Kefir, a fermented dairy drink that has contributed to health and vitality for hundreds of years, is about to hit the big time. Fans claim that regular consumption aids weight loss and results in clear skin, more energy and better sleep.
Want in? Read on...
"All disease begins in the gut" - some credit this oft quoted expression to Hippocrates, the father of medicine. What we do know for sure is that the gut is not only responsible for digestion, but is a big player in healthy immune function.
Chronic, inflammatory conditions such as cancer and heart disease are now linked to poor gut health. In light of recent findings about the human microbiome and it's role in immunity this is no surprise. Did you know, for example, that our intestines contain more immune cells than the rest of the body?
We share our body with a system of microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses and fungi. This system is known as the microbiome and contributes to good health and vitality. Ideally, it's considered that the ratio of 'good' to 'bad' bacteria should be around 85% to 15%. Illness occurs when the microbiome falls out of balance (dysbiosis) and this ratio is altered.
So how do we optimise our microbiome? One of the simplest ways is by adding fermented foods such as kefir.
What is kefir and where did it come from?
It's thought that kefir originates from the Caucasus Mountains, the area between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea where East meets West. Some say kefir translates as 'good feeling' - and who doesn't want to feel good?!
The grains are a combination of bacteria, yeast, sugar and protein and have a similar appearance to cauliflower. By adding these grains to milk, a fermenting process takes place and turns milk into a nutrient packed superfood!
It's certainly an acquired taste, slightly tart, with a consistency somewhere between milk and yoghurt. Make it more palatable by adding honey, or blended with fruit in a smoothie.
9 evidence based benefits of kefir
DIY Kefir - easy as 1, 2, 3!
Whilst you can now pick up a bottle of kefir from most supermarkets, the optimum benefits are obtained by homemade kefir. It's so incredibly simple, you can even delegate this task to your least clumsiest child!
Step 1 - Get your hands on some kefir grains - a quick online search will find some for sale, or do you have any kefir making friends who have some to give away? (healthy colonies multiply quickly!). Add one to two tablespoons to a small glass jar.
Step 2 - Top up with milk - organic dairy milk works best, however non-dairy alternatives such as coconut/oat milk can also be used, but won't match the nutritional profile of dairy kefir. Leave an inch or so at the top of the jar.
Step 3 - Leave at room temperature for around 24 hours. You'll know it's ready when the grains clump at the top of the jar. Strain with a non metallic strainer; you may need the help of a wooden spoon (kefir doesn't like metal) and consume immediately, or refrigerate for up to three weeks.
Now repeat step 1! It really is that easy!
Start the day the healthy way by enjoying kefir poured over a bowl of granola, or in a smoothie. It's also lovely as a bedtime drink as it's rich in the amino acid tryptophan, known as a natural tranquiliser.
Are you a kefir fan? How do you like to take it? Perhaps it's something you're interested in adding to your diet in 2017? Comments below please!
The information in this article is not meant to diagnose, treat or cure. If you have a medical condition, it's wise to seek advice from your doctor before commencing any complementary therapy or food supplement.
I love to support local business. There's something special about people who decide to go it alone, devoting their time and energy into following their dreams and passions. Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting an accidental apple farmer, whose story inspired me to write this post....
Just a mile down the road from my clinic, in the tiny village of West Stourmouth, is Little Stour Orchard, a ten acre apple orchard run by Sarah and Michael Bowers. I'd already sampled their mouth-wateringly delicious apple juice from my local farm shop and was keen to learn more about their award winning raw apple cider vinegar.
I took a trip down to the orchard where I (eventually!) found Michael busy pruning the apple trees. Whilst my nine month old had a perfectly timed nap in the car, we chatted about the family business....
When Michael and Sarah took over the orchard in 2011, thousands of pounds were being spent on chemicals used to keep the apples blemish free. Michael was sure that there was a better way... He took a gamble and decided to return the orchard to the way mother nature intended - 100% chemical free. He was told by experts that this was a big risk, however that decision has obviously paid off, as demonstrated by their trophy cabinet! Little Stour Orchard apple juice won 'Best Kent Juice Producer' two years running at the Taste of Kent awards, and their apple cider vinegar (ACV) won two gold stars at the prestigious Great Taste awards in 2014.
Not only are they creating these superb products, the cessation of chemical sprays has resulted in a hugely positive side effect. Michael described how the wildlife slowly returned to the orchard, including bees, insects and rare birds. He told me:
I believe in the Japanese philosophy that there are two ways of living life - we can either work with nature, or against nature. Sometimes, nature will over power you, but most of the time, nature is giving.
This simple philosophy is evident in all that goes on at Little Stour Orchard. Three types of apple are grown - Discovery, Cox and Bramley, then harvested to make apple juice. The juice is then left to ferment naturally, resulting in cider. A second fermentation then converts alcohol into acid compounds, resulting in ACV, which is left to mature in oak barrels for two years or more. These live enzymes and healthy bacteria are known as 'mother of vinegar', and gives raw, unpasteurised ACV its distinctive murky appearance - and quite likely, it's health enhancing properties.
You may already be an ACV fan; it's popularity is certainly on the rise, however, it's not a new craze. Vinegar as a supplement to health can be dated to as far back as Babylonian times, and Hippocrates, the father of medicine, was extolling the virtues of ACV way back in 400 BC.
Read on to find out a few popular uses of ACV for health, wellbeing and beauty...
Acid reflux - ACV has been touted as a natural remedy for reflux. Although this is a popular remedy, its effectiveness hasn't been researched.
Arthritis - Explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes credits a mixture of ACV and honey for curing arthritis in his hip and hands, enabling him to continue with his active lifestyle.
Diabetes - ACV may benefit people with type 2 diabetes. Two separate studies have found positive effects on blood sugar levels after people with diabetes took ACV before meals.
Immunity - Raw, unfiltered, unpasteurised ACV such as Little Stour Orchard's contains probiotics which may boost the immune system.
Sinusitis - ACV's antibacterial, mucolytic properties make it at effective aid to relieve sinus pain.
Sore throat - A simple, fast acting gargle can be made from antibacterial ACV combined with soothing raw honey.
Weight loss - Research suggests that acetic acid, found in ACV, slows down the accumulation of fat.
Deodorant - ACV helps eradicate odour causing bacteria, so if you're looking for a natural deodorant, simply apply ACV to your underarms or feet.
Glossy hair - Model Miranda Kerr has spoken of her use of ACV as a hair rinse after shampoo.
Clear skin - ACV is rich in alpha hydroxy acids, making it a natural exfoliator - actress Scarlett Johansen has confessed to using it as a toner and spot treatment.
Sunburn - Soak a flannel in chilled ACV and apply to soothe sunburnt skin.
How to use at home:
Just add water - For a daily tonic, just add one tablespoon of ACV to a small cup of water - add honey if this makes it more palatable for you. Drink twice daily or before each meal.
Drink neat - Be like Black Eye Peas singer Fergie, who proclaimed to take ACV shots to aid weight management.
In food - If you can't stomach the taste, how about adding it to a dressing for a rice or quinoa salad? It also gives soups a little kick - try it!
If you're looking for a top quality raw apple cider vinegar that is made with love for the environment, you'd be hard pushed to find anything better than Little Stour Orchard's! - www.littlestourorchard.co.uk
As with all other health supplements, consult with your doctor if you have any health conditions or are taking medication.
It's National Curry Week (10th-16th October) and with the weather starting to get a bit chilli, I thought I'd rice to the challenge and show why we should all have the hots for Indian spices this season (sorry, I'll stop this silliness raita way ;-)).
Once hailed as Britain's favourite dish, curry has somewhat fallen out favour, especially with the clean eating crowd (a quick search on Instagram reveals #avocado beats #curry hands down).
However, an authentic Indian meal will be brimming with health enhancing spices rather than swimming in saturated fat. Read on as I reveal my must-have store cupboard spices and six simple ways you can use them at home...
Chilli - Want to lose weight and get rid of a stuffy nose? Meet your new best friend. Chillies contain capsaicin which can increase metabolism for up to three hours. It's also a potent painkiller and excellent for breaking down mucous and clearing airways.
Clove - Another spice that packs a punch as a painkiller, cloves contain the anaesthetic, antiseptic and analgesic compound eugenol. As well as being a traditional cure for toothache, cloves are also thought to rid the body of intestinal parasites.
Coriander - If you want a healthy digestive system, keep a pot of coriander to hand in the kitchen. It has been used for centuries as an appetite stimulant and digestive aid. Incredibly, it's also as effective at treating food poisoning as the leading salmonella antibiotic!
Cumin - The ancient Egyptians valued this spice so much, they used it in the mummification process! Cumin has been shown to improve digestion by increasing absorption of other nutrients. It is also thought to be an aphrodisiac.
Garlic - A real powerhouse of health benefits, organosulphur compounds give garlic its antibiotic, antifungal and possible antiviral properties. It also lowers blood pressure and cholesterol and strengthens the immune system.
Ginger - Got a dodgy stomach or stiff joints? Ginger is well known for its stomach settling abilities, making it the perfect remedy for morning sickness or a hangover. The anti-inflammatory compound gingerol is cold and flu fighting and warms muscles and joints. Try adding a few tablespoons of dried ginger powder to the bath to relieve aches and pains.
Turmeric - Last, but certainly not least, it's the spice 'du jour', turmeric is highly antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, boosting immune system function to fight colds and flu.
Six simple ways to spice up your life
What's the one spice you couldn't live without? Will you be celebrating National Curry week with a home cooked meal or takeaway? I'd love to hear from you!
Hay fever is an allergic response to pollen found in the air during pollen season (March to November in the UK). This over reaction to pollen triggers a release of inflammation causing substances including histamines, resulting in the symptoms hay fever sufferers are sadly all too familiar with.
Anti-histamine medication works by blocking the action of histamine, reducing symptoms such as a stuffy nose and itchiness. Unfortunately, it can cause drowsiness in some people, due to the fact that histamines are needed in small amounts to help keep us alert.
Did you know, there are certain foods that contain natural anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine substances? This easy to make, delicious smoothie combines a few of these foods - here's what's included and why:
Stinging nettles, small handful - Yes, those pesky plants found in most back gardens DO have a use! Nettles have been used for centuries to treat inflammatory conditions and allergies; more recently, a few small research studies have verified its ability to reduce sneezing and itching associated with hay fever. Pick the small leaves from the top of a plant away from the roadside (wearing rubber gloves!). The heat generated from the blender blades will take the sting out of the nettles.
Half an apple - An apple a day may keep hay fever at bay... Apples contain a natural anti-histamine substance called quercetin, which is thought to prevent the release of histamine from mast cells.
Papaya (frozen) - one of the most richest sources of vitamin C, an immune boosting nutrient that has been shown to have an anti-allergy effect by decreasing the amount of histamine released into the body.
Spinach, small handful - A good source of two natural antihistamines, vitamin C and quercetin. makes spinach a great anti-allergy food to include! However, those sensitive to oxalates may wish to avoid it - add a small amount of romaine lettuce instead.
Ginger - Used for centuries to warm and boost circulation, ginger root may enhance absorption of other nutrients by increasing blood flow. It is also a fantastic natural decongestant due to its anti-inflammatory nature - great for clearing a stuffy nose!
Chia seeds - These tiny powerhouses are chock-full of nutrients, including highly anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats which can help improve allergy symptoms by reducing inflammation in the mucous membranes.
Half a lemon - Citrus fruits, especially the white pith, contain a phytonutrient called hesperidin, which has been shown to have an antihistamine effect. Lemons are also a good source of vitamin C and quercetin.
Pineapple (frozen) - The core contains one of the most anti-inflammatory enzymes, bromelain, which is thought to enhance the absorption of quercetin into the bloodstream.
Green tea - Catechins in tea have demonstrated an ability to inhibit the function of the enzyme that converts histadine to histamine, resulting in a reduction of allergy symptoms. The high vitamin C content of this smoothie makes the catechins more readily absorbed by the body. Steep the leaves for five minutes and allow to cool, before topping up the blender jug to the fill line.
I'd love to hear what you think of this smoothie; post your comments below! Do you have any natural tips for allergy sufferers? Please share!
This article is written for entertainment and is not a substitute for medical advice. The reader accepts full responsibility should they wish to test this recipe. Those on medication should consult their physician as some medications interact with stinging nettle. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid consumption of stinging nettle.
Complementary therapist and natural health expert. On a mission to sprinkle health and wellness wherever I go...