The first in a new series for IBS Awareness month, I talk to brilliant people changing the face of gut health. Alongside the Low FODMAP Diet, there are loads of great things that can help with the symptoms of IBS – things that I love and want to shout about too!
Based in Hackney, East London, Karen and The Happy Tummy Co. make fermented, prebiotic, gluten-free, organic loaves and scones, designed to make their customers feel great on the inside and out. Here we talk about the powers of teff, Biggie Smalls and what a ‘happy gut’ means to her.
What’s your earliest food memory?
Watching my Mum rolling the excess shortcrust pastry she had made around the apple tart dish with her hands, from the kitchen table aged 4.
Do you have a go-to meal?
When I’m cooking just for me and for total pleasure I’ll make a high fibre quinoa pasta dish with freshly made basil pesto, loads of leafy greens and some oily fish. That and a glass of natural red wine is the perfect way to wind down from a busy day!
What’s your favourite cookbook at the moment?
I don’t really have one – I don’t have a lot of cookbooks. I’ve been creating my own recipes since I could walk and so using a cookbook feels slightly unnatural for me. However, if I want to cook authentic Italian food I will always consult The Silver Spoon.
One thing we all know is that everybody is different when it comes to gut health and IBS. Can you tell us a bit about your experience?
A lot of people nowadays suffer from IBS due to a stress trigger. I was born with IBS and therefore went through most of my young life thinking the symptoms I suffered with were normal and that there was nothing I could do about it. It wasn’t until my early twenties when the side effects became more serious that I properly investigated the possibility of getting rid of it. Throughout my childhood and into my late teens there might have been times where I didn’t go to the toilet for weeks. My constantly bloated stomach began to really affect my self-confidence and self-image. Through having a terrible relationship with my tummy I had a terrible relationship with my mind at times. I was exceedingly hard on myself and eventually went through a 2 year eating disorder in an attempt to get rid of my “fat” stomach. I only wish that IBS had been more talked about 20 years ago. I would have enjoyed so many experiences all the more.
How did The Happy Tummy Co. come about?
In my early twenties I knew I couldn’t go on experiencing the pain and anxiety I had started to put up with and so I committed to curing myself of my IBS through a bread like product. After years of scientific research and recipe development The Happy Tummy Co.’s signature product came about in my home in London and a mini revolution started. Friends and acquaintances across London began to find out about it and very soon I was fermenting my breads for people across the U.K. and beyond.
What exactly is teff and what is it about Happy Tummy Co. products that can make them good for your gut and IBS?
Teff is the seed of Lovegrass which is grown across 87% of Ethiopia and was in fact the first grain ever farmed for human consumption on the Ethiopian Highlands, around 5000 BC. Cup for cup it is the best grain in the world you can eat for good gut health. I design all of our products to have the right ratio of fibres to proteins to minerals and vitamins essential for metabolism, immunity and the nervous system, with the right quantity of variety for our good gut bacteria. It is my mathematical equations and application of those equations onto ingredients that make our products so effective in conquering IBS symptoms.
Tell us a common misconception about fermented food you’d like to de-mystify
Perhaps I’m too good at living in my own bubble in Hackney but I’m not really aware of any misconceptions…! If anything I would say that there is still a lot of education needed around why we ferment.
What do you do to chill?
A walk around Hackney Marsh with my dog Biggie Smalls brings me back to myself and my ‘Why’. I’ve got a lot of energy and put a lot of that energy into other people. It’s important to me that I re-energise myself once a week with a long walk in nature – my biggest source of inspiration and love.
What does having a ‘happy gut’ mean to you?
Contentment with the self. If I’ve had a day where high fibre and fermented foods play a huge role in every meal I know I’ll go to sleep that night feeling good about myself and at peace. And when at peace I am at my most productive. The impact my gut health has on my mind is extraordinary. It is the unison of this relationship I am constantly managing.
What’s next for Happy Tummy Co.?
We’re launching a Happy Tummy Lab in NYC this year and replicating our UK business model in the US market. I couldn’t be more excited about this! Brooklyn, just like Hackney, feels like my spiritual home!