Experiments with fermented foods

fermented foodsAn increasing amount of research is revealing the importance of a healthy gut microbiome in maintaining immunity, digestive and heart health, prevention of obesity and diabetes – and even in improving brain function, writes Dr Susan Aldridge,  Healthy Soul’s  guest blogger,  freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition. The microbiome is the community of bacteria, fungi and viruses living within the gut and it consists of more microbial cells than there are human cells in the rest of the body. You are, literally, more microbe than human, in material terms!

Improving the quality of the gut microbiome is basically a matter of tipping the balance between ‘good’ bacteria (mainly bifidobacteria and lactobacilli) and those which are less ‘friendly’. There are two ways of doing this: consume more prebiotics and/or more probiotics. Put simply, the fibre in prebiotics contains inulin, an oligosaccharide (complex carbohydrate) which feeds the healthy bacteria in the gut, promoting their growth, while probiotics (also known as fermented foods) actually contain good bacteria and deliver them straight to the gut.

So, this month I’ve come up with three recipes that combine prebiotics/probiotics with some seasonal foods.

Asparagus green smoothie

Asparagus, onions, garlic and artichokes are all rich in inulin, but asparagus is the only realistic candidate for a green juice. So, if you’re planning a classic summer lunch of asparagus, new potatoes and salmon, grab an extra bunch and try this healthy smoothie.
Serves one
One bunch of asparagus, chopped
Handful of spinach leaves
One kiwi, chopped
One apple, chopped
One tsp matcha powder
One tsp cacao powder
Hemp/almond milk or a mixture

Place all solid ingredients in a blender/Nutribullet and top up with the milk. Liquidise and drink immediately.
Sauerkraut coleslaw

Sauerkraut is cabbage fermented with salt for three weeks or more. It actually contains more lactobacilli per serving than yoghurt. The bacteria occur naturally in the cabbage and, during the fermentation, they convert sugars in the cabbage into lactic acid, which gives sauerkraut its characteristic acidic taste.
As interest in the microbiome grows, fermented foods like sauerkrant are increasing in popularity. I bought the only version on offer in the supermarket for my recipe, but there are many novel versions to explore in health food shops (might also be worth looking in your local Polish shop if you have one). I’m also going to try kimchi – Korean sauerkraut – which is fermented cabbage and radish with chilli and other additions.
To be honest, I didn’t really fancy sauerkraut on its own (and certainly didn’t fancy making it from scratch, although it’s said to be easy!). So, I put together a coleslaw, where sauerkraut replaces the fresh cabbage. And if you’re in a hurry, try mixing sauerkraut with prepared coleslaw in equal quantities.

Serves two

Three tbsp. sauerkraut
Three grated carrots
One bunch spring onions, chopped
Handful of mixed seeds
One small tub yoghurt (an extra dose of Lactobacilli – I actually used a tub of tzakziki left over from a barbeque)
One tbsp. flax seed oil
One tbsp. mustard.

Combine all the coleslaw ingredients, then whisk up the dressing and toss it all together.
To make this seasonal, serve with boiled new potatoes. To make it a bit (vegetarian) Germanic, serve with Quorn smoked ham or sausages. And to make two meals, double the coleslaw, dressing and potatoes and make up a potato salad to serve the following day with the coleslaw and more ham/sausages.

Summer fruits cheesecake

Kefir is another fermented food – similar to yoghurt but made in a different way. Quark is type of soft cheese which is higher in protein and lower in fat than regular cream cheese and now there is a quark made with kefir, that seemed like a good basis for a cheesecake topped with berries. Here I mixed the kefir quark with regular quark. I’ve also experimented with feta cheese, instead of the usual cream cheese, to add a slightly savoury note and drastically cut the amount of sugar in this adapted recipe (there should be enough sweetness in the biscuit base and fruit topping). This went down very well with someone who doesn’t usually like dessert!

Serves four
40g biscuits (amount might vary depending on the size of the dish used choose anything you fancy – ginger goes well with the lemon, but you could use choc chip, plain digestive)
25g butter (again, adjust depending on the size of the dish)
100g feta cheese, finely crumbled
250g quark (one 150g tub kefir quark and 100g regular – increase quantities if needed, to create the layer in the dish)
One tbsp. caster or icing sugar
Zest of one lemon
Gelatine (vegetarian if you prefer)
Juice of two lemons
Fruit topping (raspberries, blueberries, sliced strawberries – alone or mixed – I used frozen berries to get blackcurrants and redcurrants which are hard to source fresh and added raspberries)
Crush the biscuits, melt the butter and mix. Spread mixture over the base of a pie dish and chill for several hours. Beat the cheese, quark and sugar together and fold in the lemon zest. Soften the gelatine as per the instructions on the packet and melt into the lemon juice over a low heat. Stir into the cheese mixture and spoon onto the base. Chill overnight, then add berry topping.

Next time: Experiments with low carb

At home test proves beneficial in Alzheimer’s detection

SAGEA team of researchers of the Ohio State University has recently offered up an alternative to comprehensive cognitive testing with the Self-administered Gerocognitive Exam, now known as SAGE. The SAGE test was specifically designed to detect early signs of cognitive impairment, like those inherent to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, as a tool in fighting the growing challenges related to an ageing population.
SAGE testing is administered at one’s home, through a simple questionnaire consisting of 12 prompts. Without the need for a medical professional’s oversight during the exam, and sans any medical equipment, the SAGE test can be completed in as little as 15 minutes for most. The exam’s questions range from asking about the current date and the individual’s full name, to drawing pictures of simple items or naming objects located in the next room.

If a certain number of questions are answered incorrectly, individuals are encouraged to meet with a medical professional for further, more comprehensive testing.
While SAGE may seem simple on its face, it has the ability to provide early detection, and subsequent diagnosis, of disease like Alzheimer’s and dementia for individuals around the world.

The Rising Cost of Healthcare

The challenges burdening health care systems across the globe are the result of two pressing factors: a growing patient population and a focus on treatment as opposed to prevention. As the number of individuals over the age of 85 rises steadily, health care professionals, the systems in which they work, and the family and social caregivers providing care outside the scope of medical intervention face undue pressure, both in terms of time and funding.

Taking the UK as an example, currently more than 800,000 individuals suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and the trend points steadily upward. By the year 2021, more than 1 million patients in Britain alone will need constant care to tackle the obstacles that come with cognitive impairment, like performing activities of daily living such as bathing or eating.

These numbers present a substantial concern for healthcare systems and the people who are trained to provide care to those with brain function issues. A representative from a team of medical solicitors called Patient Claim Line explains that the already suffering health system within the UK stands to become even more unstable as an increased number of patients seek treatment. An unspeakable number of individuals stand to lose a respectable quality of life and care if preventative measures, like the SAGE test, are put in place to promote early detection.

Looking Forward

Although the promise of SAGE is apparent, more work needs to be done to begin combatting the looming epidemic of dementia and Alzheimer’s. National systems like the NHS must focus efforts on improving the financial stability of their organization while also ensuring enough skilled medical professionals are available for a stark increase to its patient population. In addition, innovative tools like SAGE can be used to detect signs of cognitive impairment early on, without the need for costly office visits or silent suffering. SAGE offers a way to provide more timely diagnoses of dementia and Alzheimer’s, and ultimately, a better system of care for the patients who need it most.

T is for tomatoes

Tomatoes at Parkway Greens, Camden Town
Tomatoes at Parkway Greens, Camden Town

By guest blogger, Dr Susan Aldridge, freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food /nutrition. I have always loved tomatoes and tomato-based dishes – when I was growing up, Heinz cream of tomato soup was always my favourite food and today, I’ll always go for pasta napoletana in an Italian restaurant (often with a tomato salad on the side). So I was especially keen to invent some new recipes for this month’s Superfood blog.

Today, tomatoes are actually the most common source of vitamins and minerals in the Western diet. But it wasn’t always so. Until the 19th century, when they were first cultivated as food, they were believed to be poisonous. That’s probably because tomatoes belong to the deadly nightshade family (as do peppers and aubergines) and it’s true that every part of the tomato plant, save the fruit, contains potent toxins.  I say fruit because botanically the tomato is a fruit, but for culinary and nutritional purposes we treat it as a vegetable.

Tomatoes are probably best known as a source of lycopene, the pigment that gives them their red colour. Lycopene is also found in other red, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables, but tomatoes contain particularly high amounts. You may have heard that cooked tomatoes give you more lycopene than raw ones. This is because cooking releases the lycopene from tomato cells so there is more of it available to be absorbed by the body. Cooking in oil, like olive oil, makes even more lycopene available. Thus, classic tomato dishes like pasta napoletana are particularly good for you, especially if served with a big salad or a green vegetable like spinach on the side.

Countries where tomato consumption is high, such as Mexico, Spain and Italy, tend to have lower rates of prostate cancer. Some (but not all) studies have suggested a link between consumption of lycopene and protection from prostate cancer. If lycopene protects against prostate cancer, then it is likely that it may protect from other forms of cancer too. Lycopene is a flavanoid and, as such, a powerful antioxidant but it is not known whether it is this which gives the compound its anti-cancer properties.

Tomatoes are versatile, in many senses. They can be eaten raw, cooked and they can be dried to concentrate the flavour. They can be green, orange, yellow, purple or, of course, red. There are also many striped varieties! Finally, there are five basic tomato shapes – beefsteak, cherry, globe, grape and plum.

Although cooked tomatoes maybe have more health benefits in terms of lycopene, raw tomatoes are rich in fibre, vitamin A and vitamin C – and all my recipes this month focus upon raw (and dried) tomatoes.


Sunshine Juice (loaded with vitamins!)

Serves one

Around 400g tomatoes (any kind)

Six carrots, peeled and chopped into chunks

Two oranges, peeled

Ginger – one inch peeled chunk

Feed all ingredients into the juicer and consume juice immediately (this one separates quickly.


Red Rainbow Salad

Serves four (or two people over two days)

There’s a multitude of flavours and textures in this colourful salad. If you can think of any more red/orange/pink ingredients, do add them in! By the way, a handful of mixed seeds is a nice crunchy addition, as I found when eating it on the second day.

Around 400g tomatoes (use two different kinds, to add interest)

Two cooked beetroot

Four carrots, shredded

One red lettuce, torn into leaves

Two tablespoons of pomegranate seeds

One red onion, chopped

Two peaches, chopped, or one cup of watermelon chunks

One romano red pepper, chopped

One packet of radishes, halved

Mix all ingredients. This is a very juicy salad so no dressing needed except a squeeze of lemon.


Mediterranean Salad

Serves two.

This is my variation on the classic Insalata Caprese (mozzarella, tomato and basil)

200g cherry tomatoes, halved

100g sun-dried tomatoes, chopped

50g feta cheese, cubed

50g mozzarella pearls

50g olives (stuffed, green, black, marinated…whatever appeals)

Chopped thyme

Torn basil

Mix all ingredients except the herbs. Dress with one tablespoon of extra virgin cold-pressed flax seed or olive oil and a splash of good balsamic vinegar. Finish with the herbs. Good served with an Italian or Greek bread. This is my dish to take along to any BBQs we’re invited to this summer!






Events and courses

Homeopathy Self Prescribing course

– Are you worried about the amount of antibiotics your children are being prescribed?
– Are you often ill?
– Are you worried about the side effects of the remedies prescribed by your GP?
– Do you want to be in charge of your family’s health?

Then Homeopathy can help you!

Enrol on Vinciane Ollington’s next Homeopathy Self-Prescribing course is  taking place on  the following Fridays:

11th, 18th, 25th March, 1st April 2011 (10am -12:30) in Ripley (10 hours in total) .  The cost is £95 per person and includes course handouts. 

Contact Vinciane Ollington on 01483 224330, mailto:vinciane@btinternet.com