Milk Kefir: The Basics

At the beginning of this month BBC 2's "Trust Me I'm a Doctor" did an experiment to discover whether or not various probiotics were having positive effects on people's micro biomes, and as expected the homemade culture out performed anything you could buy in a shop.
The specific culture they used was Milk Kefir, and ever since I've been inundated with questions about it.
It's actually really easy and typically one of the first fermented foods I recommend people try. You can culture it at room temperature, with no special equipment, and once you get a stable colony going it's fairy resistant to neglect.
You can use any mammalian milk with no problems, you can also use some plant milks, although that gets a bit trickier, and if you are using raw milk you will need to give your grains a little pasteurised milk every now and then to recover (the enzymes and beneficial bacteria in the raw milk start to over power the Kefir - they aren't dangerous, but they also aren't Kefir). The higher the fat content of the milk, the more the Kefir seems to thrive. If you don't have access to raw milk I recommend using full fat, and/or adding a little cream.
Heres my basic guide to culturing your own Kefir:

What are Kefir grains?

They look like little florets of cauliflower, but they are actually colonies of yeast and bacteria living together in a little bundle.

Getting started

You will need a clean jar, a sieve, some milk and about a tbsp of Kefir grains.
Place the grains in the jar with about 7:1 ratio of milk:kefir. If you have a tbsp of grains this will be approximately 100ml of milk.
You then need to cover the jar, but still allow the Kefir to breathe. I recommend a piece of paper towel with an elastic band to secure it.
Place it somewhere dark, inside a cupboard for example, and leave it to grow. After around 24 hours you will hopefully see a thickened Kefir with liquid whey beginning to separate. You can now taste the Kefir and decide if you like it or want to leave it a little longer. When the ferment has reached your desired flavour/consistency you simply push it through a sieve to rescue your grains and you're ready to start your next batch.
If you need a break between batches, simply place your grains in a clean jar of fresh milk and store in the fridge for 1-2 weeks.

Milk Kefir uses

Add it to a smoothie, eat it like yoghurt with some honey and granola, let it really thicken and strain it to make a cream cheese, give it a second ferment with some fruit purée to make a lassi style drink, use it as a base for salad dressings, make ice cream.... a quick google will find you all kinds of fun recipes.
Have fun!


Instant Pot

For those who don't know me well, I have a mild obsession with kitchen gadgets. I have a large kitchen and I couldn't fit in a smaller one because where would I keep my dehydrator and my ice cream machine?

Kitchen Gadget list up until about two weeks ago was:


Which is pretty ridiculous, but I really love all of them. :blush:

But two weeks ago I got my new favourite toy.

Welcome home, Instant Pot.

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 Let me justify myself a little bit here. We did have a slow cooker which broke years ago, and I never replaced it, so I was one gadget down anyway.

Plus, instant pot has a smaller footprint on the counter top than the slow cooker did, but the same capacity.

Also, I can get rid of yoghurt maker, which only performs one task, because the instant pot makes yoghurt.

Oh yes, I have already made yoghurt, and it was delicious.

How to make yoghurt in an instant pot

First of all, you need to sterilise the pot (especially if you cooked butter chicken in it earlier and it's a little bit smelly). 

The quickest way to do this is to add a cup or so of water, a few drops of food grade essential oils (lemon works well) and hit the steam button for five minutes. 

Dump that out in the sink and add some milk. I used four pints, because that is what my milk bottles are. I use raw milk, but I guess this would work with pasteurised. 
We don't buy that though. 

Once that's in you close the lid and press 'yoghurt' then hit the adjust button until it says 'boil'. Once the milk is scalded the pot will say 'yogt' again and you can go ahead and take the lid off and let it cool. I like to take the pot out of the machine so it cools more quickly. You can use a candy thermometer, or just guess when it's been cooling for about 2 hours. 

Now stir in your starter culture (any live yoghurt that you like will do) I used two tbsp of Yeo Valley greek yoghurt. Now you place it back in the instant pot, turn it on and press yoghurt. It will start saying 'yogt' but if you leave it, it changes to 8:00 which is the 8 hour countdown until you have delicious yoghurt. 

You can also adjust the timer, I switched it to twelve once, then put the yoghurt through a nutmilk bag for a really long time and had the most beautiful cream cheese. 

What else is instant pot good for?

I'm so glad you asked...

  1. Cooking poultry, FROM FROZEN. Yeah, you heard that right. It safely cooks chicken from frozen in a super quick amount of time.
  2. Dried lentils/beans. You can cook chickpeas from solid little rocks to perfectly soft in 60 minutes with no overnight soaking. 
  3. Frozen fish
  4. Rubbish cuts of Meat the really cheap cuts that would be tough and nasty in an oven just fall apart like the best meat you've ever tasted in the instant pot.
  5. Bone Broths  I hated making stock in my slow cooker, because my house stank of cooking for 12 hours. Instant pot makes bone broth in 45 minutes, and with the steam valve closed, you smell NOTHING. 
  6. Making soup throw in some frozen or raw veg (either works) pour on some water and hit the soup button. All you have to do at the end is blend. 
  7. Keeping stuff safe and warm Sure, I could just make soup on the hob, but then I'd have to watch it and actively cook it. With instant pot I throw the ingredients, walk away, it cooks it perfectly (without drying out or boiling over) then keeps it warm until I remember that I made it and swing by for some. 
In fact, I made an awesome mushroom soup today using dried mushrooms. Normally I would have had to soak them for 12 hours before use, but 20 minutes in the pressure cooker and they were perfectly done.  

I realise this sounds more like an advert than a blog post.
Sorry about that.
I just love a new gadget.

Creating Healthy Habits

Restoration Health is launching a new series of monthly events entitled 'Creating Healthy Habits' and I'm so excited about it. On the last Tuesday of every month we are going to be meeting at Kings House and talking about one small change you can make each month to give you a healthier 2017, so that by 2018 we will have made twelve positive changes to our lifestyle that are simple enough for anyone to do, with plenty of time for Q&A at the end. We'll also be hanging out for half an hour or so after, so that if you have any questions you didn't want to raise publicly you can grab a member of the team.

There will be a different guest speaker each month, form various disciplines so that we get a nice range of topics covered, and we'll have a coaching group on facebook so that you can sign up to get support and online coaching each month. I'll also be posting some printable habit trackers so that if you are a visual person you can print it, stick it on your fridge, and enjoy the small victories you feel as you check off each time you complete a challenge.

Our first topic, on January 31st, is 'Hello Hydration' and we'll be talking about the importance of getting enough water in each day. It would be great if you could download the voxvote app on iTunes or Play so that you can join in and make the session a little more interactive; but don't worry if you are struggling, because the venue has free wifi and we can give you a hand on the day.

Anyone is welcome along, it's 7:30PM at Kings House, but we'd love it if you could let us know that you are coming via the facebook event, so that we can cater accordingly with some delicious, healthy snacks. 

Breastfeeding Babies and Vitamin D

It's another Vitamin D post! Sorry to keep going on about it, but I saw an article this morning that I really want to address.

I love Dr Chatterjee, I really think he is awesome and is doing amazing things for medicine in the UK, particularly in bringing the Functional Medicine Forum to London. He's a real hero of mine and talks about controversial issues so openly, and refreshingly honestly.

I did cringe a little when I first read this post though. The article he is alluding to was published on Medscape this morning entitled 'Breastfed Babies Still Need Extra Vitamin D'. The article critiques the fact that the mothers of breast fed babies believed that they were receiving all the nutrition that they need, and were therefore less likely to supplement vitamin D, compared to a mother who was mixed or formula feeding.

Note that the study didn't say that breast milk had less vitamin D than formula, only that mothers were less likely to supplement it. The article goes on to blame paediatricians and health visitors for not telling them that it was necessary.

Whilst I totally agree that our children, in general, due to our climate in the UK (particularly if they are born in autumn or winter) will usually be deficient by 6 months of age, I felt like the article headlines were suggesting that breast milk might be deficient.

I'm possibly being over sensitive, but I felt like both Dr Chatterjee and the pubmed article title implied that your baby would be better formula fed, or that you have to supplement if you breast feed. Neither of which are true. You have to supplement whether you give formula or breast feed according to the study.

In fact, I would actually recommend neither. A babies gut and micro biome is incredibly sensitive, and I recommend only breast milk for the first 6 months. How does the baby get vitamin D then?

Through the breast milk.

I know I sound crazy, but bear with me.

The reason breast milk is deficient in Vitamin D is because THE MOTHER is deficient in vitamin D. Vitamin D in breast milk increase dramatically when the mother takes the supplement, and it means you aren't giving the baby whatever other fillers, binders, E numbers and flavourings have been added to your supplement. Mother is much better at processing these things with her more mature immune and detoxification system than the infant is.

Maternal supplementation is the safest way to adequately supply an infant with enough vitamin D, and there's a pubMed study to prove it. It was a randomised, controlled trial, which saw mothers of breastfeeding infants supplementing 400, 2400 or 6400IU a day and then conclusion was that 6400IU was enough to create the same Vitamin D level in breastfed infants as if they had received 400IU directly themselves.

But these were randomly selected individuals, and as we know that around 3/4 of the population are deficient, wouldn't a baby with a properly nourished mother not need any supplementation at all?

The deficiency isn't in breast milk. It's in mothers. We need to be working with mothers to ensure that they have optimum nutrition, before and during pregnancy, as well as lactation so that babies aren't becoming nutrient deficient. Sadly, rickets is on the rise in the UK, and has been for many years. Something needs to change. We need to eat more cholesterol, get people off statin drugs and get outside; and we need to make sure mothers are getting adequate nutrition, not just for themselves, but for their children too.

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Mental Health and Restoration Peace

I subscribe to an email list from Dr Caroline Leaf (she's an amazing neuro-scientist in case you are interested in that kind of thing) and today I received an email that was so great I had to share it with you.

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She was talking about how the sad passing of Carrie Fisher was, and how we had seen people talking about how amazing she was for her strength of character and her determination to overcome the challenges she faced in her tragically short life, and rightly so. She was a remarkable woman, compassionate, kind, and a successful career woman despite her circumstances, both as a recovering drug addict and someone who suffered from bi-polar disorder.

Fewer people are talking about the possible link between her heart attack and her psychiatric medication. As mental health activist Corinna West shows, “new antipsychotics cause weight gain, diabetes, and a bunch of other risk factors associated with heart disease.” We have to take these risk factors seriously. We are not merely talking about statistics—we are talking about real people.

Sadly, individuals suffering from mental health issues “die, on average, 25 years earlier that the general population.” These medications are incredibly dangerous, and we have to start asking ourselves, as the investigative journalist and mental health campaigner Robert Whitaker notes, if the benefits of these drugs truly outweigh the risks.

I also listened to a great TEDtalk this week on the surprising role of nutrition in mental health. If you don't already follow Restoration Health on facebook and you haven't seen it, you can watch it below.


The thing is, as mentioned in the TEDtalk, there doesn't seem to be a magic bullet, one size fits all, mental health treatment, like the pharmaceutical companies would have us believe. I've said it before, and I will say it over and over again, our bodies are unique. No two people were created the same. Even 'identical' twins have different epigenomes.

This is why it is so important to take responsibility for your own health. Yes, seek the advice of medical professionals, but a ten minute appointment with your GP is only long enough to hand out generic, might work for some people, advice. If you really want to get healthy, you need to get educated and experiment with your diet and lifestyle choices.

With that in mind, one way to look after your mental health and emotional well-being is to regularly take time out to pray, meditate, relax or destress. We're hosting an event at Kings House this Thursday to help you do just that. It's called Restoration Peace

There'll be mood lighting, music, people to talk to if you need, or just a cup of tea and a blanket, to take time out from the chaos around you and fully relax. No expectations of you, no pressure to do anything but just be.

We're going to try to run them once a month, so if you can make it along, then try to book it in. You might also like to check out some of the other events on our page. We plan to host a 'Creating Healthy Habits' seminar on the last Tuesday of each month, so block that out and join us as we discuss small changes you can make each month that will have a lasting impact on your health. 

Hashimotos, Hypothyroid and Vitamin D

I read recently that 93% of patients with hashimotos thyroiditis are vitamin D deficient. Seems like the two go hand in hand, although I'm yet to work out whether hashimotos prevents you from absorbing vitamin D or whether being vitamin D deficient makes you prone to hashimotos. Someone should do some reserach on that.
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And by someone, I mean someone with money and a big lab and lots of patients, not a homeschooling mum with a sample base of about five friends.

In fact, various estimates from different clinics suggest that 94-98% of hypothyroid patients are vitamin D deficient. Yet another excellent reason why we all need lovely sunny holidays if we live in the UK...

But before you reach for the vitamin D suppplements, there is something you should know; Vitamin D supplementation dramatically reduces your ability to absorb fat soluble vitamins like vitamins A, E and K. :-(

So should you supplement?

A recent study (Vitamin D supplementation reduces thyroid peroxidase antibody levels in patients with autoimmune thyroid disease: An open-labeled randomized controlled trial) says yes!

"Vitamin D supplementation in AITD may have a beneficial effect on autoimmunity as evidence by significant reductions in TPO-Ab titers."

Their study improved hashimotos disease pretty dramatically. After 3 months of an equivalent daily supplementation of 8,500 IU Vitamin D3 and 1,250 mg of calcium carbonate daily, the median reduction of TPO-antibodies was 46.7 percent.

So, how can you recreate this yourself? I mean, ideally we'd all live in sunny climates, or take expensive holidays to hot places regularly, but if you can't...?

For a start you need some calcium carbonate (pretty easy to get hold of) and some vitamin D (make sure you get a high strength and it's labelled vitamin D3 (this is the kind your body makes and absorbs easily) rather than vitamin D2 (the kind produced by fungi, but not that easy for you to use)). I prefer the liquid to the capsules, because it absorbs through mucus membranes (eg under your tonuge) without the risk of it being damaged in the digestive tract by stomach acid etc... Also, if you do go for pills, get gel caps rather than the tablets. Several studies have shown the tablets have a poor bioavailability, probably due to them not dissolving fully in the digestive tract (if you have low thyroid function, remember that means you have less ability to digest this stuff).

I found some in my local health food store (pumpernickels if you live in Bedford) that has only three ingredients; vitamin D3, lemon essential oil and tangerine essential oil. That's great because I prefer not to eat vegetable oils, but I'm afraid I haven't found an online source of this brand yet. When I do, I'll be sure to post it here.

Part two is that you MUST also supplement vitamin A if you are supplementing vitamin D. Vitamin A is vital for the immune system and an important part of your body converting T3. Taking levothyroxine and finding you get worse, not better? That's a conversion issue, and no amount of T4 will improve the situation, you will continue to make reverse T3. Supplementing vitamin A may help.

Vitamin A is also known to calm the immune system and regulate T-cells which cause inflammation in hashimotos disease. Hashimoto's causes too many T Helper cells that produce and abundance of cytokines leading to the inflammation that damages your thyroid. Vitamin A allows you to produce more T Regulatory cells, which shut down the immune reaction and clean up the inflammation that has been caused. It's one of the reasons Vitamin A is so helpful for people with allergies and asthma.

There are some arguments about the best forms of vitamin A, I like retinol, but you are welcome to read more about that here. The easiest and simplest way to get it is in a cod liver oil supplement. We use Green Pastures fermented cold liver and high vitamin butter oil, because the added butter oil covers us for vitamin K2 as well.

Remember, just adding a few supplements won't be enough to reverse an autoimmune condition. You got here because something is wrong with your lifestyle, and long term you will need to make some changes.

Why not follow Restoration Health on facebook, where we post loads of articles to help you start making informed, healthy choices and take your next steps towards a healthier, happier, you.

Reading Challenge 2017


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A friend just pointed me towards this reading challenge for 2017 and I LOVE it.

Absolutely no idea where I'm going to find the time to do it, but I want to try. I'm going to get my son to try it too, and see if I can't diversify his reading a little bit from the standard Marvel/Star Wars/DC Comic stuff he is reading at the moment.

You can click on the picture to see the challenge up close, but here are the rules:

  1. The Light Reader. This plan has 13 books which sets a pace of 1 book every 4 weeks. 
  2. The Avid Reader. The Avid plan adds another 13 books which increases the pace to 1 book every 2 weeks.
  3. The Committed Reader. This plan adds a further 26 books, bringing the total to 52, or 1 book every week.
  4. The Obsessed Reader. The Obsessed plan doubles the total to 104 books which sets a demanding pace of 2 books every week.

Begin with the Light plan, which includes suggestions for 13 books. Choose those books and read them in any order, checking them off as you complete them. When you have finished those 13, advance to the Avid plan. Use the criteria there to choose another 13 books and read them in any order. Then it’s time to move to the Committed plan with a further 26 books. When you have completed the Committed plan (that’s 52 books so far!), you are ready to brave the Obsessed plan with its 104 books. Be sure to set your goal at the beginning of the year and pace yourself accordingly.

Use the #vtReadingChallenge to connect and to keep track of others on social media.

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