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My Homemade Kombucha Recipe

After 7 years of spending way too much money on GT Dave’s Kombucha (which is delicious, but in Hawaii is almost $5 per bottle), I decided to take the plunge and started brewing kombucha myself.  Kombucha offers an extensive list of health benefits including but not limited to hormone balance, cancer prevention, detoxification support, and even improvements to bone and tooth quality.  I personally drank it through both pregnancies to prevent nausea (which I never had, thank goodness!) and when not pregnant would drink it for the week prior to my period to prevent migraines and PMS during that time.  At $5 a bottle that really adds up!  To be brutally honest, I was resistant to brewing my own kombucha because in my mind the next step after entering the world of home fermentation is Birkenstocks and hairy armpits (not that there’s anything wrong with either of those things!) but I realized I was being ridiculous and my resistance was costing me money that could instead be spent on practical, important items like stilettos and waxing (okay, now I’m really being ridiculous but I’m too hopped up on coffee and homemade kombucha today to have a filter and I’m perceiving myself as funnier than I actually am).  But back to the point – making kombucha at home was shockingly easy to do and my very first batch (pictured above) turned out well so I wanted to share the recipe with all of you who may also be skeptical of home brewing.  Here’s what you do:

  1. Find a SCOBY (the starter – stands for Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast).  I recommend checking on Craigslist.org for someone in your area (just type in “SCOBY” or “Kombucha”) or contacting your local Weston Price chapter leader.  If you can’t get a SCOBY from either of these places, you can get them on Amazon, but this tends to be the most expensive option.  I found someone through Craigslist here on the North Shore of Oahu (relatively far from me) who referred me to their friend in Waimanalo (close to me) who was nice enough to meet up and gave me a free SCOBY.  Here’s what they look like:  While it may seem a little disturbing to meet up with a total stranger and leave with a ziplock baggie full of something that looks like an alien organ suspended in a solution of brown liquid, it is totally worth it.
  2. Get a half gallon glass jar (or gallon, or any size glass container really, but my recipe is for a half gallon because that’s the biggest jar I have), fill it with purified water, and then dump that water into a pot and bring it to a boil.  Stir in approximately 3/4 cup sugar, but don’t dump it in all at once or it might boil over.  White sugar is actually the best (and cheapest) but you can use any type of sugar you have on hand – white sugar, brown sugar, organic sugar, I’ve even heard of people using molasses.  The sugar is just to feed the fermentation so the bacteria and yeast should eat most (if not all) of it anyway. Just don’t use honey since it has antibacterial properties.
  3. Remove solution from heat and add 2 black tea bags (any type of black tea, I used plain old Lipton’s because I had it in the cabinet but since then have started using organic black tea from Vitacost).  Steep for 10 minutes to brew a strong tea.  (You can also use an equivalent amount of loose tea, you just have to strain it and that’s 5 seconds I’d rather spend doing something else.)
  4. Cool to room temp.  If you’re in a hurry you can throw in a few ice cubes and put it in the fridge to cool faster, just make sure you stir well to avoid any “hot spots” that might kill the bacteria in the SCOBY.
  5. Once the solution is cool enough, add your SCOBY along with 1-2 cups of kombucha from a prior brew (use storebought kombucha if you didn’t get liquid with your first SCOBY, or if storebought isn’t available add 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar to make the tea acidic enough for fermentation) and cover loosely with a cheesecloth or other breathe-able cloth (I used a thin dishcloth, but Gerber diaper cloths work well also) and secure with a rubber band.  Place this in an area where the temp is around or slightly warmer than room temp (between 74 and 84 degrees F) and leave it alone.  Here’s how my first brew looked:
  6. Depending on how sour or bubbly you like your kombucha, you can let it brew for a minimum of 3 days up to a month.  My first brew I fermented for 5 days (it was sour and tasty, but not too bubbly), my second brew I fermented for 2 weeks (more sour and tasty, and more bubbly) and my third brew is in the works now.  You can check the fermentation process by gently dipping a clean spoon into the mix and tasting to check how sour and bubbly it is.  Also, one of the fun things to notice as your kombucha is brewing is that the SCOBY “mother” produces a “daughter” which starts out as a thin, clear film on the top and eventually turns into a perfect little disc the exact shape of the top of your brewing container.  Mine looked like this:
  7. Once the kombucha has fermented to your liking, you can pour off what you want to drink and store it in the fridge until you’re ready to enjoy it!  Be sure to reserve at least 1-2 cups of your brew as the starter for the next batch, which you can store at room temp if you’re going to use it in the next few days or in the fridge if it’s going to be a while before your next batch.  You can drink the kombucha straight, or add juice or fruit for flavoring.  It is sweet on its own so doesn’t require additional sweetener but I find that it mellows nicely when you add something tart for balance, such as lemon juice or frozen berries (but I personally don’t recommend adding these to the fermentation unless you really know what you’re doing – I would wait until your brew is complete to add them to the final product).

Obviously, after 3 batches at home I don’t consider myself a kombucha expert but I did want to share this info with you to let you know that you don’t have to be an expert to make your own! For more practical tips, I recommend visiting the SustainabiliTEA site on kombucha.  I did not read the entire site (yet), but what I did read was very helpful and concise and explains some important issues such as how to avoid and detect mold.

TURD IN THE PUNCHBOWL ALERT: For the sake of full disclosure, I must confess that the frozen berry mix used in the beautiful picture of the finished kombucha at the beginning of this blog is the very same organic antioxidant mix that was recently recalled from Costco for containing pomegranate seeds from Turkey that were giving people Hepatitis A!!!  Luckily I only used it once to flavor that particular glass of kombucha.  I didn’t like the flavor (maybe my body could innately taste the Hepatitis A – but more realistically it’s because I didn’t like the flavor of the variety of cherries used in the mix) so it stayed in my freezer untouched until it ended up on the news.  Now it’s still in my freezer until I can take it back to Costco and exchange it for something with a little less communicable disease.  I don’t have any hepatitis symptoms and thankfully my kids and husband didn’t have any of the berry mix, but just to be safe I’m taking milk thistle herb (for liver support) and eating lots of coconut oil (for its anti-viral activity).  In the future I will try to stick to flavoring my kombucha with fresh fruit that I have washed myself.

June 5, 2013   9 Comments

Airport Scanner Safety

It’s summer, which for many people means it’s time to travel.  I’ve had a lot of questions from people regarding the issue of whether full-body airport scanners (the big space elevator-looking things parked at more and more airport security lines) are safe, especially for people who may be more susceptible to radiation such as those who are pregnant or have a history of cancer.  Of course there is a HUGE amount of controversy surrounding this subject ranging from an individual’s right to privacy to the issue of national security to the health risks of radiation exposure.  There is an excellent excerpt from the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association titled “Pandora’s Boxes: Questions Unleashed in the Airport Scanner Debate” that sums up the health-related issues pretty well.  If you have time to read the entire text I really recommend it.  If you don’t have time (because you’re at the airport frantically deciding which security line to stand in) here is my 5-second summary:

  • The type of radiation used in most of these machines is likely to be carcinogenic (meaning it may cause cancer, probably by damaging DNA), but the doses are supposedly very low.  This is still not very reassuring to me since I am already exposed to small doses of daily radiation from my cell phone, wireless laptop, etc. and radiation exposure is cumulative.
  • The common estimate is that it would take 1,000 scans in an airport scanner to equal the amount of radiation you would receive in 1 chest x-ray.  However, the methods used to calculate this estimate have been questioned by studies including several performed by scientists at the University of California San Francisco.
  • The authors of the text were unable to find any large-scale studies done on humans or animals using this technology.  That is not a good sign – especially for something that is being placed in airports nationwide!

Another tidbit that I found in other articles was that scientists are questioning the safety of radiation that appears to only penetrate skin-deep and how that could lead to skin cancer in individuals who are predisposed.  To put it in perspective, airport scanners are not exposing people to enough radiation to cause skin to burn the way that prolonged exposure to UV radiation (sunlight) would but it is something to consider when looking at overall radiation exposure over a lifetime.

With all that said, here is what I do when I’m heading through airport security:

  • I decline the airport scanner line and instead ask for the standard metal detector/pat down treatment.  Many people don’t realize that this is a perfectly legal option and will not put you on the “suspicious activities” list!  You have a right to refuse to walk through something of questionable safety.  The pat down takes an extra 5-10 minutes so plan accordingly in your travel timing.  If you think this is a crazy and extreme thing to do, you can be encouraged by the fact that when I recently flew while still pregnant and refused the scanner line, the female TSA agent who did my pat down quietly said to me “Good for you honey, and good for your baby.  You should refuse this every time, pregnant or not.  These scanners are not good.  I don’t like working around them all day.”
  • I try to remember to take a dose of a good multivitamin and eat a few Brazil nuts prior to travel.  The multivitamin will supply zinc and B vitamins including folate and the nuts supply selenium. Zinc, B vitamins (especially folate), and selenium are three very important nutrients for DNA repair.  Even if you refuse the full-body scanner line, there is still exposure to radiation simply from the altitude at which the plane is flying.
  • Do what you can to support the immune system which is your surveillance system to help track down and destroy any pre-cancerous cells (not to mention bacteria and viruses you may be exposed to while traveling).  Things you can do to support your immune system include: drinking water, avoiding sugar, eating protein, getting sufficient rest, taking vitamin C and/or zinc lozenges, and utilizing immune-boosting herbs such as echinacea and elderberry.  One thing I DON’T recommend is taking Airborne products for travel.  The packaging is cute and it’s a nice idea but the last time I checked they all contained Splenda, an artificial sweetener that contains chlorine, as well as another artificial sweetener called Acesulfame Potassium.

Most importantly, I would say not to stress out too much about the whole issue!  Traveling in and of itself is stressful and overly stressing out about exposure to small amounts of radiation can also cause damage to DNA.  If you’re reading this after your thousandth trip through the full-body airport scanner and are worried your skin is going to mutate into its own person and walk away, please take comfort in the fact that the body is very smart and if you supply it with what it needs, it knows how to repair itself, all the way down to your DNA.

June 27, 2012   No Comments

Sperm Series: Scary Soy

Lately, I have been receiving an unusual number of inquiries regarding sperm health through my Ask Jessica Q&A service.  I’m not sure what it is about the new year that makes men so urgently concerned about sperm health, but I’m happy to help answer their questions!  I have received so many questions that I thought I should start a series of blogs about sperm health to help those of you out there with the same questions who might be too shy to ask.

One of the most alarming things I have been finding in my sperm research (I’ve been up to my elbows in sperm research lately, thanks to you readers) is the way that sperm interacts with soy.  It keeps on coming up so I thought I would focus on soy for the first installment of this blog series.  Here are a few facts, supported by research, that will have you hiding from the scary soy monster!

  • Soy exposure beginning in infancy and continuing through adolescence causes males to have “significantly higher” levels of estrogen and “significantly lower” levels of testicular testosterone than in control groups.  While the study supporting this was done on rats to determine whether soy exposure changed the physical makeup of their reproductive systems (it didn’t), it is still alarming to me to think of how many little boys start out on soy infant formula, then transition to soy as filler in their school lunch meat – all in the name of good health.
  • Foods that help to improve sperm health include egg yolks and raw (or at least non-homogenized) milk, while soy was found to induce “sublethal” damage to sperm, meaning it doesn’t directly kill sperm, but it gets pretty darn close!  An interesting study was done on ram sperm (really, what could be more manly than sperm from a ram?) which found that freezing sperm with egg yolk or milk protein made it more functional when thawed, while freezing it with soy lecithin created “sublethal damages that seriously affect sperm functionality”.  One more reason to choose creme brulee over soy ice cream for a romantic baby making dessert!  As if you needed a reason…
  • Just a few months ago, a study was done in Japan which found that increased intake of soy and coffee (oh no!) was a “significant contributor to poorer semen quality”.  Other non-dietary factors identified as sperm killers (kind of like Ghostface Killah but different) in the study included exposure to plastics, ingestion of pesticides, and increased levels of cadmium from cigarette smoke.

It’s important to keep in mind the fact that the body can usually deal with soy if it is only eaten occasionally and in small amounts.  The effects of soy are not the same in everyone – some men suffer extreme hormonal changes when eating even small amounts of soy, while some vegan men who use soy as their primary source of protein have no problems with fertility and have several healthy children to prove it.  If you do decide to eat soy, please be sure it is not genetically modified (label would say something like “GMO-free”) and try to stick to fermented forms of soy such as tempeh, miso, or natto over highly processed forms such as tofu.

January 6, 2012   No Comments

Postpartum Hair Loss: “When did my stylist give me bangs?”

The other day I was talking to a friend when suddenly, just like Jennifer Lopez, a luxurious lock of hair that was fabulously cut to cheek length fell across my face.  And of course, I – again like J. Lo – swept it away deftly and gracefully and kept talking.  And then I realized that I don’t have bangs and haven’t had them since I was about 6 years old.  This realization prompted me to flash back to the months right after Mr. Muscles was born a little less than 2 years ago when I would look in the mirror and see little sproutlets of hair standing straight up all around my hairline like the awkard feathers of a silkie chicken.  My luxurious movie star bangs are just the remnants of the hair shed during the postpartum days, those magical days when your body hurts, you feel like a milk cow, you’re exhausted, and you still look pregnant enough for people at the grocery store to ask how far along you are even when you’re holding your newborn.  And oh yeah, your hair falls out.  Any man reading this post – single or married – should make a mental note at this time to be absolutely certain to tell ANY woman in their life who just had a baby how beautiful and wonderful they look, while also remembering to never ask them why their hair looks like that and never ever offering to buy them hair gel as a gift to keep their weird hair spikes down as my wonderful, loving husband did (he is in fact wonderful and loving and luckily he made this comment when our son was about 6 months old and I was far enough past the post-partum months to think it was funny).

But enough about that!  Let’s talk about why postpartum hair loss happens and how to keep it as under control as possible:

  • In a non-pregnant woman, about 90% of hair is in a growing phase and 10% is in a resting stage.  The resting stage hair is what tends to fall out with brushing and every day activity.
  • During pregnancy, estrogen levels get very high.  Estrogen is the hormone that (among other things) encourages cell growth, so it makes sense that high estrogen levels would encourage more hair to stay in the growing phase and discourage hair from falling out.
  • After baby is born and breastfeeding begins, estrogen and progesterone levels fall as prolactin levels rise.  This abrupt change in hormones is what makes some women susceptible to postpartum depression and it is what is responsible for the bulk of hair loss after pregnancy.  It’s not so much that MORE hair is falling out, it’s that all the hair that was delayed from falling out when estrogen and progesterone levels were high starts to wake up and realize it’s time to fall out.  And most unkindly of all, they decide to all fall out together in those months after baby is born.
  • Other factors contributing to postpartum hair loss include stress (but new moms are never stressed so ignore that one), low iron levels (check with your midwife or doctor to see if you need to take iron after the birth), insufficient protein intake, insufficient vitamin and mineral intake, and hair being pulled too tightly by hair clips and/or baby.
  • To help keep hormones in balance during the fantastic transition after birth, I highly recommend drinking red raspberry leaf tea up to and after the birth.  I actually kept drinking it all through the nursing phase and now that I’m pregnant again it’s another regular part of my tea rotation.  At the rate I’m going, I will probably be drinking red raspberry leaf tea for the next ten years and beyond!
  • Nutritionally, it’s also really important to take iron if your healthcare provider recommends it.  This would usually be the case if you were anemic during pregnancy or you had a lot of bleeding during or after the birth.  You can also include iron-rich foods such as grassfed beef and blackstrap molasses in your diet.
  • Since low protein levels contribute to hair loss in everyone (not just pregnant women), it’s important to make sure that new moms get adequate protein in the postpartum months.  Since it’s not always easy to sit down and eat 3 square meals a day with a newborn, I encourage moms to keep protein-rich and easy-to-eat snacks handy, such as nitrate-free cold cuts, yogurt or cheese from grassfed cows, hummus or other bean dips (if your baby is ok with beans), nut butters, deviled or hard boiled eggs, smoked salmon, and protein bars made with whey or rice rather than soy.  If you have friends or family nearby that can help with cooking, enlist their help in keeping your fridge stocked with protein-rich meals and snacks.  In addition to preventing hair loss, eating protein in the postpartum months helps to prevent postpartum depression and accelerates the rate at which you’ll be able to fit into your pre-pregnancy jeans!
  • I also usually recommend that nursing mothers take a double dose of their prenatal vitamin for the months following birth, since it’s such a time of transition.  Depending on the vitamin you’re taking, you may want to double check this with your healthcare practitioner.
  • Another thing that is obvious to some people but not to others (like myself) is that you want to avoid pulling on your hair in the same spot.  When Mr. Muscles was born, I had my hair back in a bun or pony tail most of the time pulled straight back from my face which is probably why most of my postpartum hair loss happened around my forehead hair line.  Most women lose hair from the front and sides of their hair rather than the back, so this is normal, but looking back I could have varied the natural part of my hair and tried braiding it into pigtails once in a while to reduce the weight of my hair always pulling on the same spot.
  • If you feel your hair loss is extreme and you see visible bald spots after having a baby, be sure to talk to your doctor or midwife about it.  They can run tests to see if your thyroid needs support or if there is another underlying imbalance that needs to be addressed.

Above all, if you’re experiencing postpartum hair loss, try to remember that it’s a normal thing that will eventually stop.  And in a couple of years you may be lucky enough to have surprise movie star bangs without having to pay your stylist!

November 7, 2011   5 Comments

Natural Tips for Jet Lag

Last weekend I had the privilege of flying to Iowa to speak at the Iowa City Yoga Festival, which was quite a fabulous occasion.  It was my very first overnight trip away from Mr. Milk (boo-hoo) so I made it as short as possible by arriving Friday afternoon and leaving at 6 AM on Monday.  Quite a fast trip to get used to a 5 hour time change!  In addition to this, I happened to be finishing my first trimester of incubation for baby #2 (that is a whole separate story, but I blame my husband’s Hawaiian ancestry which is biochemically driven to procreate despite all barrier methods of birth control used).  Thankfully I have not had any pregnancy symptoms – which is partially why I felt like one of those ladies from the “I Didn’t Know I was Pregnant” show when the ultrasound showed a fully formed little creature doing the Team America “It’s Me” dance (warning – bad word at the 11th second!) and we had just figured out I was pregnant a couple weeks earlier.  But I digress.

The point of this blog is to share with you the fact that despite traveling over 5 time zones and lecturing 4 hours a day within the first day of landing AND being pregnant I did not experience any jet lag!  Many people take melatonin to help them adjust their sleep-wake cycles while traveling but that was not an option for me since due to the pregnancy (melatonin works with pituitary gland hormones).  It actually surprised me how quickly I adjusted to the time difference, so I wanted to share with you what I did.

  1. I made myself stay awake until a normal bed time on my arrival day.  Truthfully this wasn’t hard to do, since 10:00 in Iowa is 5:00 in Hawaii but I had flown all night on the red eye so was a little tired.  The way I got around this was to stay busy.  I ran a few errands, had a late lunch with my two little nieces who are really hilarious and were giving (loud) social commentary regarding other people at the restaurant (they are 4 and 8 years old), went to a meeting with the other speakers, swam in the hotel pool with my nieces for a long enough time that the chlorine burned my eyeballs (not necessarily recommended), and then ordered in Thai food.  Basically, do anything you can to stay happily awake, which means avoiding hanging out in your hotel bed watching TV at all costs!
  2. I drank a ridiculous amount of water.  One of my errands mentioned above was to buy 2 gallons of water at the local store, enough for me to drink a full gallon for each day of lecturing.  I didn’t quite make that amount, and drank closer to 3/4 of a gallon each day, but I do think that this made the most significant impact for me in adjusting to the time difference.
  3. I took 1 or 2 warm baths each day.  Maybe this had nothing to do with it, but I feel like it really made a difference because I’ve traveled a lot and tried to drink water and done well but never have I felt this good.  And no, it wasn’t a pregnancy hormone high – I was 14 weeks pregnant with the Little Mister (he’s in the late stages of weaning so I have to stop calling him Mr. Milk – maybe Mr. Muscles can be his new name since he’s a meaty little boy) when I left Iowa to move to Hawaii and I was 14 weeks pregnant when flying back to Iowa (the state requires that of me I guess) and this trip was definitely different as far as fatigue.  So, you can throw this point out if you want but I really think that there’s something to soaking in a tub of warm water that helps you adjust to the magnetic field of the time zone that you’re in.  Either that, or the hydrotherapy of the bath helped me detox and feel great, or the bath was just relaxing and refreshing enough to get rid of any fatigue that would have set in.

So there you have it.  Not exactly rocket science but I find that the simple things seem to make the most difference!  And in this case it sure made a crazy weekend into an enjoyable experience.  Oh, and how did Mr. Muscles do with my absence, you ask?  As you can see from the photo below – taken on Friday while I was still traveling – he really had a miserably hard time with it.

October 14, 2011   1 Comment

Nutrition for Pregnancy: Weeks 1-4

I’m reviving my “Nutrition for Pregnancy” weekly series of blogs now that I have several friends embarking on the journey of pregnancy and parenthood, also known as the journey where you look back and wonder what you ever did when you actually had some semblance of control over your life and time and it wasn’t socially acceptable to constantly have yogurt, milk, bananas, or some other type of food smashed into your hair and clothing.  I’m starting at the very beginning, according to the medical calendar for pregnancy, which actually counts week 1 as the week you have your last menstrual period before pregnancy and in this entry going through week 4, which would be when you miss your next period…because you’re pregnant!

Week 1: You are starting your menstrual period, the last one that you’ll have for almost a year so enjoy it!  If this is a planned pregnancy, you are probably already on a pre-conception diet and are taking a prenatal vitamin rich in folic acid – one of the most important nutrients in early pregnancy.  To encourage restoration after this period, be sure to eat plenty of iron rich foods this week such as grass-fed beef, blackstrap molasses, and steamed leafy greens.

 

Week 2: You have finished your period and your body is preparing to release an egg which will become your baby!  To encourage ovulation, include yams in your diet which have been linked in some studies to increased chance of having twins because yams contain phytonutrients that stimulate ovulation.  Be sure to eat yams with plenty of butter or other healthy fats to help you absorb the fat-soluble vitamins in their skin and flesh.

 

Week 3: You are most likely ovulating during this week.  Most of the time, women ovulate around day 14 of their cycle but keep in mind that you can ovulate at any point between menstrual periods.  If you are trying to pinpoint ovulation to increase your chances of conceiving, please refer to Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler.  This book offers in-depth information on tracking fertility.  If you aren’t tracking ovulation, this week should be the time that you are actively trying to get pregnant.  You and your partner should both drink a LOT of water this week and eat Vitamin C rich foods such as citrus, kiwi, and bell peppers to ensure that the quality of your cervical fluid and his seminal fluid is optimal for fertilization.

 

Week 4: If the right genetic match was made between your egg and his sperm, then you should have a fertilized egg traveling down your fallopian tube on its way to the uterus which will be its home for the next 9 months.  Be sure to include apple cider vinegar and other fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kombucha in your diet this week, which can assist implantation of the embryo into the lining of the uterus.  It’s hard to know for sure, but if you track basal body temperatures then you may have a little bit better of an idea whether or not you are pregnant.  Tracking basal body temperatures may also help you to watch for an impending miscarriage, if your body decides that this fertilized egg is not “the one” to bring to delivery.  If this happens, it will manifest as a heavier or later than usual period as your body starts over and prepares for the next opportunity to procreate.  While this can be very disappointing for a couple that is eagerly expecting a child, please trust your body in the process and thank it for making sure that your baby will be the healthiest combination of you and your partner possible.  As silly as it sounds, whether you are pregnant or not you may even want to voice your thankfulness to your body out loud – sometimes our bodies need encouragement!

 

June 29, 2011   No Comments