I don't know quite how I stumbled across the Gutsy (@gutsy_flora) Instagram page, but I'm pretty glad that I did. Now I'm sure that by now all of you regular readers know that gut health is a field that interests me, so this well-curated treasure-trove of gut health resources, experts, recipes, and more made me really excited. Flora Nichol, a professional chef, and holistic health coach, is the brains behind Gutsy - The Gut Health Guide. I was lucky enough to meet her over a quick Skype session earlier in November, where she shared a bit about her journey in the world of food, nutrition, and more specifically her love of gut health.
Tell us a bit about yourself?
Although I’ve lived as a bit of a Nomad, I am a Scottish girl at heart. After training at Ballymaloe Cookery School, I worked for 10 years as a private chef, all over the globe. This year, I graduated from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, with a personal focus on gut health. I work as a holistic health consultant and founder of Gutsy.
When and how did you first become interested in food, health, and nutrition?
My initial interest in food came from my mother who is a cordon bleu chef and a gardener. In my work as a private chef, I have worked intimately with people in their homes and on their travels. I became acutely aware of the role of food as medicine and my responsibility to nurture everyone with good wholesome food. I thought for a long time about training as a nutritionist, but I have always been a great believer in Holistic health (being aware of the interconnectivity of every aspect of your life), so instead I decided to study as a holistic health coach at IIN to pick up some skills on coaching people to a healthier lifestyle.
How have you made a career out of food & nutrition?
I combine my experience as a chef, and my coaching skills to offer a unique service. I work as a bridge between a clinic and your home. I help people to put into practice the professional advice they have been given through menu plans and home solutions, with a holistic approach. A holistic approach means I don’t just engage with health in terms of food, but also take into consideration all aspects of someone’s life; career, physical exercise, relationships.
At the moment I am moving back from the Middle East, so in the New Year, I will be juggling three jobs. I will be working part-time as a holistic health consultant in a new clinic opening in Fulham, part-time as a private chef and also developing my brand, Gutsy.
How did you become interested in Gut Health?
For a long time I have been aware that we have been giving our environment a battering and so we all need to start being more conscious of what is in our foods and how it affects us. When I was first introduced to water kefir, two years ago, and started to experience the health benefits of fermented foods, it felt like the penny had dropped. I suddenly found information that linked all that I already believed back to my gut. I was hooked.
I have been fascinated to learn about so many aspects of gut health, including;
- how our sterile environment and over-use of antibiotics has damaged our microbiome
- the correlation between the gut and the brain
- that we all have completely different microbiome so should therefore have a totally independent approach to our health
- that with a healthy gut our bodies will function better and heal themselves
- how being out in nature is a wonderful thing for our health
Gut health is about getting back to basics, making small changes to our lifestyle to reduce stress, getting out in nature, eating whole foods…. Personally, I can relate to all of it and I think studies into gut health are going to be a really fascinating addition to modern functional medicine practices.
How did you come to create Gutsy?
After discovering the concept of gut health, I went on a mission of discovering and absorbing everything I possibly could that was related to the subject. Being a relatively new field, I found that most of the information was quite scattered and hard to source. It was then that I decided to start compiling all of this into a gut health guide (and I still am).
What are some of the greatest challenges that you have faced along the way?
In a field that is beset with pseudo-science and half-truths, I want to offer up the best information to others. This has meant that I am at the moment holding back on sharing more information on the website until I have got all the feedback I need, and the right people on-board to ensure the information I provide is accurate. I’m eager to press on so it’s a challenge being both impatient and a perfectionist!
What are your favourite aspects of working in the field?
The gut health community is wonderful. Every person I have spoken to has been eager to engage and share. We are all learning, and we are all working towards the same goal of bringing awareness to others. Everyone is so welcoming and forthcoming with information. I love all the gut warriors out there.
What is Gutsy all about?
Gutsy is an online guide to help people understand more about gut health, and help others to live a gut-healthy life in the UK. Gutsy brings together people, breaks down information, and helps promote other people’s products, restaurants, and events. The website is only 3 months old and has been built up to this stage on a zero budget. We have big plans for our next stage, which will include many more contributors and exciting events – all to be revealed!
What are some of your favourite nutrition and gut-health resources?
Generally, I think when it comes to researching a particular subject, it is so much easier if you don’t feel overwhelmed with the process and start with a resource that you enjoy. Being a chef it all started with recipe books that focused on gut health, like, the heal your gut cookbook. When it comes to particular gut health resources, my favourites are Gut Microbiota for Health, PubMed (of the information I can access), and of course The Gut Stuff, who talk about gut health with such enthusiasm!
What are some of your top tips for looking after your gut?
I think anyone who works in gut health, and is asked about what they would advise may sound like a broken record – “It’s all about the individual” – but it really is. So, for me, it is during the first and last parts of my day, that I do something for my gut. It’s different every day, and always relates to how I feel at that particular moment. In between, it’s just a huge variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole foods. As a starting point, I would say my top tip is broth/stock. I always have good chicken stock to hand and I cook everything in it. It’s so simple to make, a brilliant powerhouse of nutrients and collagen for your gut lining, so cheap and makes everything taste amazing.
What habits do you have that help you maintain overall health?
Balancing out all these things is a continual struggle for everyone, and you have to adapt all the time. For me, I have a few theories, and they might work for you too…
- Finding out what works for your body, your gut is so empowering. There is no need to compare yourself with others, you will be amazed what you can achieve; it is such a liberating feeling.
- Morning and evening routines for self-care.
- Separating parts of my house that serve different purposes, i.e. trying to avoid sleeping with phones, laptops in my bedroom.
- Move in some way every day – stretch, walk, exercise. Switch things up all the time, don’t get stagnant.
- Go easy on yourself, always keep that internal conversation light. You talk to yourself more than anyone in the day, so make sure you are saying the right things.
- Be kind always, I’m a great believer in karma.
- Loved ones and laughter are the best remedies for everything.
What is your go-to meal after a long and busy day?
I’m in a hot climate at the moment, and my routine has become very strange. Lunch is my main meal of the day and I eat dinner at 6pm, followed by a swim. I also like to have a hot drink (miso / kombu / lemon + ginger) / herbal tea before bed. My digestion and body is actually loving this new routine, so I might try to keep it up when I get back to the UK. At 6pm, my favourite quick meal is avocado, poached egg, turmeric kraut, with labneh and crackers topped with sprouts and dukka.
What is your all-time favourite treat?
I’m not a sweet tooth but I love cheese and red wine.
*All photographs belong to Flora Nichol