Non-Dairy Fermented Foods

Tuning into sour foods

I was an exhibitor and attendee at the Weston A Price Wise Traditions London 2012 Conference in Epsom in mid-March. Dr Weston A Price was a Canadian-born dentist who in the 1930s in his practice noticed that his younger patients had increasingly deformed dental arches, crooked teeth and cavities over the short space of 15 years. He set off on a journey around the world looking at the diets, health and teeth of healthy people. As a result of his research he drew up a list of ten characteristics that the diets of healthy people shared.

Chracteristic 1

Every healthy diet included fermented probiotic-rich foods

Sally Fallon Morrell in her presentation at the Wise Traditions 2012 Meeting on 17th March listed the health benefits of fermented foods. They:

    • Help digest food
    • Assist with assimilation of nutrients
    • Create nutrients
    • Protect us against toxins
    • Help us feel good

Last year I was inspired to start making my own sauerkraut and then goat yogurt. While one of my family members got on well with the sauerkraut - the others - being somewhat nervous of dairy foods because of long-standing allergies - were really not specially tuned into sour foods.

Kefir fermented coconut milk

This year I thought I would try a non-dairy kefir ferment. Kefir is a mixture of lactic acid producing bacteria and yeast cultures. I bought a packet of Body Ecology Kefir starter from Cultured Probiotics exhibiting at Wise Traditions this year. It is usually made from animal milk or young coconut milk. I was in a hurry to start and used just what I could find - a packet of dessicated coconut in the back of the cupboard.

Stage 1: Coconut milk

I poured 6 cups of boiling water over two cups of dessicated coconut in a bowl - covered it with a plate and left if for half an hour. I lined a colander with a clean piece of old sheet, poured the coconut water mix into it and caught the liquid underneath in a saucepan. I squeezed all the liquid out of the rehydrated coconut (nb clean hands or food preparation gloves) - this made about a litre - and put it in a clean empty glass jar (about 1 litre capacity).

Stage 2: Making the kefir ferment

I stood the glass jar in a tall pan of hottest water from the hot tap. I reckoned this would keep the liquid at about 40 degrees C ready for the starter. I put in one sachet of the starter and then left it for 24 hours with the lid on.

The next day I put a spoon into the jar and instead of froth was surprised to find a solid layer. I chopped it up and pulled it out - I had made coconut butter! I just left it to dry off and put it in a jam jar for future cooking and skin care. Under this layer the coconut milk tasted tangy although not particularly fizzy. At this stage you need to put it in the fridge - -which slows the fermentation to a low level.

I thought it made a nice refreshing cold drink. My family were not quite so keen on it neat - but mixed with a little pineapple juice thought it was really quite good. The combination of coconut, pineapple and tartness working quite well together.

After three days I used 6 tablespoons of the liquid as the new starter. Altogether you can do this 6 times so making 7 batches (7 litres) with one packet of starter. I worked out the cost at approximately 55p per litre for the starter. If you know someone who has the everlasting kefir then you can use that as a starter for free and just keep going. A fellow exhibitor at the fair has kindly offered to send me some. Otherwise the starter is about 24 for six sachets - which you could split with some friends. I have not worked out the cost of the coconut - partly because the pack I had was fairly old and had no price on it. Local supermarkets sell only fairly small packets. I am going to try some Asian grocers for bulk bags.

The defatted, starch reduced rehydrated coconut that is over could be used in cooking - with coconut oil added back in. I have yet to investigate this but think some sort of biscuit would be rather good. A subject for a future post perhaps.....

Further reading

Which Food is Best? by Stephen Byrnes in Positive Health Magazine - a slightly old article from 2001 but the one that introduced me to Dr Weston A Price and I have kept for 11 years (NB very slow to load) - Principles of a Healthy Diet

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Red Meat Consumption and Mortality

This study published online on March 12th 2012 and available in full here has raised a few headlines in the press today (Tuesday March 13th). It used questionnaires every two years over a two year period with two different survey groups. One was a set of 38 000 male health professionals, the second a group of 84 000 female nurses.

Its headline is that a one portion a day increase in red meat consumption increases total mortality by 13% for unprocessed meat and 20% for processed meat.

Now to understand what it means in terms of our diets we need to know what the baseline consumption was.

For the male health professionals group the lowest consuming set ate on average 0.22 portions of red meat per day ie just over one and a half servings per week. For the female nurses group the equivalent set ate 0.53 portions of red meat per day - about three and three quarter portions of red meat per week.

A one portion a day increase on these baselines would take the female group up to almost 10 portions per week and the male group up to eight and a half portions per week.

Should we worry? If you are eating red meat 1 or 2 times per week - probably not. Although personally I would recommend as does the FSA that you reduce processed meat containing nitrite to an occasional basis - ie not a ham sandwich every day.

Alternative sandwich fillers
Chicken, turkey or other cooked unprocessed meat
Fish eg tuna, sardines or mackerel
A nut or seed butter unless the school or workplace has a ban on nuts and seeds
Houmous or bean pate
Deli meat free of nitrite includes parma ham, some sliced beef (salt only - but all slightly pricey) and Naked Bacon and Naked Ham starting to be stocked in UK supermarkets in early 2018.
A good quality nitrite free sausage eg The Black Farmer

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Disagreement Over Starchy Food in Diets for Diabetes

A discussion between Dr John Briffa and Ms Deepa Khatri, clinical adviser, from Diabetes UK, on the BBC Radio 4 program You and Yours on Monday 5th March 2012 which can be heard here.

The item starts about 14 minutes in to the broadcast and lasts about 8 minutes.

Current dietary advice to diabetics is that it is acceptable to eat as much as 50% of calories as carbohydrate - provided that they are high in soluble fibre and resistant starch (Lean & Ha, 2000 ed Garrow James & Relph, Human Nutrition and Dietetics 10th edition). Although this standard textbook states there is a lack of research data confirming the clinical benefits of a higher carbohydrate diet in diabetes research - possibly because the quality and fibre content have not been taken into account - diabetics are still informed that it is aceptable to eat this level of carbohydrate.

Dr Briffa has long argued for restraint in the eating of carbohydrate; particularly starchy refined carbohydrate. The food pyramid model also tends to emphasise the dominant position of starchy carb foods. What we really need is non-starchy vegetables at the base. In traditional diets starchy foods were scarce and required hard work to gather and extract nourishment from them. We are now awash with them and type two diabetes - a coincidence?

What sort of advice are you receiving? Email me your thoughts.

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The Truth About Exercise

This BBC Horizon episode features Michael Mosley who wants to get fitter without spending hours in the gym. It seems what you must do is 3 minutes ultra high flat out activity per week and in between keep moving. Depressing news for those like myself whose work keeps them at a computer and sitting on a chair. This - it seems - is the worst of all worlds.

Inspite of the bad news I enjoyed the pace and content of this Horizon - it didn't dumb down the message - and avoided my personal bugbear - endless repetition punctuated with dramatic music.

It is available on BBC iplayer at this link and lasts about an hour.

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Technical - OATs oxalates and creatinine dilution variability

A fellow nutritional therapist told me about Susan Costen Owen's presentation at Autism One in 2011 last year on interpretation of OATs with particular reference to oxalate. She has a database of 224 Great Plains Laboratory Organic Acid test results from 106 individuals with autism. Normally labs compensate for the effect of dilution of urine by scaling results to a standard creatinine concentration - a metabolite of protein - and assumed to be unaffected by kidney function.

Owen has found a method of getting around the fact that creatinine is both taken up and secreted by the kidneys in a way that is largely independent of age and body mass and therefore a poor choice for compensating for dilution. She has ratioed each analyte to its median value in her set to create a correction dilution factor for the creatinine - and then ranks the adjusted concentrations of analytes as percentiles against her database and looks for analytes that are together high or low or split.

The age related dilution factor for small children tends to increase concentrations. In the case of a three or four year old by about 25%.

I am not a biochemist but this is my understanding; some detail may be slightly inaccurate but I aim to convey the sense of what I learned.

Owen’s interpretation of the main factors for a profile in which oxalates and fatty acid metabolism seemed to be impaired is that oxidative stress is disrupting fatty acid and oxalate metabolism in peroxisomes – - special areas in cells where highly oxidising and potentially damaging chemical reactions take place as well as breakdown of long chain fatty acids - by B6 depletion. Glycolate should be transformed to glyoxalate in peroxisomes and then via a B6 dependant reaction to glycine in peroxisomes and cytosol - the liquid inside cells. If B6 is depleted - instead oxalate is produced. The effect of B6 depletion on the glutathione pathway will also increase oxidative stress - encouraging further accumulation of oxalate in damaged tissue.

Owen also points to a report on B6 deficient rats which when exposed to glyoxalate also produce a four fold increase in creatinine – hugely altering the factor used to correct for urine dilution in OATs.

Effect of vitamin B6 deficiency on glyoxylate metabolism in rats with or without glyoxylate overload. (PMID:16847354) Nishijima S, Sugaya K, Hokama S, Oshiro Y, Uchida A, Morozumi M, Ogawa Y Division of Urology, Department of Organ-oriented Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of the Ryukyus, Okinawa, Japan. Biomedical Research (Tokyo, Japan) 2006, 27(3):93-8

All this has raised a number of issues for me –

In particular all labs need to make a smaller but significant age related correction - but more importantly needing to be placed in context – since most of the change in creatinine concentration cannot be corrected for – by percentile ranking with a set of appropriately normalised OATs. This sort of issue for creatinine also applies to amino acid panels.

Susan Owen is an American researcher who works for the Autism Research Institute - Autism Oxalate Project. She is a co-author of this recent paper - Konstantynowicz J, et al., A potential pathogenic role of oxalate in autism, European Journal of Paediatric Neurology (2011), doi:10.1016/j.ejpn.2011.08.004 at

Her presentation slides are online at:,%20Susan%205-28%20Labs%20101.pdf

The existence of this research database is very helpful for anyone who has a GPL OAT – but this is a research facility. It is possible to get the age related dilution factors. To know how relevant the transformed results are one needs to see how individual groups of analytes compare against a collection of similar analytes – and for that one would need a large set of test results.

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The Men Who Made Us Fat - 2012

Catch this repeat showing

The first two parts of this three part series were shown in mid-June on BBC2

The inconvenient re-broadcast time for the first episode in the early hours of Wednesday morning 11th July this week is available via this link to the BBC website.

For me the first episode on why low fat foods full of sugar are crowding our supermarket shelves was the most shocking of the first two broadcast so far. The especially devastating impact of high fructose corn syrup in soft drinks in the USA and the introduction of 'snacking' on chocolate bars in the UK have played a leading role in an increase in average weight of 3 stone per adult since the 1950s.

Set your recorder to catch this again or after broadcast it will be back on BBC iPlayer for a limited time.

The second episode was all about supersize portions - and how things are creeping up again. Rebroadcast is in the early hours of Wednesday 18th July.

Epsiode three - the marketing of 'healthy foods' - which are anything but....

goes out this Thursday 12th July on BBC2 at 9pm.

Caution with dental composites

I had thought that composite dental fillings were preferable to amalgam...

A trial comparing psychosocial outcomes for children with dental amalgam restoration with different types of composites has come up with some surprising results.

Data from The New England Children's Amalgam Trial recently published in the journal Pediatrics has found that children with bisphenol-A based epoxy resin composites had worse psychosocial outcomes than those randomly assigned to amalgam. This effect was more pronounced when the composites were on the chewing surfaces of back teeth.

It seems that we need to approach alternatives with extreme caution - and always research anything that we put into our mouths and to which over time we expose ourselves or our children.

Further details can be found at GreenMedInfo with links to the original research.


100 Calorie Cereal Bar Snack Recipe

A really tasty savoury bar

Public Health England announced recently that children should have no more than two snacks of under 100 calories a day.

I found this recipe from Anja Schwerin 2 years ago when I was looking for more tooth friendly snack suggestions for intensive sport training.

The analysis for it is approximate because the recipe uses volume measures for the ingredients:

Each bar (1/9th of the recipe quantity) using soy milk instead of cow's milk and drained sundried tomatoes in oil contains:

approximately 87 calories, 7.8 g carbohydrate, 0.6 g sugars, 5.3 g fat, 2.2 g protein and 2.1 g fibre.

I reduced the chili flakes to 1/4 teaspoon and did removed the chili seeds so that is has a bit of heat without being too strong.


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