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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Homemade Ginger Soda

I've been on sort of a nutrition-kick lately. Since becoming self-employed, going to the gym is just not really an option for me right now. They say that 90% of nutrition, though, is the food you eat, and not necessarily how active you are.

As Nutritionist for Circle of Fountains and Official Kitchen Witch for Witchcrat & Wellness, I have been using the New Year to sort of catapult myself into a healthy cooking/healthy living type of lifestyle. I personally haven't ever had long-term health issues, problems with my weight, or anything truly alarming as of yet. The fact of the matter is that I've always been a very healthy girl. I want to keep it that way.

About six years ago, my mom was diagnosed with Ovarian cancer. It's pretty odd for her to have that considering she was only in her mid-40s when it happened. I, therefore, need to keep up on my health. She beat cancer without any chemo, just jogging more and going entirely vegan. It'll be five years she's cancer-free this November.

DisclaimerI do not plan on endorsing that going vegan is a medical alternative to chemotherapy to cancer. Ever.

Anyway, mom is now a holistic doctor and master herbalist, and she's my go-to for health problems. If I ever had anything more than a scratchy throat or a bit of constipation, however, I'd likely go see someone more local in a hospital versus calling my mom in Roswell...but I digress. The point is that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and I'd like to start keeping up on my health now, while I'm healthy, before it becomes a real problem.

I'm sure you've all heard about the fecal transplants in recent news that are said to treat colitis, and now possibly a measure in both preventing and reversing obesity. Freeze-dried poop pills sound gross, sure, but it makes sense. Hippocrates, the Father of Modern Medicine, said that the root of health starts in the guts. Sure, you are what you eat, and I'm a big believer in that entire concept...but what about what's in our bodies already?

Here's what you need to know: 90% of our cells are bacteria, living in our stomachs, intestines, colons, etc., and the other 10% is us. We all share about a third of the bacteria, meaning the other two-thirds are entirely unique to us, kind of like a fingerprint. Your guts are home to these living microorganisms that are feeding on what you give them, all the time.

There's this nasty condition called dysbiosis, which is basically an unhealthy activity in the balance of your gut microbes. Dysbiosis has been linked to diseases such as diabetes I and II, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac and Crohn's disease, and even obesity. These things can lead to a lot of bad news stuff...and recent research has shown to fight Alzheimer's disease as a preventative measure by keeping a healthy balance of your gut microbes.

Let's say you eat a lot of sugar, for example. The yeast microbes in your belly go nuts for that sugar, and start eating it up like crazy and multiplying. They then send signals to the brain that they like that stuff and want more, and therefore give you cravings for more high-sugar foods. That's why, when you diet, it takes a few days to stop craving sugary stuff and start craving the good, healthy leafy stuff...when you feed the little dudes in your guts that eat the leafy stuff, they multiply and ask for more.

But what's to be done if your little gut microorganism guys just aren't playing ball with you? Getting a whole new set of these new guys takes anywhere from 3 months to a year, often longer, and meanwhile you're getting sicker and sicker, perhaps gaining more and more weight? The answer to obesity might just be the micro-activity going on in your guts, and maybe you can change that.

Disclaimer: Before you do anything, and especially if you have immune problems, talk to your doctor before taking anything that may affect something you're already taking. Talk to your doctor, a licensed nutritionist, someone, about adding anything like vitamins, supplements, probiotics, etc., to your diet.

To promote healthy gut activity, it's a good idea to have a diet that's full of variety. A diverse diet(varying veggies, ethnic cuisines, etc.,) keeps the bacteria in your guts on their toes, so to speak, and promotes a healthy gut-flora growth. Basically, if you only eat one type of food, it's probably bad for you in the long-run. Eating probiotic-rich foods(yogurt with live-active cultures, for example) promote a healthy gut and will help you in the long run. Here's some probiotic-rich foods you can add to your diet today:

It's cloudy, it's fizzy...it's ready.

  • Yogurt with live-active cultures
  • Miso
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kefir(can be dairy-free)
  • Kombucha
If you'd like to go a step further, you can have a really tasty soda that's rich with probiotic goodness that you've made yourself. Here's how to do it!

First, you must make a Ginger Bug. This is your "starter" culture from which your ginger soda will come. 

Ginger Bug
  • Organic ginger, easily found in any health food store, or even some grocery stores
  • Sugar(raw sugar is best, but plain white sugar has worked for me, too)
  • Water at body temperature
  • Lactobacillus tablets** (optional, but it helps)
Sterilize a mason jar with lid in boiling water or in the dishwasher. Combine chopped ginger(it doesn't matter if it's peeled or not) sugar, and water into the jar in equal parts via volume(not weight) and shake. You can add a lactobacilis tablet's contents by just taking the pill and dumping the contents in. It is totally unnecessary, but it does speed things up. Now comes the hard part...waiting.

First off, feed this stuff like you would a pet, once a day. It eats ginger, water, sugar. You can add more ginger one day, then sugar the next, then more warm-ish water the next....or all three at once. Just give it a stir with a non-metallic spoon or close up the jar and give it a shake. It can take anywhere from 3 to 5 days for this stuff to start cultivating visibly. You want to keep the jar in a safe spot on the kitchen counter where you can monitor it. On the off-chance that it'll develop mold, just scoop it off. It's generally fine. 

The mixture will go cloudy, and you'll see little bubbles starting at the top. This is your ginger bug and you can feed it every other day, every week, whatever. I've had friends who only feed theirs once every other week and it's fine. I personally feed mine a spoonful of sugar every other day, alternating with a little more ginger or water. This is your starter to a fizzy, wonderful soda that you can make at home.

Ginger Bug Soda
  • 1/4 cup strained ginger bug
  • 1 qt. fruit juice/tea
That's it. Just add a strained amount of this ginger bug to any fruit juice or sweetened tea(maybe a mix of both) and let ferment on your counter for 3 to 5 days. It's important to "burp" your soda every once and awhile(just unscrew the cap to let the gasses escape) just on the extreme chance that the drink will fizz over and burst. It's pretty rare that this will happen, but I let mine burp once a day for the first 3 days, and then I leave it.

In the picture above, I have my ginger but and a sweetened Earl Gray tea, all ready to be put into my sterilized bottle. I love those kind of glass bottles because they have a stopper already in it, so it's ideal for beers, sodas, etc. I've only tried it in teas and apple/grape juices, but not yet in cranberry or orange juices. After a few days of fermentation, you can pop it in the fridge when it's got the right taste for you...or just leave it out until it has the right amount of taste you want.

The point is that this stuff is alive and will help you promote healthy gut activity, just like live-culture yogurts will. There's research that probiotic-rich diets help against things like:

  • Urinary tract infections
  • Childhood eczema
  • Poor digestive health(colitis, etc.)
  • Mental illness
    • No, seriously! Studies have been done and they show brain activity freaking out over poor diets over really long periods of time!
  • Women's health
    • In addition to the guts, vaginas are homes to millions of both good and bad bacteria, so balance is crucial
  • Obesity
  • Poor immune health

Keep in mind that science is still doing a lot of work on this stuff. I cannot reiterate enough, though, to talk to your doctor before undergoing anything radical. Most health-food stores, however, have licensed and credible nutritionists that can answer any questions you might have about starting a general strain probiotic...and many will point you in the direction of the doctor's office if it's for anything other than just maintaining a healthy body. Most can get by just fine by a healthy, diverse diet without the extra pills, and I strongly recommend that you talk to your doctor about taking any extra supplements before you go off the deep-end with this stuff

That being said, the recipe above will help you make a delicious soda with naturally-fermented ginger that's both tasty and nutritious. Bottoms up! Happy cooking and happy eating!

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