We ask Dr. Sarah Schwitalla: How does an intestinal-healthy diet work?

Dr. Sarah Schwitalla has made the prevention of chronic bowel diseases her life’s work. In the interview, the scientist emphasizes the enormous importance of a healthy intestinal diet for the body and explains why broccoli with chocolate is better than no broccoli at all.

Dr. Sarah Schwitalla holds a PhD in biochemistry, lecturer and public health consultant with over eight years of experience in biomedical research on intestinal diseases and cancer at the Technical University of Munich and Harvard Medical School (USA).

At the beginning of 2019 she founded the public health initiative “virtual center for intestinal health” with offers for those affected based on the latest scientific knowledge for the prevention and improvement of intestinal diseases and digestive disorders.

As a public health consultant, Dr. Sarah Schwitalla companies and the public health system on prevention strategies for chronic intestinal diseases and digestive disorders and offers training, seminars and lectures for specialist audiences, doctors, naturopaths and nutritionists. She is currently working as an author on her first book, which will be published in 2021.

Interview with Dr. Sarah Schwitalla on intestinal-healthy nutrition

You refer to yourself as a broccoli lobbyist on your website. Why?

Dr. Sarah Schwitalla: Unfortunately, broccoli is one of the unpopular foods for many people. Studies and preclinical investigations show that cabbage vegetables and above all broccoli are among the healthiest foods with the greatest cancer-preventing, anti-inflammatory and “detox” potential.

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Various epidemiological studies, for example, show a consistent link between the level of consumption of cabbage vegetables and a significantly lower risk of cancer of the stomach, intestines and lungs . Unfortunately, the healthiest foods usually don’t have a lobby.

As a “broccoli lobbyist” I therefore recommend that everyone eat more of it from a scientific point of view, due to the health benefits and culinary versatility of broccoli.

What influence does a healthy intestine have on general well-being and which diseases can be prevented?

Dr. Schwitalla: Due to its dense network of nerves, the intestine is often referred to as the second brain . This nerve network is not isolated, but of course is in constant exchange with the brain, in which our emotions also arise. Everything that the head thinks or feels is translated more or less consciously in the intestine and its well-being.

Studies show this nervous connection, for example, in a multiple increased risk of irritable bowel syndrome under post-traumatic stress. Conversely, those affected by irritable bowel syndrome have a significantly higher risk of depression and anxiety disorders.

There are already first attempts to alleviate depression by administering probiotics, but so far without any clear evidence. In addition, a correlation between the intestinal microbiome and chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cancer, autism, etc. has been known for a long time .

The severity of a chronic disease always depends on many factors, of which the state of the microbiome can be a significant one, but in many cases the clear causality has yet to be proven.

However, there are already solid studies that have identified the production of unfavorable, biochemical metabolic products of the intestinal flora as an independent risk factor in the development of cardiovascular diseases, atherosclerosis, colon cancer or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and increased mortality from these diseases.

What does your personal nutrition plan look like? What do you eat in the morning, at noon and in the evening on a normal day?

Dr. Schwitalla: I like to eat very varied and vary my meals every day, so it is not so easy to describe a “normal day”. For example, this morning there was baked sweet potatoes with curry tempeh and microgreens, fruit and oatmeal flaxseed biscuits, for lunch a rocket salad with broccoli, chickpeas, zucchini, buckwheat and cashew nut pesto as well as a serving of fruit and in the evening a spicy chili and vegetable stew with beans and buckwheat, a vegan banana and chocolate ice cream, nuts and raspberries.

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Which is healthier: eat an unhealthy snack every day or eat a completely healthy diet six days a week and have a cheat day on the seventh day when everything is allowed?

Dr. Schwitalla: Why should something not be allowed? Enjoyment shouldn’t be forbidden in general. Eating healthy should also be fun.

Studies show that the intestinal microbiome reacts to short-term, dramatic changes in diet (for example, from a diet based mainly on animal protein to a diet based on plant-based foods) with a change in composition and metabolism after just 24 hours. However, if this nutritional change is not maintained permanently, the current, stable initial state of the individual microbiome will be restored.

Dr. Sarah Schwitalla advocates a healthy intestinal diet in order to prevent intestinal diseases before they arise.

The human intestinal flora is therefore a very robust “organ” that reacts a little to short-term influences (such as a lavish feast that you might not otherwise eat every day) but can only be influenced to a greater extent by the long-term diet –  both positive and negative.

For a healthy intestine and body, it is primarily important to have a solid, healthy diet that enables the body to obtain sufficient nutrients for cell regeneration and disease prevention on a daily basis.

What is the most serious nutritional sin we commit as a society?

Dr. Schwitalla:  One of the largest cohort studies in the world, the “Global Burden of Disease Study” shows that the largest factor in today’s diet that is associated with increased mortality from common chronic diseases is too high a salt content. Closely followed in second place is a diet that contains too little whole grain, third place: too little fruit, fourth place: too few nuts and seeds, etc.

On the basis of many solid studies, we see that too often people lack wholesome, unprocessed foods in their diet , which in the long term significantly increases the risk of chronic diseases (including various intestinal diseases) and of dying from them. Often it is not just what we eat, but what we do not eat that can be detrimental to our own health.

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Suppose I want to do everything I can to keep my bowel well for the rest of my life. Which tips should I heed?

Dr. Schwitalla: The biggest, everyday and most effective factor in maintaining intestinal health, which everyone can influence, is diet . A well-composed diet fulfills three functions in relation to intestinal health: supporting a regular digestive system, ensuring healthy intestinal epithelial regeneration and maintaining microbiome health.

This is essentially given by a diet with the highest possible fiber content, varied and colorful (in terms of color), low in saturated fats and animal proteins and little industrially processed.

Is there something you like to eat that is not good for your gut?

Dr. Schwitalla: For me, enjoyment is always a prerequisite for eating. Delicious and healthy should never be mutually exclusive. Desserts and cakes, for example, can also be prepared very easily, rich in nutrients and incredibly delicious at the same time. For example chocolate brownies (with sweet potatoes, cocoa, almonds and dates as a base) or chocolate mousse, which gives bananas, almond butter and avocado the creamy consistency.

How perfectionist do you have to be to avoid serious illness? Is it necessary to banish everything that is unhealthy forever or is it enough, for example, to eat 90 percent healthily?

Dr. Schwitalla: Perfectionism in eating (up to orthorexia) often comes at the expense of enjoyment and the naturalness of eating. Perhaps we should say goodbye to the thought construct that enjoyment and healthy eating are mutually exclusive, and be less strict with ourselves in order not to lose the joy of eating and the exaggerated reductionist view of nutrition solely on maintaining health not to dominate everyday life leave.

As mentioned, it is important that the majority of the daily diet consists of wholesome, nutrient-rich foods. The more of it, the better: If you only eat your broccoli with chocolate, then rather than no broccoli at all.

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