digestive healing & an anti-inflammatory african “peanut” stew

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**Disclaimer: this post is not meant as medical advice. This is simply what worked for me**

It’s been a while since I’ve discussed health issues on this blog and I recently had a few questions from readers about them. I’ve been really hesitant to discuss these things because this is my own journey and I’m still struggling to find what works for me. And what works for me, might not work for you! But since this is a healthy food and living blog, it might interest you all to hear about the goings on, the progress I’ve made and what I’m doing going forward! Plus, as I’m studying to be a holistic nutritionist, this is precisely the kind of thing I love talking about! Of course there will be a wonderfully delicious recipe at the end as well ;)

Older readers might recall that in the summer I was struggling with low iron levels that refused to go up, low energy and fatigue as well as a lot of digestive upset. You can read about those issues in this post. I was extremely fortunate to receive a ton of advice from you all and that combined with some of the things I’ve been learning about in school and by working with a naturopath, I have made some progress while uncovering new problems.

First things first, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my first few things at school is that it all starts with digestion. If digestion is weakened or not functioning properly, this will cause a lot of problems upstream. Did you know that 80% of your digestive system is in your gut?? And not only will faulty digestion impair your immunity (included in this realm is intolerances and allergies), but it will also severely impact your ability to extract nutrition from the foods you consume. They say, “You are what you eat” but it’s actually much more accurate to say, “You are what you absorb”.

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In saying that, it should have been no surprise to me then, that my iron issues were directly related to my digestive issues. So working to heal my digestion has been a primary focus and I have to say, I haven’t even taken any iron supplements in months and I do feel better! I am not 100% there but there is definite improvement. To find out what has worked for me in this regard, keep reading, if not, scroll down for today's recipe!

Food and Eating Habits

Simplifying food combinations: The idea of food combining was not foreign to me, but it also wasn’t something that I’d followed very closely. There are a lot of competing views on food combining but I think this infographic outlines it quite well:

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Complicated eh? But adhering to these guidelines for the most part has been so crucial for me. Someone who has strong digestion doesn’t need to worry about this very much, but for anyone who experiences digestive upset, following these rules reduces the stress on the digestive system, meaning food is digested easier and more completely. That means you get more nutrition from your food! It’s been tough- as a vegan some of the combinations that are “bad” are so common! Like nuts are not good with oils or starches, and there is much debate as to whether legumes are actually a starch or a protein. I’ve been feeling best treating them as a protein, meaning no combining with grains! And what’s more vegan than beans and rice??

Simplifying my meals: This simply means that my meals lately have generally had fewer ingredients. So while in the past I have made smoothies that contain 20 different ingredients, lately they’ve focused around 5 or 6, same goes with my salads. This allows the digestive system to properly break down each component instead of competing for different enzymes. Carrot Cake Puree anyone?

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Anti-inflammatory and non-reactive foods: I’ve eliminated most foods from my diet that have been found to be inflammatory or reactive which included things like gluten, bananas, some forms of soy, nightshade vegetables, etc. Lists of these foods can be found on the internet, but I like this one. In addition to this, I’ve been incorporating lots of anti-inflammatory foods like omega=3 rich hemp and chia seeds, berries, lemon, raw and cooked vegetables and spices like turmeric and cinnamon.

Supplements

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My supplement cupboard has been looking a bit like a pharmacy, but these carefully chosen supplements have been doing the trick!

Probiotics: often times digestive upset can be linked to a disbiosis in the body, or in other words, an imbalance in the good and bad bacteria in your gut. We need bacteria, they do so many beneficial things for us. But things like stress, illness, medications and food choices can tilt the balance towards the bad ones. A good probiotic can help bring balance back to your system.

Digestive Enzymes: while these are not something I like to rely on, when I’m eating out and don’t have full control over the ingredients in my food, these help to negate any bad reactions to food.

Vitamins A, C, E: These are powerful antioxidants and are crucial to helping your small intestine regenerate and repair.

L-glutamine: This is an amino acid that is used for energy by the cells of our small intestine. Supplementing with this greatly enhances your intestine’s ability to heal

Magnesium and Zinc: critical in so many reactions relating to digestion. Magnesium also helps your muscles and body relax and cope with stress. Stress and digestion are not friends so finding a way to deal with stress is so important!

MSM: Short for methylsulfonylmethane, MSM is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent by helping to remove and detoxify waste products that create inflammation.

Lifestyle Changes

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Sleep: Getting enough rest is so important to reducing the overall stress on your body, allowing proper hormonal functions and giving your body time to rest and repair. I’ve made it a priority to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night.

Not Snacking and Intermittent Fasting: This might sound like it’s going against the grain to conventional nutrition advice but eating less often and drawing out the space between my meals allows my system to fully digest the previous meal before tackling the next one. In fact, when I space out the time between my final meal of one day and my first meal of the next by 12-14 hours or more, my body is more able to handle the task. I try to eat only 3 times a day, which believe me, a former chronic snacker, this was VERY hard!

Stress: Reducing stress. Stress affects your body in so many ways from your digestive system to immunity to your hormones, all of which of course are intertwined! Many people who struggle with Irritable Bowel Syndrome of cite stress as one of the main factors as to whether or not they will react to a food or not. This was one of the primary factors to me deciding to go down to part-time at school.

Going Forward

My journey towards healing my digestive system has taken a while, but I do feel like progress is being made! I have been feeling more energized and my digestion is definitely stronger. My iron levels are still low though, so I will incorporate a supplement soon to boost my levels. Hopefully my digestion will continue to heal so I won’t require one at all! I have been told Floravit is an excellent iron supplement which is easily absorbed and doesn’t cause digestive upset like many iron supplements. I will also continue to pay attention to food combining, including combining foods to enhance iron absorption such as with vitamin C.

I’ve also made other discoveries along the way, particularly as it related to my thyroid function. Did you know that dysfunction of the thyroid, particularly hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) is actually really common, especially in women? I will save my discussion on the topic for a whole separate post, if you are all interested!

And now, for the recipe I promised you!

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I had a craving for something warming and comforting when I went home to visit my parents last week, and a stew seemed like just the thing! However, with my multitude of restrictions coming into play, we had to get creative.

The result was a very delicious, anti-inflammatory, low reactive African “Peanut” Stew that tastes just as good as the traditional version! Substitutions we made from the original recipe:

  • Almonds and almond butter instead of peanuts: peanuts have a high affinity for mould, therefore aren’t as digestively friendly!
  • Cayenne in stead of chilli peppers: cayenne is actually anti-inflammatory while chilli peppers belong to the nightshade vegetable family and can be problematic for some
  • Chickpeas instead of black-eyed peas: chickpeas are one of the best tolerated legumes
  • Coconut sugar for brown sugar: brown sugar is really no different from white sugar and is acidifying, reactive and high glycemic. Coconut sugar is a much more healthful option.
  • Added some chopped kale, just for fun and added nutrition!

The almond butter makes this stew incredibly creamy and satisfying with a wonderfully sweet flavour that plays off the spiciness of the cayenne. The cinnamon and cumin enhance the anti-inflammatory properties of the stew and the chopped almonds add great texture!

If you have weak digestion, I suggest serving this over greens as I did. But if your tummy is a powerhouse, feel free to serve over your favourite grain, like my parents.

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African “Peanut” Stew (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free)

Adapted from 'The Vegetarian Meat and Potatoes Cookbook'  by Robin Robertson

Ingredients (6 servings)

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium size sweet onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 pinches cayenne (or 1-2 tsp chilli flakes)
  • 1 1/2 tsp peeled and grated fresh ginger
  • 1/2 tbsp coconut sugar
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 3 1/2 cups chopped and peeled butternut squash (about 1 1/2 lbs)
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup creamy natural almond butter
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas, or one 15 oz. can
  • 1/2 cup chopped raw almonds
  • 3 cups chopped kale

Instructions

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat.  Add the onion, cover, and cook, stirring a few times, until softened, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the garlic, cayenne, ginger, coconut sugar, cinnamon , and cumin and cook for 1 minute.  Add the squash and stir to coat with the spices.  Add 1 1/4 cups of the water and salt and pepper to taste.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low.

Put the almond butter in a small bowl and slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup water, stirring until smooth.

Stir the almond butter mixture into the stew, cover, and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.  About 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time, add the chickpeas, almonds and kale and simmer until heated through.  Before serving, taste to adjust the seasonings.

Serve over top of your favourite greens or grain.

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I'm sharing this recipe at Allergy-Free Wednesdays and Nourishing Recipes @ Lifeologia!

I hope you all found this post informative, helpful and delicious! I had a ton of fun writing it as it was something a little different!

Did you enjoy reading this post? What did you like about it and what didn’t you? Would you like to see more content like this on the blog?

I appreciate your input! See you back here for Healthy Vegan Friday. If you haven't already, check out last week's post here

48 thoughts on “digestive healing & an anti-inflammatory african “peanut” stew

  1. An individual automatically lend a hand to generate really content I’d talk about. This can be a first-time My spouse and i been to your web webpage and as much as now? We amazed while using examination you have made to produce this actual submit extraordinary. Fantastic undertaking!

  2. Hi Gabby!

    I’m always interested in reading these sorts of threads, as I have struggled with low iron, chronic fatigue and digestive issues (resulting from taking iron tablets) for 3 years.

    2 things have helped me make a SIGNIFICANT amount of progress & have truly been life changing for me:

    1. Liquid chlorophyll
    2. Following a low fodmap diet

    I feel like I have finally woken up from a dream that I was stuck in for years. I’ve regained energy & my vest for life.

    Best of luck,
    Georgina

  3. Wow I’ve been struggling with this too lately so it’s great to hear about what you’ve been doing.
    I had stopped supplements but since I became pregnant my digestion has been much worse than normal so I’ve also been eating only 3 meals a day. I can’t snack in the evening or I get the worst heartburn so I have to try and fill up at dinner time. It’s hard though as I don’t have much of an appetite most of the time. My toddler has also done much better on just 3 meals a day as she’s actually hungry at mealtimes and has been much less fussy with her food.
    I have also started taking probiotics and digestive enzymes too.
    I also have low iron and am supplementing. I haven’t noticed my digestion getting any worse but it was already pretty bad. I have been taking these for about 4 weeks now and don’t feel any better but I’ll get my test results in a couple of weeks so I’ll see if it’s had an impact.
    Sorry to hear you’ve been having trouble with your thyroid too. This is something that runs in my family and so far I’ve avoided it but it is worrying when you feel ill all the time as you know yourself something is wrong. I’ll do everything I can to heal through diet though first as I hate taking medication. I was told I wasn’t able to bring my iron levels up through diet as they were so low so I hope once they rise they’ll stay up a bit higher after I give birth.
    I hope you manage to sort out your thyroid problems. It’s hard to know what to do for the best isn’t it!

  4. All the principles that go into food combining are honestly a bit over my head, but that sure wouldn’t stop me from loving this stew. It sounds fantastic, dietary restrictions to keep in mind or not.

  5. Oooh I’m feeling some déjà vu here haha. I remember I had completely repaired all of my unhealthy gut issues when I was in school and things were going so well… then I got into a stressful situation and it kind of all went downhill. Looking forward to refreshing my memory with this lovely food combining chart =)
    Thanks for sharing.
    I’m super looking forward to trying this non-peanut stew =)

    • I hope you find it helpful! It’s so easy to fall out of eating the right way for yourself. It’s frustrating because I feel like I should be able to do what most others do! Unfortunately though not all of us can and at the end of the day, we will feel better for it :)

      I hope you like it!

  6. This is super interesting and informative, Gabby!! definitely going to send this along to my sister who seems to have a weak digestive system as well. It’s awesome that you’re applying what you’re learning at school to heal your body.
    And the stew looks absolutely delicious and comforting.. I have all the ingredients so I might just make it tonight : ) I need something warm and comforting for this “spring” day that still feels verrrry much like winter!

  7. “You are what you absorb” – love this! I’ve learned a lot from reading about your experiences so thank you for sharing. I’ve seen from friends, family and clients that digestive issues have often been the precursor to worse conditions (often autoimmune ones). I’m glad you were able to identify the source of your discomfort and work on it. I too switched to the Ayurvedic 3-meals-a-day model and love it. As John Douillard professes, 14 of the cancer-causing chemicals in our foods are stored in fat cells, so “fasting” between meals (and yes, especially overnight!) really helps the body to use those fat cells for energy and get those chemicals out!!

  8. I love the african peanut stew, I make one and from my friend Amanda’s site and I love it! I’m glad you’re doing a bit better. I did really well without supplementation for a while, but after such an awful sickly winter, I’m now taking all sorts of stuff to reboot my immunity. It really does seem to make a difference.

  9. I totally needed this post. I have also been dealing with some health issues the last 7-8 months (some months have been better than others) too, and though I’ve made several changes that have helped tremendously, I still don’t feel 100%. These were some great suggestions and I’m going to have to look more into food combining. I don’t think it’s something I could ever follow rigorously, but it may be worth trying to incorporate some of the principles.

    I’m glad to hear that your feeling a bit better, though. And this stew sounds fantastic!

    • I’m so glad Kristy! I would love to hear about the changes you’ve made if you ever want to share :) I am very interested in what other people try and am open to suggestions for myself!

      I’m glad you are feeling better too :) It’s so frustrating when you are eating healthy but your body doesn’t cooperate!

  10. Pinned! This looks delicious… and even though I don’t (think I) have a weak digestive system, I think I’ll still serve it over greens, as that sounds just scrumptious. Thanks for all the great information!

  11. Wow Gabby, thank you SO MUCH for this post! I’ve already pulled the food combining graphic and bookmarked the post because it has so much valuable information. As you know I’ve been dealing with health problems as well and I’ve been struggling to find what works for me. i’ve been interested in food combining but have gotten so confused. I think this graphic will help! I’ve also been trying an elimination diet so we’ll see how that works ;)

    I also understand how you feel about sharing every detail about what you do because you don’t know how it’s going to work out. I’ve had many failed plans and felt like crap when I had to admit that it sucked and I was jumping ship. Then I realized how supportive everyone wants and I know everyone will support you in whatever you are doing! We all want you to be healthy and happy and I hope that this works out for you!

    I loved this post Gabby and would love to see more like it. I think you are helping people a lot more than you realize. I can only speak for myself but I’ve been struggling to find something that works for me and have been receiving zero help from doctors. Information like this is incredibly valuable to me and I appreciate it so much!

    • Aww I am so happy I could help Sarah! Food combining is so confusing and there are so many rules and different sources cite different ones! I think it’s all about finding out our own problem combinations and then working with them. For example, many graphics tell you fruit should be by itself, but I KNOW if I eat only an apple I get serious digestive distress! So in my case, I need to add some nuts and it’s smooth sailing.

      You’re exactly right! I thought it was time to share since I am finding this is working for me. Even though it’s a work in progress, I just had to talk about it in case other people would find it helpful! And yes, everyone is so supportive in this community! We are so lucky :)

      Your comment has made me smile huuuuuge :)

  12. Thanks for sharing your story! I too think digestion is so important and I really enjoyed reading everything you had to say about doing what’s best for you – great pointers. It’s always a journey! And that recipe looks incredible! :)

  13. Thank you for sharing all this, Gabby! I loved this post and would definitely be interested to see more like it in the future. I’m guessing that I am not so different from many of your readers in being a self-identified health nerd, so I’m sure a lot of us will enjoy this kind of thing.

    Also, that recipe sounds absolutely incredible!!!! You’re such a creative cook!

  14. This is a great post. I’ve struggled with thyroid issues on and off for years! I was on medication for about 7 years when I started feeling like I had hyperthyroid (even though my tests showed I was normal). I found a naturopath that suggested taking an iodine supplement, which I’ve been doing now for a couple of years, and was able to wean myself off of the medication. Do you ever consider eating meat again for the iron? For the most part, I don’t crave meat, but when I do, it’s strong, and I almost feel as though I need it!

    Your recipe looks awesome too! I bet the addition of nut butter makes it deliciously creamy and rich!

    • Thank you Lauren!

      It appears as though I might have the opposite (hypothyroid) even though tests say I’m borderline. I have a very good feeling like that’s what I’m struggling with (all the symptoms!) so I am working to heal it naturally!

      I have thought about changing my diet a few times and I do still think about it! It’s one of those things that I am open to but haven’t taken any action. It’s such an emotionally and ethically charged decision for me, I really need to think it through.

      And thank you! It’s such a delicious stew, I think you would love it!

  15. Omgosh thanks for such an awesome post! I’m sorry to hear your still struggling with low iron but hopefully that supplement will help. I know all too well about those digestion issues and have tried food combining although its hard to stick too, and I agree not snacking works for me too but unless someone duck tapes oven mitts on my hands it’s not happening. I’m bookmarking this post for all the info and of course recipe! Can’t wait for thyroid post! Oh and one thing that I found really helps me is eating mixed greens with oil-less dressing before bigger meal I think because more natural digestive enzymes. :)

  16. Great post Gabby!! I’m glad you are feeling some results from your dietary experiments – it’s all trial and error, isn’t it…. plus such a personal journey of discovery. I’m still trying to nail down what REALLY works for me – it’s a struggle, but I’ll get there.

    This recipe sounds delicious, although I may have to switch out the chickpeas, as (sadly) I have discovered that they do NOT work for my belly ;)

    And regarding your closing question – I LOVED this post, but honestly I love all your posts – write about what YOU want to, and all us readers will appreciate it :)

    • I know I’m right there with you- everyday I’m learnig something new and sometimes I think I learn something only to find out later I was so wrong! Like I thought really frequent small meals was the best for me at first, but I’m learning that it so NOT the case! I wish it was because I love eating, but such is life? And if I feel better, it’s worth it!

      Aww sorry to hear about the chickpeas! I’m sure it would be delicious with any bean though. 

      Thanks for your kind words Lou! I loved writing this and will probably write more like this in the future no matter what anyone says ;) I like knowing people enjoy them though!

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