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The Gut-Brain Connection

Fermented foods help reestablish a healthy microbiome in the gut.

Fermented foods help reestablish a healthy microbiome in the gut.

by Jennifer Poa Jacobsen, RD

Do you ever have a “gut feeling” that something will happen, and then you’re spot-on?  Well, there may be more to it than we’ve traditionally believed.  The gut-brain connection has been getting a lot of press lately. The gut is said to be our “second brain,” controlling more of what happens inside our bodies than we actually realize.

Depression, anxiety, diarrhea, constipation, cancer, ADHD, MS, eczema, arthritis…and the list goes on.

But what if this myriad of illnesses and diseases were actually viewed as symptoms of an imbalance in the body?  While the research is still young, it looks as if varying health conditions begin with an imbalance in the gut—specifically the gut flora (bacteria).

Bacteria are often thought of as the enemy. We prevent them from multiplying in our kitchen, and they’re the reason why we slather on the hand-sani.  But—while certain kinds of bacteria are harmful, others are good.

Bacteria live and flourish in our gut, on our skin, in our mouths, and on various other parts of our bodies. The average person has 10 trillion bacteria on or in their body, with up to 10,000 species residing in the gut. The bacteria in our gut, or gut microbiota, aid in food digestion, protect us against pathogens, provide essential nutrients, and enhance our immune function. In fact, eighty percent of our immune cells reside in our gut. So when this delicate microcosm is disrupted, disease can set in.

How does it all work?

Scientists liken our microbiome to an ecosystem. If the bad bacteria dominate the ecosystem in our gut, they crowd out the beneficial ones and create a toxic environment.  Then, not only does our immune system become weakened, but our body works harder to clear the toxins created by the bad guys. 

Leading a high-stress lifestyle, eating a diet high in processed foods, and using antibiotics negatively affects our microbiome. In order to reestablish a healthy environment for the beneficial bacteria to thrive in, we must nourish our gut with healthy whole foods like fruits and vegetables, lower our stress level, take a daily probiotic, or try eating fermented vegetables like raw krauts and kimchi. Fermented foods inoculate the gut, once the environment has been cleaned up. And you can easily find prepared krauts at grocery and health food stores.

Though often an out of sight, out of mind force, our bellies—or “second brain”—may hold the key to better health.  Start by nourishing your gut and see what happens!

Poa Jacobsen is a registered dietitian, working in the nutrition and food safety field for the past 10 years. She is passionate about fermentation--though seemingly contradictive to "food safety" --and regularly makes and eats fermented foods.


Locavino: Idaho Wineries at a Glance

By Leslie-Ann Sheppard

I confess. I used to be one of those people who scoffed at Idaho wines. You see, before moving to Teton Valley, I owned a wine shop on the island of Nantucket. For over a decade, I bought and sold wines from what I thought of as “all over the world”—California, Oregon, and Washington wines were “it” for U.S. representation. When I mentioned to friends that I was packing up and moving to Idaho, the responses typically included references to potatoes, wilderness, and fishing, but never to wine.

To my surprise, I found that Idaho borders states with esteemed wine production. Melanie Krause, owner and winemaker at Snake River Valley’s Cinder Winery, explains, “When I was working in Washington with Chateau St. Michelle, I would visit my parents back in Boise [my hometown]. I was always curious about the young wine industry here.” After comparing the temperatures between the Columbia Valley of Washington and the Snake River Valley in Idaho, and meeting with growers, she came to believe that world-class wines could be produced in Idaho. Koenig Vineyards proves Krause right, with their recent honor of the first Idaho wine to receive ninety-one points in Wine Spectator Magazine, for their 2010 Syrah Three Vineyard Cuvee.

Currently, the Snake River Valley is home to only forty wineries and distribution is limited. But you can get your hands on some quality Idaho juice in Jackson at Jackson Whole Grocer, Bin 22, The Alpenhof Bistro, and Nikai; at Forage in Driggs; and at Grand Teton Brewing in Victor.    



Who: winemaker Melanie Krause
What: ten different varieties
Where: Garden City, Idaho
Pairing: “I love [pairing] our Syrah with lamb or pork dishes, our Chardonnay with grilled halibut, the Tempranillo with roasted meats. And our Viogniers—we make two different styles—can be paired with salads, heavy soups, and cheese.”  -Melanie Krause



Who: winemaker Greg Koenig
What: fourteen different varieties
Where: Caldwell, Idaho
Pairing: “Our all-time favorite pairing has to be Syrah with Idaho lamb. The rich, spicy flavors of Syrah really complement lamb, which needs some spice to offset the gamy flavors and richness. A simple preparation—either a leg or rack—with rosemary, garlic, sea salt, and pepper, with seasonal vegetables and Idaho potato gratin, is a great winter meal.” -Greg Koenig



Who: winemaker Earl Sullivan
What: four different varieties
Where: Garden City, Idaho

Pairing: “We make big bold wines and found that our 2010 Syrah pairs well with buffalo...A medium-rare buffalo strip, seasoned with pepper, plated with some baby potatoes and mushrooms…Our 2010 Cab is very rounded and fruit-forward, with the coffee and nutmeg coming later in the finish. It really lets the chocolate shine…Finally, our Turas has been paired with spicy pasta.” -Earl Sullivan

Leslie-Ann Sheppard is a former web-footer (sea level transplant), adventurer, writer, yoga enthusiast, and a lover of wine and food.  She works for Pro Guide Direct in Victor, and lives in Tetonia with her husband and two young daughters.