibromyalgia. However, some symptoms are difficult to diagnose, and many sufferers are still approached with suspicion.

We need to start talking about autoimmune diseases, on top of all the other problems related to junk food, like obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It is no coincidence that many of these diseases are also associated with gastrointestinal disorders like IBS or IBD, and celiac disease.

In the future, scientists hope to be able to repair damaged intestinal flora by adding bacteria to the digestive tract. Until then, don’t forget to strengthen the good bacteria in your colon by eating a wide variety of foods.

Science journalist and writer Henrik Ennart is the author of the book Happy Food. Now and then, he writes here at Food Pharmacy.

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Henrik Ennart

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Spoil your intestinal flora for Christmas!

Christmas is here! The scent of cinnamon, saffron, and cardamom  wafts from the kitchen. Christmas is the holiday of bright, warm colors; red, green, yellow, and multitude of sparkling things. The sights and smells we surround ourselves with make us feel a bit like donning a warm knitted sweater and getting cosy in the corner of the couch with a cup of tea and a book.

But that’s an understatement, because what you’re really doing in the kitchen is more like knitting small microscopic sweaters for all of your 40 trillion intestinal bacteria, which, after all, need some Christmas love too. They’ve been working hard all year!

The strong flavors and warm colors of cinnamon sticks, ginger, mustard, and cloves are the perfect tools for your intestinal bacteria’s own little versions of Santa’s workshop, in which they produce the many healthy substances that your body needs; hormones that control your mood, neurotransmitters that help maintain a strong immune system through the cold season, and fatty acids that prevent inflammation.

It’s no wonder that we’re attracted to tasty herbs, fruits and vegetables with bright colors, since these are the ones that have the greatest impact on our bodies. Lab analysis has shown that all herbs can be included in a group of plants containing the greatest number of antioxidants. Our ancestors did not have any labs, but they figured it out anyhow, and for centuries they’ve used herbs as natural remedies.

Short Christmas-quiz: What’s most healthy: a light green or a red apple? Answer: a red apple.

The explanation is, of course, that the healthy polyphenols live inside color itself.

Test yourself in the store. Do you choose white cabbage or red cabbage? Iceberg lettuce or kale? Let the color guide you. The stronger the color the better. Much of the color is usually displayed on the external surface, or skin. So by all means eat the skins, and don’t peal off too many layers of onion. A large part of the nutrition will be lost that way. The skin also contains insoluble fibers that provide good energy to intestinal bacteria, while the pulp provides soluble fibers that will help to keep your stomach on the right track throughout Christmas, which can sometimes be a challenge. Usually, not everything on the table is healthy.

When you look at nature, you obviously see lots of green plants. The explanation for the green color is chlorophyll, and when it disappears in the fall, it turns into all those other sparkling colors, like red, orange, and yellow. The colors were waiting there all along, behind the green.

Autumn colors are dominated by yellow xanthophyll like lutein, orange beta carotene, and red antocyanine. When we suggest a diet involving vegetables, we should remember that it’s not only green vegetables that contain healthy nutrition. The various other colors of vegetable are all full of nutrition too.

But what about garlic then? It’s white, but good anyway, right? Yes – and the explanation for that lies in the fact that the light color is typical for onions. The substances, such as the flavonols quercetin and kaempferol, have a white or creamy color. If you choose red onions you’ll also get red antocyanine.

So, one good tip is: Eat all the colors of the rainbow! And don’t forget the gray scale.

Science journalist and writer Henrik Ennart is the author of the book Happy Food. Now and then, he writes here at Food Pharmacy.

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Henrik Ennart

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Happy Food

We get butterflies in our stomach when we fall in love, it’s like a knife in the gut when we’re treated unfairly, and it’s with our gut-feeling that we make instinctive decisions. What people throughout history have intuitively understood has now, in recent years, finally begun to gain a scientific explanation. 

This new research is what Me and Niklas Ekstedt, discuss in our book Happy Food. We’ve interviewed researchers around the world and read hundreds of scientific reports. We believe that there is important research taking place in the vanguard, and that it’s important to deepen our knowledge about it. The picture that is emerging is already showing that the links between the intestines and the brain are stronger than we could have ever imagined.

Your intestinal bacteria altogether weigh about 1.4 kilograms (3 lbs), roughly the same as your brain. There are unfathomable numbers of them – about 40 trillion according to new calculations – and they are present in the billions in every gram of mucus that covers the walls of your colon.

These trillions of inhabitants, currently residing in your very private intestinal basement, are in direct contact with the brain. They communicate via nerve cells that surround the intestine. These nerve cells are as numerous as those found in the entire spinal cord, and they are connected to the large vagus nerve, one of the largest nerves in the body – which is in turn part of our autonomic nervous system, the one we can’t consciously control ourselves.

However, there are other communication pathways in what researchers are calling the “Gut-brain axis,” and in those cases it’s about both the hormonal system and the immune system.

Every type of neurotransmitter that your brain uses can be made by your intestinal bacteria in their microscopic workshops, including key players for our emotional life, like dopamine and norepinephrine. 95 percent of the body’s production of the “happiness hormone” serotonin is created in the intestine.

Even the ancient Greeks knew that the stomach and the psyche were connected. Nevertheless, our healthcare system continues to promote the belief that the brain is an autonomous entity, leading a completely independent life separate from the rest of the body.

Through years of patient research, a conclusion has emerged: If we treat our intestinal bacteria well, they can help us to become more stress-resistant, clear-headed, happy, and harmonious. The food we eat also seems to play a role when it comes to depression and other psychological diseases.

This summer, I attended a science conference in Bethesda, outside of Washington D.C, in the US. There, researchers from all over the world were studying the link between the intestine and the brain. Their message was clear:

• We now know that there is a correlation between the quality of food we consume and how we feel.

• It’s time to proceed with more research and more expansive studies that will enable us to better understand the connection and to develop treatments.

Western junk food, with its excess of sugar and refined fats, as well as its lack of fibers and healthy micronutrients, has long been linked to global epidemics of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Now, we see one research group after another reporting data indicating that even the epidemic of poor mental health has been linked to the same underlying causes.

Of course, there are many different reasons as to why we may feel depressed, and food can’t solve all problems on its own. But when we get sick or anxious, many parts of the body are affected, the intestinal flora being one of them. When our bacterial system is in a state of imbalance, our immune system is weakened. It can easily become a downward spiral in which we feel worse and worse. Often, the cause may be in the intestine.

In fact, time after time, the common denominator turns out to be our intestinal flora. For example, in early animal experiments, researchers have observed that feces transplanted into mice from depressed people caused the animals to show depressive behavior. When the mice feces were passed on to other mice, the depressed mood followed.

Other tests have shown that outgoing, social mice that received feces transferred from shy, more inward mice developed a behavior with autistic features.

Another example that stands out: In an early stage of a human study, researchers have found that individual intestinal bacteria – in this case, one called faecalibacterium prausnitzii – seems to coincide with the occurrence and even the degree of bipolar disorder.

We’re not yet in a situation where individual diseases can be treated by adding, removing, or in any other way manipulating a bacterial bloom that has come into imbalance. But we’re heading that way at a breathtaking pace! In Sweden, people who have had their intestinal flora damaged due to severe bowel infections, now receive treatment involving transplanted feces.

The researchers I met in Bethesda have formed an international organization called ISNPR (International Society for Nutrion and Psychiatric Research). Their chairman, the Australian researcher Felice Jacka, expressed her conviction during our interview that good and healthy food is an important complement to the current treatment methods for depressed people.

She also stressed that more research is needed, but at the same time, there is no real reason to wait, especially not when we’re in a situation that involves so many people suffering from depression without proper treatment methods. “We already know that there is a connection between food and mental health. What we need now is to develop diagnostics tests and treatment methods. “

Science journalist and writer Henrik Ennart is the author of the book Happy Food. Now and then, he writes here at Food Pharmacy.

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