Healthy Living

The Magic of Kefir

As a mother of 2, I like to find healthy options for my family that isn’t too time consuming to prepare and can be purchased within a reasonable budget. Earlier this past summer I stumbled across the drink ‘Kefir’ at a local health food store. I purchased a small milk size bottle of some blueberry kefir, brought it home and went to my computer to look up all of the benefits this drink had to offer.
Kefir (pronounced kee-fer) first originated in the Caucasus Mountains in Eastern Europe centuries ago and is one of the oldest cultured milks. History has it that the name comes from the Turkish word “keif” whose meaning falls along the lines of ‘good feeling’. Some say that God fed Moses and the Israelites with some kind of kefir in the form of manna. The Bible describes manna as white, fluffy and very nutritious.
Kefir has about 3 times more of a probiotic count than yogurt, flushing bad bacteria from your digestive tract and intestines. As it cleans your digestive tract, it ensures that no toxins enter your bloodstream. If you have stomach or colon problems, kefir regulates digestion and metabolism and boosts your immune system. Since kefir grows by eating lactose and sugar, this is a huge benefit for lactose intolerant people as the kefir continues to do its job as all forms of sugar and lactose pass through your digestive tract. The list of benefits goes on including possessing several B vitamins and minerals; treating ulcers, eczema, anxiety, smoother skin and hair. I was in!
Much like a yogurt drink, kefir is creamy, tangy and has a mild bubbly taste. The longer it ferments the tangier and bubblier to gets. Most buy Kefir in their local grocery store, but if your family drinks it every day, it can become pricey. After all of my research, I now know that store bought kefir drinks are commercially processed and do not have any of the health benefits ‘live’ kefir does.
After reading several articles on the web, I found that many avid Kefir drinkers make their own. Sounds easy if you purchase a non-authentic Kefir starter kit but true kefir can only be made through kefir ‘grains’. As the ‘grains’ are really a live growth of bacteria and yeast, purchasing from a good supplier is key as your culture must be ‘alive’ to turn your milk (or coconut milk, goat’s milk or water” into delicious kefir gold. The part I think I found most intriguing is that you cannot buy ‘live’ kefir grains in a store. You have to purchase or get them from someone who is currently using the grain and willing to give you some of theirs.
I bought mine on eBay and after 5 days of waiting for my delivery in the mail I have to say what first arrived made me wonder if what I was doing wasn’t crazy. The package contained some slightly dried out looking cottage cheese that reeked of sour milk. I was told this was normal as my ‘grains’ were dehydrated for shipping and the milk on the grain was in fact sour. It would take a week or two to get them back up to par.
Each day I had to add a cup of fresh milk to my strained grains, loosely cover and give the batch 24 hours to go through the process of fermenting again. When the batch had a slightly sweet and sour smell to it and began to thicken, the product was ready to consume. I set an alarm on my phone to begin the process of reviving my kefir. By day 10 I felt that my product no longer smelt sour in a bad way but in a way that buttermilk would smell. I strained my grains and put the bottle of my kefir drink in the fridge to chill. Later that day I added a touch of sugar and vanilla to my batch and handed out for my family to drink. And it was amazing!
It resembled the creamy yogurt drinks I pay a fortune for in the stores for my kids and knowing that this little jar of fermented milk was made by me somehow made it magical! The more I read about my kefir the more I understood what it did and how it grew. As it ate the lactose in my milk, it would slowly grow and these grains could be eaten alone for huge health benefits or could be given to my pets to assist in their health as well.
I now store my kefir milk and grain mixture in the fridge which slows down the fermenting process and gives me 5 glasses of goodness every second day. We blend them in smoothies, make ranch salad dressings, add a teaspoon of homemade jam for added flavor and add crushed berries overnight for additional taste.
I happily tell my story to friends interested in preparing their family for cold and flu season and tell them I have a grain that will change their lives. Ok maybe not their lives, but the kids will get sick less for sure. My daughter woke up one morning with a fever and began throwing up. Once her stomach settled, I began spoon feeding her kefir until I got a quarter cup in her. She went to sleep and when she woke she had another half glass. No more vomiting and by the next morning she rejoined her swim team for practice. It was the fastest recovery I have ever seen.
So if you are ready for an easy to prepare, healthy and nutritious drink that is natural, unprocessed and full of numerous health benefits, look no further than kefir and it’s century old history. Just go to eBay or Google kefir to find someone near you that is willing to share!

Healthy Cranberry Facts

Berries may be rich in antioxidants and play a role in maintaining cardiovascular health, but recent research suggests that the cranberry may have even more to offer.

Besides being a heart-healthy source of antioxidants, cranberries were shown to decrease total cholesterol and LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels in a recent study conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“Our study found that feeding cranberry juice powder to animals with high cholesterol decreased total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol by 22 percent,” said Jess Reed, Ph.D.

This is the first time scientists have seen such a positive response with cranberry in reducing cholesterol levels. Research from another Wisconsin-Madison study focused on cranberry antioxidants, which inhibited LDL or “bad” cholesterol from being oxidized. Many researchers believe that oxidized LDL contributes to cardiovascular disease.

These studies build on previously published research that demonstrates the cranberry’s anti-adhesion properties. The cranberry may be unique by offering two key pathways to health—first as an anti-adhesion agent and secondly as an antioxidant.

According to Amy Howell, Ph.D., of Rutgers University, “Cranberries contain compounds that have an anti-adhesion or anti-stick mechanism that’s been shown to be effective in maintenance of urinary tract health. Preliminary research suggests this same anti-stick mechanism may work in the mouth and stomach, possibly helping to prevent gum disease and ulcers.”

Additional research from Rutgers confirms that compounds in cranberries are, in fact, absorbed into the body. Howell continued, “We found in the animal model that cranberry compounds may be absorbed into the bloodstream and become available for use in other sites in the body.”

Researchers agree that these preliminary studies are promising. These studies were funded by Ocean Spray and were presented at Experimental Biology 2001, sponsored by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.


Do you like your … snacks?

If you like grabbing an afternoon snack you probably wonder if snacks are healthful?

Snacks can make a healthful eating plan even better. Snacks can shorten the time your body goes without fuel and keep you from overeating at meals. Plan for snacks every three to four hours, about the length of time a meal keeps you fueled.

In addition to when you do it, what you snack on also makes a difference. Experts recommend that you choose snacks that provide a combination of simple and complex carbohydrates, one gives quick energy, the other slower fuel. Try a piece of fruit and a graham cracker, a bagel topped with low-fat cheese, lowfat yogurt mixed with whole grain cereal, or dip pretzels into a low-fat yogurt dip.

When you work snacks into a healthful eating plan, you’ll find controlling portions at meals gets much easier. So snack for health.

Olive Oil … Good for your health

Olive oil has always been placed somewhere between food and medicine. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, recommended the juices of fresh olives as a cure for mental illness and poultices of macerated olives for ulcers. In the Middle Ages, it was used to treat gynecological complaints and in the Mediterranean country side was used as a treatment for ear aches, as a purgative, especially for children, as a treatment for stomach aches, gastritis, gastro duodenal ulcers and to soften calluses. Olive oil was thought to have a very positive effect on atrophy of the gallbladder and to inhibit hepatobiliary secretion during gallbladder emptying time.

Today, research has shown the scientific basis for many of these beliefs.

Here’s what the experts say:

“New Italian research finds olive oil contains antioxidants, similar to those in tea and red wine, that combat disease processes, including LDL cholesterol’s ability to clog arteries.”

Jean Carper, leading authority on health and nutrition,
an award winning correspondent for CNN, author of “The Food Pharmacy” and “Food-Your Miracle Medicine” and a nationally syndicated column

“I love the whole idea of olive oil’s versatility. I use it for baking, as well as salad dressings and sautÈing. Olive Oil has been around for a long time, and the more we know about it, the more we learn about its great contribution to good health.”

Pat Baird, dietician and nutrition consultant,
author of “The Pyramid Cookbook: Pleasures of the Food Guide Pyramid”

“American women might actually experience as much as a fifty percent (50%) reduction in breast cancer risk if they consumed more olive oil in place of saturated fats.”

Dr. Dimitrios Trichopoulos, chairman of the Department of Epidemiology, Harvard University School of Public Health

“I like the taste of olive oil. And, because olive oil is so flavorful, a little goes a long way while cooking, which is great for people like me who watch their fat intake.”

Dr. Barbara Levine, director of the Nutrition Information Center
at the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

“Olive oil has a protective effect against some types of malignant tumors: prostate, breast, colon, squamous cell, and oesophageal.”

Dr. Dimitrios Trichopoulos, chairman of the Department of Epidemiology, Harvard University School of Public Health

“Olive oil has been shown to strengthen the inmune system in mice. Diets high in olive oil do not suppress lymphoblastogenesis, CD11a and CD18, and increase expression and capping of CD44 and CD25.”

D. Peck, School of Medicine, University of Miami

“In vitro and in vivo (in animals), the minor polar components of extra virgin olive oil increase significantly the resistance of LDL to oxidation.

Bruno Berra, Facolta di Farmacia, Milan

“Olive oil prevents insulin resistance and ensures better control of the glucose in the blood.”

A.A. Rivellese, G. Riccardi, M. Mancini
Institute of Internal Medicine and Metabolism Disease
University of Federico II, Naples

Dietary intake of olive oilyphenols may lower the risk of reactive oxygen metabolite-mediated diseases such as some gastrointestinal diseases and atherosclerosis. Olive oil hydroxytyrosol protects human erythrocytes against oxidative damage.”

Patrizia Galletti, Facolta di Medicina e Chirurgia,
Seconda Universita degli Studi di Napoli, Naples

“A diet in which virgin olive oil is the only source of fat causes less peroxidation of the lipids in the subcellular membrane. Attention is drawn to the greater part played by the saponifiable fraction of the oil and to the absence of effects caused by the polyphenol fraction, as well as to the cardiac antioxidant role of coenzyme Q10.”

Jose Mataix Verdu, Jesus Rodriguez Huertas,
Instituto de Nutricion y Tecnologia de Alimentos,,Universidad de Granada

“An olive-oil-rich diet is more effective than a low-fat diet in controlling and treating obesity. Moreover, it leads to longer-lasting weight loss and it is easier to keep to because it tastes good.”

Frank Sacks, Harvard School of Public Health

Beware of the BBQ

Most of us love BBQ’ed food. It is also fun to have your friends round for a relaxed BBQ dinner. But barbecueing can pose a risk to your health.

According to a study of the The American Institute for Cancer Research, eating grilled/barbecued meat, poultry or seafood exposes us to carcinogens called heterocyclic amines (HCAs). These substances form on foods as they cook on the BBQ or under the high heat of the grill, whether or not char is formed. And when fat drips onto the heat source, it creates flare-ups and smoke that then deposits on the food another group of carcinogens, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

A simple way to avoid these carcinogens and still enjoy grilled meats is to put them under wraps. Placing poultry, fish, or meats into foil packets before putting them on the BBQ avoids the problem. In addition, the food gets the flavourful aura of grilling, especially if you leave the top loosely sealed, but it won’t char the food.

Cutting the empty calories in your baking. Includes a sugar-free muffin recipe

By Mona Blaber, writer for the FoodSyndicate

Take everything you hear about sugar with a grain of salt.
It’s probably not as bad as a lot of people think, but it might be more damaging than most people realize.

Those of us who blithely munch on muffins at breakfast and Pop-Tarts at lunch don’t seem to pay much heed to refined sugar and its many vehicles, including non-sweets such as peanut butter and bread.

Those of us who have read William Dufty’s “Sugar Blues” – or any number of other anti-sugar rants – avoid it like the plague, which was caused by sugar, according to Dufty. If the mayonnaise in our cole slaw contains high-fructose corn syrup, we fear the imminent onset of gout, acne, dropsy, scurvy, depression and premature death. Which is silly, because sugar has only been linked to acne, dropsy, scurvy, depression and premature death.

If only it was that easy to indict, or acquit, sugar. According to most experts, it has only one direct negative effect that has been reliably documented: tooth decay. But even at its most benign, refined sugar is the only food that provides calories but no other nutrients. (Refined, or processed, sugar is added sugar, as opposed to those that occur naturally in, for example, fruit and milk; they come alongside folate, calcium, fiber, Vitamin A and other nutrients.)

According to Barry Popkin, nutrition professor at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, “Americans consume up to one-fourth of their energy from added sugar. Either this added sugar is in the form of empty calories and affects issues such as poor bone density, etc., or it increases total energy,” and therefore contributes to weight gain. “So my feeling is that this is bad but there is not a lot of evidence for a specific direct linkage of one calorie of sugar to anything.”

In other words, we often eat sugar calories in place of those that carry the good stuff that helps us fight osteoporosis, cancer, etc. Or we eat sugar calories in addition to the nutritional sort and start packing on pounds. But a brownie will not kill you, or even give you dropsy.

However, some doctors (including diet guru Robert Atkins) maintain that refined sugar can be seriously harmful. What to do? Who to believe? Well, even the most sugar-friendly experts recommend replacing many of those empty calories with more nutritious energy vehicles. Soft drinks and commercial cakes, cookies and muffins are the all-stars of the nutritional void, according to the United States Department of Agriculture and many health organizations. But if you bake at home, you can moderate what goes into your treats. It’s not very hard, once you try, to make everybody in your house happy and sneak in all kinds of vitamins and minerals while nobody’s looking.

This moist, tender and unique muffin won raves from my whole family. The peppers are fairly subtle, but they can be omitted if you have kids who don’t like spices.

Mona Blaber, a freelance journalist who lives in Santa Fe, N.M., with her husband and three stepchildren, puts extensive research, and trial-and-error, into her fantastic (refined) sugar-free baking recipes. Her mom never let her have the cereal with sugar in it when she was little.

Spicy Blue-Corn Apple Muffins

Ingredients: (makes 12 muffins)

1 1/4 (one and one-fourth) cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 (three-fourths) cup whole-grain blue cornmeal
3/4 (three-fourths) teaspoon baking soda
1/4 (one-fourth) teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
1/2 (one-half) teaspoon nutmeg
1 pepper, such as habanero or jalapeño, with pods removed and finely chopped in food processor
1 large egg
1/2 (one-half) cup nonfat plain yogurt
1/3 (one-third) cup 1 percent milk
1/3 (one-third) cup thawed apple-juice concentrate
1/2 (one-half) cup tart apples (Granny Smith and Golden Delicious are in season year-round
2 large, very ripe mashed bananas


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 12-muffin tin. Sift together flour, cornmeal, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and chipotle. In separate bowl, beat egg. Mix in milk, yogurt and concentrate. Add mashed bananas, apples and pepper. Mix egg mixture into flour mixture, using as few strokes as necessary. Immediately spoon batter into muffin tins. Bake for about 15 minutes. Cool for five minutes and remove muffins from tins while warm.
In each muffin, there are about 118 calories and 0.6 grams of fat, about 0.13 of which is saturated.

If you are concerned about your health, keep away from processed food

Processed foods are to blame for the sharp rise in obesity levels and chronic disease around the globe, according to the World Health Organization. Such foods are often high in saturated fats, sugar and salt. Eating more fruit and vegetables and exercising more is the best way to protect against chronic disease. In addition to eating a healthy balanced diet you are best limiting your intake of salt, sugar and saturated fats.

According to a report published recently on the subject, the key recommendations for a healthy diet are:

– carbohydrates should account for between 55% and 75% of diet
– free sugars should remain beneath 10%
– protein should make up between 10% and 15%
– fat should be limited to between 15% and 30% and saturated fat should be less than 10% of this total
– salt should be restricted to less than five grams a day
– intake of fruit and vegetables should be in the region of 400 grams a day.
– physical activity is an important part of staying healthy.

So if you like your burgers, you may wish to think again.

Olives for Health

Historical record of the medicinal uses of this attractive tree has been confirmed back as far as the ancient Egyptians, and further. The Egyptians considered the branches a symbol of everlasting power, and according to some historians olive oils were used in many mummifications. The ancient Greeks used woven crowns of young olive branches to celebrate the winners of the first Olympic events.

Olive trees have been used by medicine for centuries, both the leaves and the oil.

Olive Leaf
It has been used since the times of the ancient Greeks to cleanse wounds. It also acts as mild diuretic and research has shown that olive leaves have the ability to assist in lowering blood sugar levels, as well as effective in helping to lower high blood pressure. The leaves also have antimicrobial properties, and are effective against many strong strains of fungi, viruses and bacteria.

Olive Oil
Olive oil, cold pressed from the fruit is protective to the digestive tract, when applied externally is soothes dry skin and is a good carrier oil for any essential oil.
If used in cooking or as a food supplement, it helps to keep the heart and arteries healthy and flexible, and regular use is shown to prevent a buildup of cholesterol in the arteries.
It has been used since Biblical times to keep skin soft and supple and has been used to speed the healing of broken or irritated skin.

Olive oil is an excellent alternative to butter or margarines. A tasty way to use it is to infuse your favourite herbs and spices in it for a few days. The oil can then be used in salads or sauces. Olive oil can be stored in a cool, dark cabinet for up to 6 months after opening, or up to a year if kept refrigerated after opening.

Healthy Choice: Rice

Perhaps you don’t know but I’ve read that rice is a staple in more than half the world population’s diet. One of the reasons for this is that rice is a healthy, nearly fat-free source of complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals that is easily prepared.

Rice is very versatile and can be cooked in different ways.

Risotto and pilaf are two of the most popular international rice dishes. Commonly known as “the pasta of Northern Italy,” risotto is prepared with a plump, medium-length grain called arborio rice. Making risotto requires repeatedly stirring a little stock or wine into the rice until it is absorbed, resulting in a delicious, creamy dish that can be made low in fat.

Unlike risotto, Middle Eastern-inspired pilafs are cooked covered and undisturbed. They can be made simply as side dishes, or as elaborate main dishes when flavoured with lean meats, legumes, vegetables, and exotic seasonings. Traditionally made with long, slender grains of imported basmati rice, pilaf can also be made with other aromatic rice varieties.

Of cource, you can serve plain boiled rice as a garnish, or mix it with some stir fried vegetables. Or you could even stir fry the rice as well (make sure it has cooled down).

Tofu – Like it or not, it is full of goodness

Many people cringe just by the thought of it, but one who is aiming for a healthy diet should consider tofu objectively. Because it has all the benefits of yogurt, without the lactose, and is as versatile as eggs or flour.

Tofu is a solid form of bean curd.
It is tasteless and a bit formless by itself, but it is considered the chameleon of the health food world.
It can be grilled into a serviceable hamburger alternative, or whipped into a natural cream substitute.
Tofu absorbs the taste of whatever food is cooked together with, so the possibilities are endless.

If you want to experience tofu as painlessly as possible, when you next go to a good Chinese restaurant you could try a stir-fry which contains tofu. When stir-fried with other foods and seasoned well, you may think tofu looks and tastes like a good fried egg. If you like it, you can then try it in another dish.