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5 Reasons to Love Elderberries: Health Benefits and More

Health, Ingredient SpotlightAlana Holloway

A little tale about elderberries…

My first experience with the humble elderberry was when I was a wee young thing.  My dear Gran used to look after my sisters and me in the Summer holidays and we would often rope her into doing all sorts of things, as grandchildren are so very good at doing.  Her well-thumbed WI Cookbook would always be pulled from the shelves and on this occasion, I stumbled across a recipe for elderberry syrup.  It must’ve been the very end of the holidays as a few moments later, we were walking down the lane to pick ourselves some elderberries.  Once we had cleaned, picked and simmered the elderberries in water and sugar, we strained and bottled the cooled liquid and put it aside until it was ‘ready’… reading this back now, I really have no idea what we made that required us to wait! Wine?!  After all that effort and patience, I couldn’t wait to taste our magic potion. A few visits later, we popped the top, mixed with water and sipped on a glass.  I HATED it!!  I was so disappointed and vowed never to try elderberries again with no idea that years (and years) later, I’d be flavouring Kefir with it and drinking it like it was going out of fashion!

 
elderberries
 

As FBL grows older and more seasons pass, I am even more drawn to using the seasonal ingredients I find on my doorstep.  Mother Nature continuously proves that she’s got our backs, providing us with what we need to survive and thrive throughout the ever changing ebbs and flows of life. Elderberries are probably one of the best examples of that. As the sunlight hours reduce and the nights draw in, the temperatures dip and central heating gets turned on, it’s vital that we increase our intake of immune boosting foods high in vitamin-C to ward off the coughs and colds that inevitably follow the back to school period.  Read on to find out more…

-      Elderberries immune boosting power comes from the flavonoids (a group of phytonutrients aka plant chemicals, responsible for vivid, deep and rich colours in plant foods).  Flavonoids are powerful anti-oxidants that help keep our immune systems fighting fit.

-      Elderberries are extremely high in fibre, therefore promoting good digestive health and constipation relief.  We use re-hydrated elderberries to make an elderberry puree to flavour our Autumn Berry Kefir, meaning some of that fibre remains in the bottled, finished product.  Dried elderberries can also be added to cakes, muffins, sauces and jams to increase their fibre content.

-      Elderberry syrup has been used for centuries to ward off and treat colds, coughs and flu. It boasts anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties and works a treat… hence it sticking around for so long.

-      High in both vitamins A and C, elderberries are a great addition to your diet if you’re looking to improve the health and appearance of your skin.

-      Elderberries have anti-inflammatory properties and can help to reduce swelling in mucous membranes such as your sinuses, helping to reduce nasal congestion, aka the sniffles!

Is it achievable to eat 30 different plant species in a week, in order to nurture a healthy gut?

HealthAlana Holloway
 
Fruit and vegetables
 

Instagram can be a wonderful place, can’t it?!  One of my favourite people to follow is Dr Megan Rossi, aka @theguthealthdoctor.  She shares a wealth of ‘no bullsh*t’ gut health related information, demystifies studies and debunks media articles which I just LOVE to read!

One of her recent posts posed the question: is a vegan diet healthier for your gut than a non-vegan diet?  She often asks these questions as polls in stories.  I answered ‘no’ but was pretty sure the answer to this one wouldn’t be a straightforward ‘yes’ or ‘no’.  I was right! Whilst a vegan diet isn’t necessarily healthier for your gut (vegan doesn’t always mean healthy), a focus on plant-based foods is.   Your gut microbiome relies on a variety of foods to build a diverse community and in gut terms, diverse = strong and health and Dr Megan Rossi’s recommended weekly target is 30. That’s 30 different plant species throughout the week.   

 
The Gut Health Doctor
 

Is that achievable?* A combination of precious kitchen space, weekly - rather than daily - shops, bulk cooking/meal prep, busy schedules and small households means it’s all too easy to fall into a routine of eating the same (or very similar) foods, every day.  When you cook a big meal on a Sunday, the likelihood is that you’ll be eating that same meal for lunch/dinner for the next 2–3 days.  When you buy a bunch of bananas, at least one of your 2-3 daily pieces of fruit is going to be – you guessed it - a banana!  You get the gist, I’m sure.  So, I decided to record the plant foods I ate for a week, to see if I was anywhere near hitting the target.  Honestly, I wasn’t so sure that I was going to, for all of the reasons listed above. I, like many others, have been so busy thinking about what I eat in a day (am I getting my RDA of fruit and veggies, fibre, protein, etc?) that I really wasn’t paying too much attention to how that panned out as the week went on.  

Here’s how I got on (‘<’ means a very small amount of something):

Day 1
Buckwheat
Figs
Blackberries
Plum
Basmati rice
Courgette
Carrot
Mushrooms
Tomato
Spinach

Day 2
Plum
Blackberries
Buckwheat
Chia seeds
Hemp seeds
Almond
Coconut
Walnuts
Carrots
Courgettes

Day 3
Plum
Blackberries
Buckwheat
Coconut
Almond
Walnut
Chia seeds
Hemp
Carrot
Corn
Lentils
Chickpeas
Sweet potato
Red onion
Kale
Broccoli
Tomato
Avocado
Cabbage

Day 4
Buckwheat
Fig
Blackberries
Coconut
Cacao
Pecans
Kale
Red pepper
Cabbage
Tomato
Aubergine
Avocado
Chickpea
Sweet potato

Day 5
Oats
White rice noodles
Fresh coriander
Tofu (soy)
Beansprouts
Spring onion
Cacao

Day 6
Melon
Redcurrants
Blackcurrants
Tomato
Mushroom
Potato
Salad leaves
Sweet potato
Broccoli
Carrots
Raisins
Strawberry
Raspberry

Day 7
Tomato
Potato
Mushrooms
Sweet potato
Cacao

Wow, day 7 was a good day!!  Jokes aside, all in all, I ate 43 different plant species.  I was really careful not to fudge the results by doing anything different than my norm and am pleasantly surprised.  Looking back, what I think helped me achieve the target was making dishes where I could sneak in extra ingredients, such as the crumble I made at the beginning of the week (the topping alone contained 5 different plant species), or the savoury veggie pancakes I had towards the end (the fillings were very veg heavy).  I could’ve varied my grains/legumes a bit more, so will make a note of that for the future.  Over the winter, I’ll make sure to pack my stews and curries with veggies and grains and I’ll be interested to give it another go to see if the results are at all similar.  

If you fancy giving this a go, please share the results with me over on Instagram @fermentedbylab – let’s raise the awareness of this weekly target and all help each other achieve a more diverse gut microbiome!

*Megan does recommend just adding one extra plant food to your week if 30 seems unachievable.


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Three Years On: How I Keep My Eczema at Bay After Overcoming TSW

HealthAlana Holloway
 
Alana Holloway
 

Discovering the root cause of a health issue is often a complex task that needs to be approached from different angles.  I've been asked a few times about what else I do - outside of the fermented food/gut health arena - to ensure my skin stays healthy, so I thought I'd create a blog post to consolidate it all.

As many of you may have read, fermented foods and improving my gut health were key to me healing from TSA/TSW (Topical Steroid Addiction/Topical Steroid Withdrawal). They were, and still are, the cornerstone of how I manage my eczema - medication free - in a more natural and holistic way.

Eczema is now considered an auto-immune disease. Autoimmune means that certain triggers cause your immune system to attack certain cells in the body.   I’ve come to realise that eczema is something that will always be in the background and can even be put into remission, but that in order to maintain healthy skin, I need to follow certain diet and lifestyle choices. Here’s a list of the tools I’ve compiled over the years to keep my eczema at bay;

- Eat/drink something fermented every day!
-Plenty of fibre in my diet. Fibre is fuel for gut bacteria.
-Eat lots of plant foods!
- Yoga as much as I can.  To get my blood flowing, system moving and mind calm.
- Daily 10 minute meditation.  Stress has such a huge impact on my health and my skin.  I find the Calm App to be best suited to me.
- A water softener as I live in such a hard water area.
- Early to bed and sleep for 8-9 hours every night, although this is a constant work in progress!
- Natural skin products and no make-up (natural make up for when I have to!) I’ve actually now started making my own.
- Limited/no alcohol.  I've tried natural wines but find I wake the next morning more inflamed than I'd like. 
- Plenty of water throughout the day and herbal teas depending on my mood.
- Limited sugar.  I tried totally sugar free for a while but am only human and missed treats!  Saying that, I stick to the more unrefined sugars and try to keep my consumption below the RDA.

Diet wise, I do avoid cow's dairy and gluten as they tend not to sit well with me (although I've recently been experimenting with sourdough), and am mindful of my consumption of goat's dairy as it can make my skin feel 'damp/clammy' (you'll know what I mean if you suffer with eczema)  I've found what works for me and do experiment from time to time.   The wellness world can be so black and white about what's 'good' and 'bad' for you.  It doesn't allow for exceptions to rules and that can cloud judgement.  For example; I've found that I'm absolutely fine with ghee but not with butter.  In essence, they're kind of the same thing but the way in which ghee is made makes it tolerable.   My point here is: don't be too strict when it comes to food and food groups.  Experiment, test and keep an open mind.

Lastly, over the past couple of years, I've been taking more interest in Ayurveda.  It's something I've only recently started incorporating into my daily life but find it really helps.  I've found it a really gentle and sympathetic way to approach my health, making tweaks here and there when I need to.  I would really recommend looking into it.

I really hope the helps some of you on your quest to better health.  As always, please feel free to ask any questions either in the comments below or by emailing me.


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Ingredient Spotlight: Health Benefits of Cabbage

Ingredient Spotlight, HealthAlana Holloway
Health benefits of cabbage

Cabbage, on the surface, is probably one of the most boring vegetables around. Unlike its celebrity cousins, kale and broccoli (all part of the brassica family), it often gets disregarded as smelly and bland. But I LOVE IT! Without cabbage, my beloved Kraut wouldn’t be what it is, so it only seems right to celebrate it every once in a while.

⁃           We’re now realising that, on the whole, our diets fall way short of the RDA of fibre. Not only is cabbage a great source of fibre, studies have found that raw cabbage juice has been found to help cure stomach ulcers.  All the more reason to drink that Kraut brine!

⁃           I’ve already mentioned it’s ‘superfood’ cousins kale and broccoli, which are well renowned for being high in antioxidants. Well if you fancy a change up, grab a cabbage which has its own array of the inflammation reducing, brain boosting powerhouses.

⁃           Cabbage is already a great source of vitamin K, but when eaten in its fermented form, it helps to support our gut flora in producing Vitamin K2.  A deficiency in K2 increases the risk of developing osteoporosis, heart disease and cancer.

A bit like marmalade, I like my Kraut somewhere in between thick and thin cut, providing the perfect bite! How do you like yours?

Finding The Motivation to Eat Well for Your Health

HealthAlana Holloway
 Fermented by LAB team lunch

Fermented by LAB team lunch

It’s been quite some time since I’ve posted on this blog - so much to do and so little time!  We’ve been having a blast backstage at LAB.  Alana has been working hard on developing the Spring flavours and I can’t wait to taste-test!  Alana and I call the day we package your fabulous ferments and send them out to you ‘Boxing Day’, but we often find it doubles up as ‘Therapy Day’ as we end up talking the hind legs off a donkey and putting the world to rights.  I cook lunch for us and bring it along to headquarters, usually a hearty soup or a reviving curry (with a generous serving of a complementary ferment, of course!).  After the obligatory high five when your boxes have been collected by our courier, we sit down, take a deep breath and relax.  I’ve got to say, working with my sisters is brilliant.  I am the eldest of three.  Alana is in the middle and our youngest sister is Georgina.  Georgina is currently working on her own contribution to LAB, which we hope will help spread the word about what we do.  We’ve all worked together one way or another before and I love that we can do that.  I strongly believe that having a support network as strong as we do is a huge factor in our potential to achieve, keeping us motivated.  Which leads me to the subject of today’s post-  motivation!

It’s remarkable how much motivation we can find for something that we want to do.  Whether it’s getting dressed up to go out or saving money towards a holiday in the sun, we can often dig deep when there’s a dangling carrot to spur us on.  Why then, is it so difficult to be motivated to eat well when the dangling carrot is good health?  You’d think that feeling good would be the ultimate reward, yet millions of us fall in to the trap of eating something quick and easy that doesn’t always satisfy our body’s nutritional needs.  We’re pre-programmed to enjoy high calorie foods.  Primitively, this helped us to survive when access to food wasn’t guaranteed .  With processed and fast food readily available today, our need for convenience often leads us to grab a sandwich from a petrol station or order a pizza.  The result?  A calorific intake is achieved, but our bodies haven’t necessarily been nourished.  

What we eat is fundamental to not only our body weight, but energy levels, ability to fight infection and disease, emotional well-being and ultimately, how long we live.  Most of us have tried various diets and with the media advertising the latest way to lose weight at the appropriate times of year (after Christmas, the lead up to summer for a ‘Bikini body’), we’re spoilt for choice.  Food is everywhere.  Deep down, we all know that eating healthily is as simple as these seven words.  “Eat food.  Not too much.  Mainly plants.” (Pollan, 2016).  Whilst true, this doesn’t provide the specifics on how to do so, or, equally importantly, how to want to do so. 

I am my own worst enemy when it comes to what I eat.  A self-confessed chocoholic and cheese addict, I find myself reaching for these things when I’m in need of comfort.  During the past 2 years, I think I’ve changed what ‘comfort food’ means in my head.  As I discussed in last August’s post, I started eating fermented foods by becoming Alana’s guinea pig!  I rapidly noticed an improvement in my mood, reduction in symptoms of my Endometriosis, clearer skin and the list goes on.  Fermented food and drink has acted as a bit of a ‘lightbulb moment’ for me.  I eat/drink it, I feel better.  I am comforted.  It is my healthy comfort food!  It has made me think twice about my food choices.  I recognise now that when I eat unhealthily I am actually sabotaging my chances of feeling good (read ‘Love What You Eat: Choosing Foods That Will Change Your Life’ by Nicholette M. Martin MDHC – so helpful!).

Many of us find things easier to manage step by step.  I’m one of those people!  My first step to eating for health was to eat a portion of fermented food or drink every day.  My second step was to drink more water.  My third step, to ensure that half of my plate of food contained vegetables.  I’m working on the fourth step (reducing my chocolate intake)!  I don’t get it right every day, but I do know why I’m doing it.  I want to feel good!  So far, I’ve found that changing how I think about ‘comfort food’ has helped motivate me to eat for better health.  What helps to motivate you?

LAURENS NAME-02.png
 

Does Fermented Food + Drink Help Reduce Body Fat?

HealthAlana Holloway

Metabolic disease is a modern, umbrella term for a cluster of conditions including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity. Those effected are at a significantly greater risk of heart disease, stroke and other blood vessel illnesses.  According to the NHS, one in four Brits are known to have metabolic disease (in one form or another) and while we all know that leading a healthier lifestyle reduces the risk, you will be pleased to know that ferments also help along the way!