Stella Metsovas firmly believes if you change your gut, you can change your life.
The Rancho Santa Fe clinical nutritionist and specialist in food science and human nutrition recently published her first book, “Wild Mediterranean: The Age-Old Science-new Plan for a Healthy Gut with Food You Can Trust,” all about realizing your best digestive health.
Published in August 2017 by Penguin Random House, “Wild Mediterranean” breaks down the complex science behind digestive health and shares a simple, back-to-basics and down-to-earth plan for ending digestive issues using delicious Mediterranean cuisine. The book includes pre-tox and detox protocols for preparing the gut to heal, unique recipes as well as key lifestyle practices to support overall wellness.
“The main takeaway of my platform is you can never truly have optimal health unless you understand your gut,” Metsovas said. “Finding your wild isn’t just about what you eat. Though that’s a major piece, tapping into a lifestyle that brings you joy, satisfaction and peace is equally as important for your well-being.”
A proud-Greek American, Metsovas has treasured memories of visiting her grandparents and family in Greece every summer. Back then she embraced a “Wild Mediterranean” way of living without even knowing it: participating in age-old traditions, enjoying her natural surroundings and close-knit bond of a community, and eating meals like perfectly-ripe seasonal vegetables baked in olive oil, preparing fish freshly caught with her grandfather and avoiding all things fake and processed.
Born and raised in Orange County, Metsovas’ interest in nutrition grew from being a competitive youth swimmer with USA Swimming. She entered Chapman University as a sports medicine major but after she took her first nutrition class she was hooked.
Metsovas started her own private practice in Corona Del Mar and for over 10 years treated clients for a variety of complaints such as sluggish metabolism, weight gain, fatigue, headaches, digestive discomfort and skin issues. She herself experienced symptoms such as fatigue and bloating but like many people, as those symptoms weren’t dramatic, she learned to live with it.
Everything changed in 2007, when she attended a digestive health seminar and received a GI panel kit test used to identify issues in the gut.
“I didn’t think I was clinically ill, I was a nutritionist, I was healthy. But I took the test and I was shocked with the results,” Metsovas said, noting the test found an imbalance of bacteria in her gut (dysbiosis), not allowing her to adequately absorb micronutrients such as iron and basic-cell building essentials like protein and fats. “From there I began making digestive health an emphasis for both myself and my clients. The idea sprouted the program that ultimately became the book.”
Metsovas dug deep to understand how the gut could have such far-reaching health repercussions.
“The human gut is a true wonder. It harbors a dynamic, complex microbial environment known as the microbiome,” writes Metsovas in the book.
More than 70 percent of the body’s immune system tissues reside in the gut and it is home to lymphatic cells, the “body’s most vigorous defenders,” developing antibodies to combat invading microorganisms.
“When your gut and all its beneficial bacteria fall out of balance, that work is disrupted,” she continues. “The good bacteria become overwhelmed trying to chase after what they perceive to be a constant stream of offenders. As a result, your immune system’s first line of defense gets run-down, leaving you vulnerable to disease.”
As Metsovas likes to say: “If the eyes are the window to your soul, then the gut microbiome is the window to your health”.
With her own digestive system in need of repair, Metsovas set off to find her “wild” again, going back to the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle where her health and vibrancy started. Her health has “flourished,” she said she feels good and has never been leaner.
Metsovas said the single most important dietary change you can make to re-wild the gut is getting more plant fiber — it’s more than just bagged arugula, Metsovas encourages getting creative with green leafy vegetables, prebiotics like jicama, nuts and seeds, legumes, and fermented veggies such as cabbage, carrots, onions and cucumbers.
“The reason the Mediterranean diet is so healthy and one of the most trusted is because most meals are built on plant fiber,” Metsovas said. “You’re always going to flourish from the Mediterranean diet because it’s the best for digestive health.”
Metsovas brought her book proposal to Pam Krauss at Penguin Random House in New York City, who has worked with authors such as Giada De Laurentis, Ina Garten and Bobby Flay.
“I thought I was going to have a heart attack in her office, she really is my dream publisher,” Metsovas said.
In collaborating with Knauss, instead of being largely clinical, the book evolved to be more “food-forward,” incorporating the recipes and detox plans.
The book includes Metsovas’ “Village to Table” recipes for dishes like deep-dish frittata with butternut squash and mushrooms, Catalan gazpacho, moussaka, lemony fish wrapped in grape leaves and several takes on how to make chicken, beans and fish in Greek, Spanish, French and Italian styles.
Metsovas said that the “Wild Mediterranean” diet is not elaborate or expensive — it’s about simplicity and mostly plant-heavy dishes.
It took about three long years from the initial proposal to manuscript development and Metsovas admits there were times when she almost lost it — writing for the commercial market is one of the hardest things she has ever done and it was important for her philosophy to be backed by solid science and research.The finished product is now her “calling card to the world” and to have people believe in what she has to say was worth all of the effort.
Metsovas moved to Rancho Santa Fe with her husband five years ago, where she has an olive orchard on her property. She swims, hikes, rides horses and travels frequently.
Her schedule is wild and her plate is full as she is currently working on the cookbook to accompany “Wild Mediterranean,” is collaborating with the Chef’d subscription meal kit delivery service, and is also working with a local consumer diagnostic company on a kit that will test gut health, hoping to launch it this spring.
“I’ve devoted my life to reaching more people through my book and my food products and hopefully it will blossom from there,” Metsovas said.