Eight years ago, while working at the ABC in Sydney, Lee Holmes suddenly fell ill and couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Her hair was falling out, her skin crawled with hives and she dropped from a healthy 58kgs to 40kgs in just six weeks. Little did she know, it was all related to her gut-health.

Lee Holmes thought she had chronic fatigue and continued to work until she just couldn’t anymore. Desperate for answers, she went through what she describes as a fairly complex IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) medical system, seeing a host of different doctors and undergoing scans, until she was diagnosed with a non-specific autoimmune condition.

“They thought maybe it was Crohn’s or fibromyalgia, which is an arthritic condition, and they put me on a bunch of different drugs but the drugs didn’t really help me,” says Lee.

“It was only when I started to look at my diet and change a few things to improve it, that I found that my symptoms were getting a bit better.”

Lee, who had previously studied nutrition and went to cooking school, started a blog to document her changes and share recipes, which she says were predominantly gluten free and sugar free, because they were what caused her the biggest reactions – her tummy would ache in response to gluten and if she had too much sugar, her hives would itch. Lee also found she had been consuming a lot of MSG in microwave meals (which she’d eat at her desk at work) and chemicals that are found in processed foods.

Lee’s advice for others who may be at a stalemate, having exhausted options from medical professionals, is to look at your diet and start eliminating the offending foods you think are aggravating your gut and then take note of how you feel after eating.

Those ingredients could be healthy, such as onion or garlic, but are giving you symptoms of bloating, pain or tiredness after eating.

“There are also things you can add to your diet to really improve gut health. I use a lot of turmeric because I find that to be very anti inflammatory. Another ingredient is aloe vera, which is lovely and soothing in the gut, peppermint and ginger are really good too, as are beautiful Indian spices, like cardamom,” says Lee.

For people with sensitive guts, Lee says salads can be really hard to digest and make them feel really bloated afterwards, despite them being very healthy and enzymatically rich and beneficial.

“Twice a week, on a Monday and a Thursday, I only eat cooked foods or blended foods, I call them pre-digested, and that makes a major difference, rather than eating a lot of raw foods, which can be aggravating,” she says.

“It’s really great for soothing the gut and improving the microbio. In the morning, get up and have a glass of warm water with lemon in it to kick start your digestive system, and then have gluten free oatmeal for breakfast. In winter, it’s good to have something cooked/warm and in summer you might want to have a smoothie or smoothie bowl, which is pre-digested and very easy, but make sure you’re using ingredients that are nutritious and are going to give you energy.

“For lunch, again have something cooked, and what I do for dinner is in the morning before I go to work, I put on something slow cooked, using a bone broth, a little bit of meat and some apple cider vinegar, lemon and garlic and when I get home I make a prebiotic tray bake with lots of pumpkin and sweet potato. Prebiotic-rich veggies like that feed your probiotics (good bacteria in the gut) and because they die every 20 minutes, you need to feed them root veggies.

“If you don’t want to do something slow cooked, you can whip up a soup which is really easy. The way I do my soups is bake them off in the oven with veggies and garlic and get lots of flavour going and throw them into a pan with a bit of veggie broth or bone broth, sometimes a bit of coconut milk if you want to sweeten it, a few herbs and spices and turmeric, and whizz it up.”

“There are also things you can add to your diet to really improve gut health. I use a lot of turmeric because I find that to be very anti inflammatory. Another ingredient is aloe vera which is lovely and soothing in the gut.”

Lee Holmes - love your guts

Complementing the gut-friendly recipes in her cookbooks, Lee also has a product called Love Your Gut powder, which she adds to a glass of water every morning.

“It cleans the plaque that sits inside the gut; there is between 1kg and 3kgs of gunk in each person, that sits on your insides and stops you from absorbing nutrients from your food. Cleaning your gut is just like cleaning your teeth, you can do that with natural food or my powder.”

Having worked with doctors, gastroenterologists, scientists and researchers all over the world, Lee says the gut really is the epicentre for health, and according to new research, the gut is connected to your brain, your immune system, your thyroid and hormones, it affects the way you think, the way you feel, it’s also connected to sleep.

“The gut is a mini ecosystem; you have good bacteria and bad bacteria and you want to really build up the good bacteria by having prebiotic and probiotic-rich food and lessen the bad bacteria; things like smoking, alcohol, environmental toxins and sugar can proliferate that bad bacteria,” she says.

“Stress is another thing that can change your bacteria and if you have an imbalance of flora in your gut and it’s more bad than good, you might start to find you’re craving more sugars and unhealthy foods and then start to get symptoms of feeling tired after eating, or pain or constipation or diarrhea; those symptoms could be a result of an imbalance of flora in the gut.”

In February, Lee will release her new book Supercharge your Life, which she explains is returning to the old school way of cooking sumptuous good food, as well as an environmental slant of growing your own food and creating tablescapes with natural things from your garden.

“It’s a very simple, minimal, beautiful way to sit down and enjoy food together because I feel like we’ve lost that community way of eating. It’s about coming together after social media has pulled us all apart,” she says.

Aloe vera – the new superfood!

If you have the plants in your garden, squeeze out the middle (don’t use the outside), and put it into jellies and smoothies, you can buy it from a supermarket in liquid form as well. I make little gummy bears with it with a bit of gelatin, they taste really good.

Aloe vera helps to soothe the lining of the gut and settle it down. People with IBS or ulcerative colitis can really benefit from a soothing ingredient like that, which is going to settle everything down and put on a layer upon the mucus membrane and lining of the gut, which helps if you’re having anything acidic, it’s not going to burn as much.