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Food Superheroes: Kefir


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A few years ago, I had a freak stomach issue, and had to have about 14cm of my intestines removed in a fairly dramatic operation. I’ll spare you as many of the gory details as possible, but what followed the titanium stitches in my insides, and a lot of stitches on the outside, was a liquid diet for about 10 days. Clear liquid. So I was basically drinking stock for breakfast, lunch and dinner (involuntary shudder). Over the course of two weeks I lost about 10kg (too much, too fast), and came out of hospital with serious blood sugar issues. On some days, several times a day, I would stand up and have to count to at least 10 before the black fog of dizziness would lift and I could see clearly again. This lasted for a good couple of months before I went to see revered Cape Town dietician Sally-Ann Creed (pre Low-Carb, High-Fat #Banting saga).

To get me back on track and help regulate my blood sugar, Sally-Ann created a Low GL programme for me and along with that and a lot of reading I learnt a massive amount about good and bad fats, carbohydrates and sugars. I can’t actually believe that I’ve never told you all this before. I think it was such a drama at the time that I was sick of talking about it, and pretty sure that anyone I knew was sick of hearing about it. The whole experience drastically changed the way that I cook and eat. I’ve limited sugar, gluten and refined or processed carbohydrates without even thinking about it ever since, but haven’t stuck to particularly hard and fast rules.

ANYWAY, over the last year, I’ve revisited the whole conversation and have been more conscious again of what we’re putting into our bodies as a family; maybe it’s having children and being aware of how much rubbish is out there, and how much rubbish we knowingly or unknowingly put into them on a daily basis. It’s cruel to feed our children anything less than the best that we can. I’m not talking about posh nosh, or imported organic cacao nibs from the Amazon, but real, simple, humble, beautiful food that’s close to the earth. And reading more and learning more about how miraculous so many foods are, why wouldn’t we want to swap out very mediocre ingredients for amazing health-boosting ones and feel amazing? Don’t panic, I’m not saying that you have to overhaul your entire diet, life, pantry and kitchen for new ingredients, gadgets and kitchen kit. I’m just going to share ways to start to make small changes (like my new favourite favourite sugar and gluten free Banana Bread; or this Granola with a Halo On), and you can go from there. And sometimes, it’s not about adding in (like it is here) but about taking out (like sugar, and stuff, but more about that at a later stage).

One of my favorite food superheroes with über health-boosting benefits that I have on a daily basis is yoghurt-like Kefir. Say what? I know. But hang in there and have a read. (And thanks to Aunty Sue and Justy for getting us on the bandwagon over a year ago now).

Kefir Basics
Kefir is kind of like a home made yoghurt, originally from parts of Eastern Europe and Southwest Asia. It tastes a little bit sour but if you mix in a little honey, nuts and other goodies it’s delicious. You can also add it into smoothies for your kids and they won’t even know it’s there. In a nutshell, Kefir is packed full of probiotics and nutrients; is amazing for digestion and good gut health, and a whole slew of other plusses. I’ve seen it for sale in health food shops, but it’s also really easy to make at home.

Sourcing Kefir
Be careful of buying Kefir in a drinking yoghurt form with lots of added sugar. Ideally make your own so that you know exactly what’s gone into it, it should be nothing more than full cream milk and the Kefir grains, which look like tiny little cauliflower heads.

Here is a link to buying Kefir online in South Africa. I haven’t tried any of them myself, so if you have a better source, let me know. I got mine from my Mum in Zimbabwe, who got it from my sister-in-law, who got it from our Aunt in Cape Town. You can SHARE it. If you know anyone who grows their own, ask for a couple of tablespoons and go from there.

Home Made Magic
There are lots of guides out there on how to make your own Kefir, here’s a little summary of what we do at home:
1. I take about 3 Tbsp Kefir grains and add them to a large, clean glass jar
2. Add in about 1 cup of full cream milk (preferably organic, and you can use cow’s milk, sheeps or goats) (the more milk you add, the more Kefir you’ll get)
3. Cover with a breathable lid such as a muslin, secure in place with a ribbon or elastic band and place in a dark cupboard for 24-48 hours (the longer you leave it the stronger it is, and for obvious reasons it takes longer to ferment in winter than summer)
4. When you see the grains have ‘separated’ and there is a watery liquid at the bottom of your jar you know fermentation has taken place and your Kefir is ready
5. Strain your Kefir through a sieve over a clean glass bowl or large pyrex jug. Stir it gently to make sure all the ‘yoghurt’ passes through.
6. Wash and dry the glass jar and add the Kefir grains back in, top up with milk and start the cycle again
7. Keep your ‘harvested’ Kefir in a clean glass jug in the fridge for up to 5 days
*Preferably use plastic utensils such as sieves, spoons etc as this is less damaging to the Kefir grains

Here are a few articles with more information
This article by Heidi Du Preez gives a great summary and also gives information on where to source good quality kefir grains.
Health Ambition gives us information about kefir as a natural source of probiotics.
And one more link here.

Kefir and Lactose Intolerance
Because of the fermentation process in Kefir, there’s very little lactose left in the final product which means that even lactose-intolerant people can often tolerate it. If you’re on a totally dairy-free diet though, there are some dairy-free alternatives, just do a little research.

Recipe: Kefir Breakfast Bombs
Here’s what Rob and I have for breakfast most mornings. It’s also a delicious anytime snack.

For 1 Serving
1/4 cup kefir
1/4 cup Greek yoghurt
1 Tbsp mixed nuts
1 Tbsp cranberries (or any chopped dried or fresh fruit)
1 Tbsp mixed seeds
1 tsp honey
1 tsp Moringa powder (more on that in a later post, it’s the green powder you can see)

Mix together and enjoy.

I make Rob’s the night before in a small glass jar and also add in 1/4 cup oats, a little hot water and 1-2 Tbsp coconut milk to soak them, and then layer the other ingredients on top. He takes it to work and eats it for breakfast.