Friday, October 30, 2015

Kefir: better than medicine; plus chocolate pumpkin candy bars

Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food. 
  Healing illness from the gut out has always been one of my beliefs. Seventy-five percent or more of our immunity resides in our digestive system. If we can heal our guts, we can absorb the nutrition our body needs to function properly. Seems simple, right? 
Unfortunately, it's not so simple for those of us with fibromyalgia and other chronic illnesses who have majorly screwed up guts. Some things work and others don't. The only thing you can do is keep trying. But Hippocrates was right on with his famous quote: "Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food."
Homemade kefir culturing on counter

Recently, I started making homemade kefir. I had tried it once before but then I broke my wrist. I had to ditch the project. With both wrists intact now, I've rediscovered cultured kefir, one of the most probiotic-rich foods on earth. It may help you beat colds and flu, lessen allergies and asthma, and heal chronic illnesses, like fibromyalgia. In studies, kefir has either done as well as or outperformed antibiotics when treating illnesses. With its amazing medicinal properties, no surprise, its name comes from the Turkish word for “good feeling.”

What really impresses me is this fermented milk drink when homemade contains up to 35 strains of good bacteria and yeast compared to yogurt which has just a few and bottled kefir which has 10 strains plus some unwanted ingredients like sugar and thickeners. It’s a complete food which contains high levels of vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium, vitamin K2, biotin, folate, enzymes and probiotics.

Some of its benefits can definitely help those of us with fibromyalgia. They include:
·         Boosts immunity
·         Fights allergies
·         Supports detoxification
·         Lessens asthma symptoms
·         Heals bowel disease such as  Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
·         Improves lactose digestion.

Wouldn’t it be great if eating a bacteria-rich food like kefir could help you beat illness, like fibro, and feel better overall? Our digestive systems play host to trillions of good bacteria. But we eat poor diets and take antibiotics which wrecks up our perfect balance of good and bad bacteria. All of this leads to digestive issues and immune system problems. 

We don’t want that if we want to be healthy. Kefir can be our medicine too. Studies have shown that kefir whey neutralizes most pathogenic bacteria within 24 hours. 

King Bailey on his favorite blanket
What kefir does the best job of keeping you well? Homemade works best as I have found out. I have been drinking plain bottled kefir for several years with some health benefits but nothing compared to what I experienced after making and drinking homemade kefir. 

My experience confirmed studies I read that showed homemade kefir has strong anti-inflammatory properties which can heal IBS, IBD and allergies. Those of us with fibro know all about those problems.

You can make homemade kefir from cow, goat or sheep milk. You need kefir grains which can be purchased from various websites such as Get a gallon of milk to start. Organic whole milk or raw milk, if available, will work. Follow the directions that come with the kefir grains to start fermenting your own supply of this super food.

One word of caution: you may need to build up your "tolerance" to kefir.  Some people thrive on kefir right from the start and others may need to proceed more slowly. Start with about four ounces or less and build up to eight ounces per day.

Chocolate Pumpkin Candy Bars 
 Here's what you need:
1 cup of coconut oil, melted
4 T. cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. salt
stevia, to taste
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Combine the above ingredients and pour into a 8 X 8-inch square pan, lined with parchment paper. Place in the fridge to firm up the mixture a bit.

You also will need for the pumpkin swirl:
2 T. pumpkin puree
1/4 cup sunflower seed butter or alternative
pinch of salt
a little water to thin out the mixture, if needed
Mix the pumpkin swirl ingredients until smooth. Spoon the mixture onto the chocolate before it completely firm up. Return to the fridge until bars are firm and ready to cut.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Promote wellness with cultured foods; plus simple veggie slider sandwiches

Bailey, the cat, demonstrates relaxation techniques we all need.

Kombucha is one of the fermented foods that I have added to my diet because of its health benefits. A diet rich in fermented foods like kombucha helps strengthen the digestive system and bolsters the immune system, something those of us with fibromyalgia need to be concerned about all year round. Actually, everyone’s immune system could probably use a little tune-up, especially as we head into cold season.

What fermented foods can you add to your diet? Besides kombucha, I make sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, and all kinds of fruit and vegetables. I’ve even made fermented dill pickles, cultured fruit leathers and salsa. Other fermentation projects I am planning include sourdough gluten-free, paleo bread and Greek-style yogurt.

What is fermentation?
People have long been fermenting foods like wine, yogurt and cheese. Fermentation is a process by which sugars are broken down by helpful bacteria allowing the foods to be stored longer, a practical reason before refrigeration was invented.  

Why eat fermented foods?
Fermented foods are easier to digest because the beneficial bacteria have helped break down the foods. This results in better absorption of nutrients. For instance, raw cabbage is difficult to digest and often causes gas. When cabbage is fermented into sauerkraut, you are better able to absorb its large amounts of vitamin K and C, as well as antioxidants and polyphenols.

I find it difficult to digest carbohydrates but fermentation allows me to enjoy a wider variety of foods. For instance, I usually avoid salsa but I can eat cultured salsa, a little at a time.

Nutritious yogurt and kefir are other foods I can consume because the bacteria break down the lactose during fermentation.

Other beneficial byproducts of fermentation include omega-3 fatty acids, B complex vitamins, digestive enzymes and immune system-enhancing beta glucans. Glutathione, a free radical scavenger in the brain, also is produced during fermentation.

Most of your immune system resides in your gut. These fermented foods give your gut a powerful boost and help strengthen your immune system. Are you convinced?
Three stages of kombucha (l-r): gallon brewing, starter culture tea, kombucha poured for drinking

Getting fermented foods into your diet You can purchase fermented foods in the market (sourdough bread, kefir, fermented pickles and kombucha) but make sure the foods you choose are naturally fermented with traditional lacto-fermentation methods.

I usually culture my own foods because I want to control the ingredients. Homemade cultured foods also are usually richer in bacteria. I always have a number of culturing projects going at the same time. Guests at my house often wonder about all the jars I have placed in warm locations throughout the house. I tell them, “These jars are my science projects.”

You may want to get started by trying kombucha. This fermented tea is made with a kombucha starter culture (scoby), tea prepared with sugar, and some vinegar and/or tea from a previous batch (starter tea). The fermented tea contains a number of vitamins, particularly B vitamins.

I get my supplies from When you purchase a kombucha starter culture (scoby), you will get step-by-step instructions for activating the culture and making kombucha. 
Starter culture tea, ready in 30 days

I was a little unsure about trying kombucha because you need sugar to make it. I found out the longer you ferment it, there is very little sugar remaining. In fact, a longer brew time (30 days) results in tea with a richer flavor; more bacteria; and little sugar.

Once you are hooked on kombucha tea, you will want to keep it brewing continuously. I want my kombucha to ferment for at least 21-30 days. That presents problems if you want some to drink every day. 

I started three batches of tea to try to solve the problem. One is ready to drink; another is brewing for 21-30 days; and another is activating the scoby. But if I want to drink some every day, I will need to make bigger batches in gallon-size containers. Another possibility is activating another scoby and getting another container of tea brewing.
Kombucha ready to be enjoyed

While all my culturing projects are going, I’m still harvesting veggies from my garden. Our extended summer weather has kept veggies growing and growing and growing.

I grew patty pan squash this year. It’s delicious and versatile. I made veggie slider “sandwiches” out of some. These little “sandwiches” made me feel like I was eating a real sandwich. Other veggies will work as well. I have tried eggplant, zucchini and winter squash.
Veggie slider sandwiches made from eggplant and patty pan squash

Simply, cut the vegetables into rings. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Arrange your veggies in a single layer on a large baking sheet, covered with parchment paper. Season the veggies with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, and roast until tender (about 20 minutes). Throw on other veggies from the garden to serve alongside your “sliders”

While the veggies are cooking, prepare your sandwich ingredients. Pretty simple!

 Article, recipes contributed to:

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Allergy-fibro connection; pumpkin flour buns

Nika and Bailey play hide and seek

Every fall I have suspected that my fibromyalgia is affected by allergies. My symptoms are probably a 9-10 (on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the worst). The rest of the year I’d rate my symptoms as 1-5.
These days, data backs up what I have long believed: there is a strong relationship between fibro and allergies. In fact, the majority of people with either fibromyalgia (FMS) or chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) have classic allergy symptoms, including runny nose, nasal congestion and difficulty sleeping.

Unfortunately, researchers don’t know why they go together. One theory is that the entire central nervous system becomes sensitized (central sensitization) which leads to things like the way the body amplifies pain with FMS, CFS. Others believe that allergies are a risk factor that make you more prone to developing these conditions, especially when combined with genetics and immune system problems.

Basically they are saying, I’ve been predestined to get FMS since the day I was born as I’ve had lifelong allergies. My belief is that allergies are Step 1 in a timeline to developing FMS. Step 2 toward FMS is the silent inflammation that allergies cause. This silent inflammation is caused by gut imbalances which may be traced back to allergy medications and antibiotics.

Step 3 is the damage to your gut caused by this silent inflammation which leads to leaky gut. Step 4 is the overload tothe immune system caused by leaky gut as it deals with an increase in bacteria, toxins and inflammation.

Step 4 is fibromyalgia.

Then what?

Researchers oversimplify the effects of the allergy season on FMS. They say it might disrupt your sleep or cause your muscles to tighten if you are sneezing or coughing a lot.

I don’t think they have a clue. This fall allergy season has been like a nightmare for me. There is not one part of me that hasn’t being affected as the pollen counts have climbed into the extremely high category. To add insult to injury, the fall allergy season is going on weeks beyond normal and the pollen-producing plants are behaving like they are on steroids.

The only “good” thing about all of this is that it has helped crystallize for me that “yes” allergies definitely impact FMS. Every time, pollen counts have dipped a bit I have gotten some relief from my FMS symptoms, along with allergies. Every time pollen counts have risen, the opposite has occurred.

What does this mean for FMS sufferers?

I’m not sure but I do know we should get on the bandwagon to stop climate change. Researchers say climate change is responsible for longer allergy seasons that continue to grow in length each year. I say “get politically active” on this issue.

In the meantime:

•Use your Neti Pot,
•Go outdoors when pollen counts are lower,
•Watch what you eat as anything but a clean diet may make your allergies worse,
•Take your allergy medication if it’s safe for you,
•Stick religiously to your symptom-relief protocol.

Pumpkin flour by Anti-Grain
Pumpkin flour buns
 During peak allergy times, I've found it best to stick to an organic, whole foods diet. Fortunately, I am still harvesting produce from my vegetable garden. (No surprise, given our warmer than normal temps.) Recently, I discovered Anti-Grain flours, which are all-organic flours made from pumpkin, butternut squash, apple and sweet potatoes. I decided to try the Pumpkin Flour as it seemed to be the lowest in carbs and fermentation potential.
Pumpkin flour buns, cut in half
 I ordered the Anti-Grain Pumpkin Flour from the company's website at

 Here's what you need to make five Pumpkin Flour buns:

1/2 cup pumpkin flour
1/2 cup almond flour
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup kefir or other milk beverage or water
olive oil
parchment paper


 Here's what you do:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix ingredients. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and drizzle with olive oil.
Make five discs of batter on your baking sheet. Make sure the discs are evenly spaced.
Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.
Chicken sandwich on pumpkin flour bun
Once the buns are cooled use a sharp knife to cut them in half  for sandwich buns or leave them whole, if desired. 
Poached egg on pumpkin flour bun toast

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Love healthy fats; chocolate pumpkin fudge

Chocolate pumpkin fudge

There are so many reasons to love my favorite fat--- olive oil. Along with other healthy fats, it can reduce silent inflammation, the root cause of chronic disease; lessen your pain; and help you lose weight, all of which are important to those with fibromyalgia.

Extra virgin olive oil---my favorite fat
You’re probably thinking but how can this be true. Doesn’t fat make you fat? The truth is healthy fat does not make you fat. Our bodies need fat to perform many functions for good health. Our brains are 60 percent fat. Our cells are encased in fat. If we avoid fat, we fail to replenish essential nutrients needed by the body.

Not all fats are created equally. Omega 3 and 6 polyunsaturated fats are essential. They are not produced by the body. We must get them from our diet as they are a significant part of almost all cell membranes.Olive oil, my favorite, along with flaxseed oil, coconut oil and ghee are some of the healthiest fats.

Sunflower seed butter and coconut oil---also favorites
 Olive oil, however, is in a class by itself. It is neither an omega 3 or 6 but rather an omega 9 with the highest concentration of monounsaturated fats of any edible oils This makes it one of the healthiest oils there is.
 If those aren’t enough reasons, now there is another reason to “hug this healthy fat.”A new study suggests that women can dramatically reduce their risk of breast cancer by following a version of the Mediterranean diet that goes heavy on extra virgin olive oil.

Women who followed such a diet were 62 percent less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than women who simply reduced the overall amount of fat in their diets, according to the results of a randomized clinical trial published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

The focus of the clinical trial originally started out to assess the cardiovascular benefits of the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and olive oil. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups – Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil, Mediterranean diet supplemented with mixed nuts, or a regular low-fat diet. After studying nearly 7,500 people for about five years, the researchers had compelling evidence that those who were on either type of Mediterranean diet had better heart health than their counterparts who weren't.

Researchers also tracked the incidence of breast cancer in the women participants in the study. The results once again showed the amazing benefits of olive oil. The risk of being diagnosed with invasive breast cancer was lowest in women who were on the Mediterranean diet with additional extra virgin olive oil---1.1 cases per 1,000 person-years or 68 percent lower. The highest rate in those women studied was for those who were advised to eat less fat – 2.9 cases for every 1,000 person-years. That compared to a diagnosis rate of 1.8 cases per 1,000 person-years for women who were on the Mediterranean diet with extra nuts.

The women in the extra virgin olive oil, Mediterranean diet group got 22 percent of their total calories from the oil, on average, but getting at least 15 percent of calories from the oil could provide significant protection, according to researchers.

Lesson from this study: women have nothing to lose – and potential much to gain – by eating more like the people in the Mediterranean.

 I use olive oil at every meal, especially as the main ingredient in my salad dressing. But two of my other favorite fats are coconut oil and sunbutter. Here is a recipe for one of my favorite treats featuring these two fats---Chocolate Pumpkin Fudge.

What you need for 5-6 mini-servings:
2 T. pumpkin puree
2 T. sunflower seed butter
2 T. cocoa powder
¼ cup coconut oil
½ tsp. stevia
Pinch of salt
Optional: 1/8 tsp. cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice

What you do:
Melt oil and sunflower seed butter in a small saucepan. Add other ingredients and blend. Pour into a small loaf pan lined with parchment paper. Place in the fridge until firm. Cut into pieces. Serve as it is or topped with a bit of chocolate sauce.