Some of you may have heard of the wellness company and App Zoe, if not, read on. Backed by some of the leading health, wellness and nutrition scientists in the UK and US, Zoe promises to offer a level of dietary and wellness diagnostics that set new standards for body knowledge.
I do believe that the health of the gut micro-biome is perhaps the single most important factor in our general health and well-being. Dubbed the “second brain” and indeed it was the precursor to the proto-human brain, our gut health is known to contribute to happiness, overall energy levels, but also to fighting off chronic and wasting diseases like dementia and potentially even ALS. We also know very little about this landscape, and Zoe promises to advance our understanding.
What do I know? I know that since I began to really focus on taking care of my gut, that I haven’t gotten sick, now pushing 5 years. Not even once. No food poisoning, no stomach upsets, no diarrhea, no common colds, no flus, no nothing. I also know that I have lost a tremendous amount of weight, taking me from “chubby” to lean and healthy. Yes, I have exercised throughout. But one curious by-product of my healthy gut is that when I over-indulge and just eat and drink too much, instead of just gaining weight all of a sudden, the food just marches through my system at a faster pace.
The demand to participate in Zoe’s research, which combines an advanced level of monitoring, food logging, and personalised nutrition advice, has resulted in a waiting list that extends as long as 6 months to a year, depending on who you are. I have just had my participation confirmation, an honour for which I will be expected to pay a monthly subscription. I do wonder, however, whether I jumped the queue as a “curiosity” as I am not sure how many non-binary people are in their cohort…and no, please don’t go and say you are something you aren’t…and no, I have no idea whether this makes a difference.
What awaits? Blood-sugar monitoring, daily blood tests (I will struggle with overcoming my fear of needles!), food logging, etc. What do I get? A personal diet recommendation that takes into account how my body is reacting to the food it consumes in real time. I have always believed that “we are what we eat”, literally, and know that what I eat changes how I feel. I look forward to a more scientific understanding of this.
One of the more light-hearted approaches to gut health is a study in transit time—how long does it take for food to pass through your system. This is what the team at Zoe has called the “blue poop challenge.” The test consists of eating two muffins containing blue dye for breakfast on their own (and waiting a few hours before eating anything else), and then logging when you poop blue. You can purchase the muffins from them, or you can make them on your own. Unsurprisingly, I opted to make my own.
As an aside, my gut transit time put my digestive system at the low-end range of “normal”, in other words, a bit faster than average. This may be in part the result of my love of spicy foods and putting hot pepper in my coffee. Cayenne acts as an irritant and forces your gut to push things through more quickly—interestingly, cultures with really high levels of hot pepper consumption have lower instances of intestinal cancer. Put that in your mouth and eat it.
Our local Waitrose did not have one of the blue dyes that was recommended for this process, and instead had an all-natural dye made with spirulina. A quick google search informed me that spirulina does indeed turn your poop blue, so felt good enough to proceed.
Annoyingly, however, their recipe does not work. It never ceases to amaze me how often published recipes fail to work. Don’t get me started on some of the celebrity chefs—in their haste to rush out the next book, so often, the most basic step of ensuring that the recipes work is never taken. What is the matter with their recipe? The dry ingredient to liquid ingredient balance is completely off. This recipe, if made as designed, results in a batter as thin as a pancake batter, and one which will not produce a viable muffin. In the case of the spirulina dye as well (my bad perhaps), even doubling the quantity required was not enough—I needed to use 4x what was called for in the original recipe to get the muffins to turn blue enough to actually look blue.
Helpfully, they add that you can use your own recipe for muffins and just add blue dye to them. Here is a recommended improvement on the Zoe recipe, and one where the “blue” colour will not be out of place as there is blueberry in them as well.
True Blue Blueberry Muffins
300 g white flour (2 cups plus a bit)
3 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
100 g sugar
1 egg, slightly beaten
250 ml milk (about 1 cup)
30 g (1/4 cup) butter, melted
¼ cup unflavoured cooking oil, such as safflower
1 ½ cups blueberries, wild is better, frozen or fresh
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
3 oz of blue food colour
Preheat the oven to 170°C/350°F/Gas Mark 3.
Generously and thoroughly butter and flour 12 muffin cups. Shake to remove excess.
Sift together flour and baking powder to eliminate any lumps. Mix together all dry ingredients. Mix the melted butter and oil into the dry ingredients and using a fork or end of a whisk, work until it is like coarse ground meal, totally without lumps. Beat the egg with the milk and blue dye and add to dry ingredients. Just blend together enough with a whisk to remove any lumps, but no more.
Gently fold in blueberries.
Spoon the batter into muffin cups, filling each cup about two-thirds full. Bake for 30 minutes or until turning golden-brown on the tops. When done, the tops should be nicely risen. Cool the muffins slightly on a wire rack before turning out. If eating straight away, enjoy; if not, seal them in a plastic bag while still hot to keep them moist. They taste best with a little soft butter. Makes 12 muffins.