Chimichurri Sauce

In the world of meat-eaters, chimichurri sauce and beef is a match made in heaven. Paired together, the two form a perfect culinary experience. Basic chimichurri sauce is a balance of heat (red pepper flakes), acidity (red wine vinegar), and bitterness (parsley, oregano, and cilantro) – the perfect compliment to the concentrated savory (umami) flavour of beef. It can also serve as a marinade or a dressing for any vegetables, though it pairs best with grilled meats. On the nutrition side of taste, chimichurri sauce has microbiome benefits to boast of too.

With a whopping 8 cloves of raw garlic and 1/2 a medium onion, chimichurri sauce is a feast for your intestinal bacteria. Raw garlic is the most concentrated source of fructans, a prebiotic, topping the chart at 13.6 grams (average of multiple studies) per 100 gram portion (1,2). The recipe below uses 26 grams of garlic (8 large cloves), which provides 3.5 grams of fructans. Half a medium onion in this recipe contributes an additional 1.5 grams (1,2). Though a 1/3 cup serving of this sauce provides only 1 gram of prebiotics (the recommended daily amount is 10 grams), chimichurri sauce still contributes two prebiotic food sources that are difficult to consume raw (1,3). Other than garlic butter, hummus and salad dressings with garlic, guacamole, and unpasteurized fermented garlic, culinary sources of raw garlic in North America are lacking. Recipes with raw onion are not much more abundant. Chimichurri sauce offers another option for palatable ways to consume raw garlic and onions. Since chimichurri pairs well with all grilled meat, having it as a dietary staple could make it a significant source of prebiotics in the long run. This is a win-win for our tastebuds our gut microbes.

Though classic chimichurri sauce has red wine vinegar, and red pepper flakes, I prefer it with white wine vinegar even when I’m having it on beef. I also prefer fresh chilis versus red pepper flakes. Feel free to adjust my version of this sauce to make it your own – or to use what is available at from the grocery store.

Chimichurri Sauce

Prep time: 15 mins | Yield: 6 servings | Author: Sarah Campbell

  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 medium onion, minced
  • 8 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 small red Serrano chili or red jalapeño, minced
  • 1 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves, minced
  • 1 cup packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh oregano leaves
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Flavours from white wine vinegar, garlic, onions, and chili meld for 5-10 minutes.


    1. Combine vinegar, onions, garlic, and salt in a small bowl or 4-cup glass measuring cup. Let sit for 5-10 to meld flavours.
    2. Meanwhile, mince the herbs and fresh chili finely with a knife, then add to the vinegar mixture and stir.
    3. Whisk in the olive oil with a fork; cover and allow to site at room temperature while steaks are cooking. Serve chimichurri on steak with a salad and roasted sweet potatoes and yams on the side for a complete meal that rocks the roof in nutrition and flavour!

1 serving equals 1/3 cup

An Alternative
As another option (not shown in photo), consider using half of this sauce as a steak marinade. In a glass container spoon the marinade over raw steaks; ensure all steaks are coated on both sides. Cover the glass container and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight. Warm to room temperature before grilling. Serve the remaining half of chimichurri sauce (reserved before marinating) overtop of the grilled steaks.

Marinating meat, especially red meat, before cooking in dry heat at high temperatures reduces the formation of advanced glycated end products, compounds that promote inflammation and oxidative stress.



1. Muir J et al. Fructan and free fructose content of common Australian vegetables and fruit. J Agric Food Chem 2007;55:6619-6627.
2. Muir J et al. Measurement of short-chain carbohydrates in common Australian vegetables and fruits by high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). J Agric Food Chem 2009;57:554-565.
3.International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics: Prebiotics accessed on May 17, 2017.

Sprouted Five Pulse Salad

Pulses (dried beans, dried peas, chickpeas, and lentils) are great cooked and served alone with a little salt. Pulses that are sprouted are even better, nutritionally, and a variety of pulses sprouted as a medley are the best of culinary appeal and nutritional benefit.

Inside dried pulses, nutrients are stored in complex units. Upon soaking, water permeates the hard, protective coating and sends phytohormones (plant hormones) into coordinating seedling development. Such signalling activates enzymes, many of which act on complex proteins, fats, and carbohydrates to free up nutrients for plant growth. For humans who eat sprouts, this translates into huge nutritional benefits. Nutrients are easier to digest and absorb, and, often, the concentration of nutrients is far superior to unsprouted cooked pulses. As seedlings germinate (develop into a mature sprout), vitamin levels increase and minerals and trace minerals also become more available for absorption. Simply stated, people looking for nutrient dense food can stop the search. Sprouts take the prize, hands down. Sprouted pulses, more specifically, win for having the highest digestible protein amino acids.

Unfortunately, sprouts are not a regular part of North American cuisine. As stated above, pulses, once cooked, are great – and that’s where it stops for most people. Asian cultures, however, regularly use sprouted brown rice and mung beans in their diet. Increasing the usage of sprouts in North America may only take a little nutritional awareness and some culinary inspiration (I have an on-line sprouting course in development of those who want to learn more about safe sprouting).

To contribute, I’ve made a very simple sprouted pulse salad that offers all the benefits of cooked unsprouted pulses – lowering cholesterol, feeding good intestinal microbes, supporting colon health – while also cashing in on increased digestible protein (amino acids), vitamin concentration, and enhanced mineral availability gained through sprouting. Many non-nutrient compounds such as those known for antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects also increase with sprouting.

There is one very, very important fact to note before you dive into sprouting pulses. Legumes (pulses plus soybeans and fresh peas and beans) contain antinutritional proteins such as lectins and enzyme inhibitors. Other plants contain antinutrients as well, but legumes, especially raw legumes, contain higher, potentially toxic, amounts of antinutrients. In large amounts, lectins can cause red blood cells to clump together or irritate the intestinal lining. This may be harmful for people with autoimmune issues, in which the integrity of intestinal lining is paramount in recovery.

Fortunately, cooking reduces the activity of antinutrients, which provides a helpful antidote to consuming sprouted pulses. Some nutrients are lost and enzymes deactivated by cooking. For generally healthy people, the benefits of sprouted pulses outweigh completely removing them from the diet, as is the case for many people following a low-lectin diet.

Provided your diet contains diverse sources of whole foods, including unpasteurized fermented foods and bone broth, and provided you are cooking sprouted pulses before eating, there should be amble benefit to include sprouted pulses into your weekly diet. Repeat after me: “Sprouted pulses need to be cooked before eating.” A few raw mung or adzuki beans on a salad likely won’t harm anyone, but I wouldn’t make it a habit.

Okay, for the recipe…The ingredient that makes this salad awesome is MCT oil. It is coconut-based. As you could imagine (or taste) it contributes a sweet, nutty flavour, while the white wine vinegar gives the salad a punch. MCT oil is not common in small-town grocery stores. Health-food stores or a whole-foods grocery store will likely stock it. Truly, it is worth the money and wait. If you don’t have MCT oil on hand, use olive oil as a substitute.

Sprouted Five Pulse Salad

Prep time: 20 mins | Total time: 25 mins |  Yield: 4 cups, 8 servings | Author: Sarah Campbell


    • 2 cups sprouted mixed beans
    • 1/2 cup julienned carrot (~ 1 medium carrot)
    • 1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen greened beans
    • 2 green onion springs, sliced diagonally
    • 2 tablespoons MCT oil
    • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
    • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt


  1. In a 1-quart, wide-mouth jar with a sprouting lid or mesh and rubber band, soak 2 tablespoons each of organic mung beans, organic chickpeas, organic adzuki beans, and organic lentils for 12 hours in filtered water. Rinse the pulses with fresh water, drain, then place upside-down in a bowl. Keep out of direct sunlight. Rinse 3X per day, draining and returning the jar to the inverted position. After three days of sprouting, wash the sprouts in a bowl of fresh water. Skim off any hulls that rise to the surface. Strain beans in a colander.
  2. In a medium saucepan, cover the sprouted pulses with filtered water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, lid ajar, and cook for 20 minutes. Hulls from the beans may rise to the surface. If so, skim these and any foam with a large metal skimmer spoon.
  3. Meanwhile, julienne the carrots, slice the onions, and prepare the dressing.
  4. Once the beans are finished cooking, strain in a colander placed in a sink. Using the same saucepan, steam the green beans for 5-7 minutes, until they are bright green and tender. Avoid overcooking.
  5. In a medium serving bowl, combine all the ingredients. Mix, and serve warm or cold. This salad keeps for 2 days, stored in the refrigerator.

Tipping the balance towards cellular health and vitality

It’s said that gray hair is a crown of glory, and wrinkles, a medal of the passage of life. Gray hair and wrinkles, tell a story of life well lived; creaking bones, painful joints, blurry vision, and fatigue tell of another. It’s the story of oxidative stress, an invisible cellular damage, that leads to inflammation, degenerative disease, cancer, and body-wide aging. The magnitude of oxidative stress depends on internal and external factors, many of which are modifiable.

Oxidative stress represents the imbalance of cellular injury and repair, of pro-oxidants and antioxidant. The culprit behind it is an accumulation of free radicals and the resulting products, reactive oxygen species. These molecules have one or more unpaired electrons. An imbalance of electrons makes molecules highly reactive with lipids (fats), DNA, protein, and carbohydrates. In effect, free radicals donate or rob electrons from these stable molecules, damaging core cellular structures and altering cellular function. In the process, free radicals initiate chain reactions, which create more free radicals, thus increase cellular injury.

Antioxidants to the rescue

Antioxidants, however, inhibit chain initiation or propagation of free radicals by donating electrons without becoming unstable free radicals in return. People are most familiar with antioxidants sourced through diet. These take the form of nutrients and non-nutrients. Nutrients involved in antioxidant mechanisms include vitamins A, C, E, B2 (riboflavin), and B3 (niacin); and minerals – copper, zinc, selenium, manganese. Non-nutrients that also have an antioxidant role are glutathione (key detoxification compound) and a host of phytochemicals (non-essential food compounds that are known to bolster health). Green tea, coffee, colourful fruits vegetables and fruits, garlic and onion, red wine, turmeric and ginger are examples of various classes of phytochemicals.

In addition to diet-derived antioxidants, enzymes contribute to antioxidant defence. Detoxification enzymes, in particular, contribute by accelerating toxins (reactive intermediate detoxifying products) through detoxification pathways, quickly. Reactive intermediates, which form from toxins as a result of phase I (activation), are free radicals and cause cellular damage if not shuttled quickly to phase II (detoxification). Detoxification enzymes also regenerate antioxidant nutrients, such as vitamin C, which in turn regenerates vitamin E, an antioxidant nutrient in frontline defense protecting cell membranes from intruding free radicals. Other non-detoxification enzymes serve by repairing and replacing damaged cellular components. These include lipases, enzymes that repair cell membranes; proteases, enzymes that repair proteins; and ligases, enzymes that repair broken DNA strands. Together, antioxidants, antioxidant enzymes, and repair mechanisms comprise the antioxidant defense system. When antioxidants defense exceeds free radicals, homeostasis advances cellular health.

What are sources of free radicals?

As long as you’re living and breathing, free radicals are unavoidable; free radicals are natural by-products being Physiological levels of free radicals are necessary for cell regeneration, signalling, and production of essential compounds. At the same time, free radicals cause cell injury. Awareness of internal and external sources of free radicals is helpful in mitigating accumulation of free radicals, first and foremost. Overstimulated immune cells, bacterial infection, acute and chronic psychological stress, and intensive exercise elevate internal production of free radical production. Chemical and biological toxins, radiation, alcohol, and drugs (prescription, recreational, and over-the-counter) also generate free radicals in the body. Preformed free radicals are found in oils, seeds, and grains subject to high heat or prolonged exposure to air and light during storage. Meat and grains cooked at high temperatures in dry heat (i.e. roasting, grilling, baking, searing, sautéing, and frying) also generate free radicals.

This does not mean that competitive runners should abandon running to reduce oxidative stress. It doesn’t mean that die-hard grillers should sell their grills and steam all their meat and vegetables from now on (who does that – really?). It doesn’t demand that we become fearful of exposures to chemicals. No! There is too much life to live. Awareness of free radical sources should, on the other hand, prompt attention to prioritizing modifiable changes that reduce oxidative stress as much as possible, while holding much enjoyment in life.

Tips for reducing accumulation of free radicals

For people trying to overcome illness, a more rigorous approach may be necessary; whereas people interested in prevention of disease and maximizing current health may benefit from less stringent measures. Regardless, everyone will benefit from tipping the balance in favour of cellular health. Consider the following recommendations that align with that end:

• Become a curious observer of your thoughts. Are they towards negative self dialogue or negative thinking patterns – judgement, complaining, comparing, blaming? Do you over analyze the past or have addictive behaviours? Do you need to be in control all the time? Consider what letting go and reframing situations can do for your internal state. Becoming calm and relaxed, at ease in every situation (yes, even at work) requires thinking the best of situations, not the worst; the beautiful of others, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. The only way to change is by curiously observing your thought and being focused on making changes. This is not easy. Repetition allow this to become who you are.

Eat until you’re 80% full; avoid overeating at all costs. Converting nutrients from food into usable energy generates free radicals. One of the best to promote longevity is by eating slightly less than what your body requires.

Reduce toxin exposures.  Begin by increasing your awareness of toxic chemicals used in personal care products, household cleaners, furniture, food, and water. This can be overwhelming and even daunting at first as you grow awareness of the plethora of harmful chemicals that exist. Make change manageable by selecting one or two items to change per week. A gradual switch to natural cleaning products (baking soda, vinegar, and lemon juice) is a great start. Refer to Skin Deep Cosmetic Database for options on safer personal care products. Better yet, reduce the number of products you use in your daily regimen even if they are safer. Instead of mascara, an eyelash curler may do for your daily look. Embrace your natural beauty without make-up. Lower oxidative stress in your body will do wonders for drawing out your natural beauty.

Reduce sources of radiation. Upon reading “radiation” most people’s thoughts turn to Chernobyl, a catastrophic nuclear disaster that dispelled lethal doses of radiation. Most people don’t realize that frequent exposure to radiation from cell phones, cordless phones, Bluetooth, and wireless devices is also impacting. Effects from these sources are not on the same magnitude as from Chernobyl but add up over time. Consider unplugging or using wired alternative to wireless technology when available. Spend less time on your phone and more time with people face to face. Entertain yourself outdoors instead of with devices.

Use cooking methods that do no generate free radicals. For example, use heat stable coconut oil, avocado oil, or tallow for high-temperature cooking (>375º F). Better yet, opt for cooking methods that use low temperatures in moist heat over longer cooking times. Use a pressure cooker or slow cooker; cook roasts, stews, or whole chickens in a Dutch oven with broth on the bottom; steam, simmer, and poach your food, especially meat and grains. For die-hard grillers, marinate meat before cooking. It’s BBQ season after all!

Increasing antioxidant defense

Even when modifiable sources of free radicals are minimized, antioxidants continue to protect cells and support cellular repair from normal wear and tear. The following recommendation will increase your antioxidant defence:

Eat the rainbow of fruits and vegetables. In addition to antioxidant nutrients – vitamin E, vitamin C, and selenium – colourful fruits and vegetables contain a vast array of phytochemicals, non-essential compounds in plant-based foods that benefit health. Red, blue, purple, green, orange, yellow, brown, and white colours represent different phytochemicals, many of which have antioxidant properties. Aim to eat at least one fruit or vegetable from each color of the rainbow, including white! Cauliflower and mushrooms have antioxidants too.

Avoid taking single-antioxidant supplements. Instead, eat whole foods for a variety of antioxidants. Some antioxidants from supplements are poorly absorbed compared to those derived from food. Also, antioxidants work in concert with other antioxidants. While one antioxidant may counteract a free radical, another antioxidant is needed to regenerate the first. Taking vitamin C, for example, when vitamin E stores are low will cause vitamin C to act like a pro-oxidant (similar to a free radical). Food sources high in vitamin E include raw almonds, sunflower seeds, and hazelnuts; turnip greens, tomato paste, spinach, and dandelion greens; avocado and olive oil. Besides citrus fruit, food sources high in vitamin C are broccoli, guava, strawberries, green and red bell peppers, Brussel sprouts, and kohlrabi. Selenium is high in raw Brazil nuts and sunflower seeds; fish, beef, lean turkey and chicken; ricotta cheese; pasta, oatmeal, and bread. For those with a sweet tooth, feel good about having blackstrap molasses because it too is a high source of selenium.

Wishing you improved cellular health for fullness of life and vitality!


Hormones and liver detoxification

Hormones. We can’t live without them, but fluctuations and imbalances make being a woman a love-hate relationship. Female sex hormones, progesterone and estrogen, feminize the female skeleton and add curves that define the female silhouette. Bones become strong and blood vessel are less susceptible to injury due to female hormones. Tweaking concentrations of estrogen or progesterone, however, can lead to a host of challenges. Insufficient progesterone can cause the embarrassment of adult acne, the disappointment of infertility, and the confusion of male pattern hair growth – hair loss and hair growth in areas that look undoubtedly better on men! Excess estrogen may elicit some health concerns, including gynaecological cancers (breast, cervical, vaginal, and endometrial), fibroids, endometriosis, and elevated PMS symptoms. On the other hand, low estrogen, such as during menopause, gives way to brittle bones, dry skin and dry vagina, impaired fertility, and low libido. Hormone imbalances spell frustration. Thankfully, there are solutions. Liver detoxification is key to managing estrogen imbalances, the first step in hormonal balance.

Detoxification, the liver, and estrogens

Estrogen is an umbrella term for estradiol, estrone, and estriol. Estrogens, along with other sex hormones, are produced on-demand; they are not stored. Estrogens circulate in blood and bind to estrogen receptors on target tissues, which include brain, bone, endometrium, skin, breast, and walls of arteries. Estrogens clear from circulation via detoxification pathways in the liver. Other organ cells are able to clear estrogens, although detoxification enzymes are most concentrated in the liver. These enzymes modify estrogen to make it readily eliminated from the body via urine and feces. Detoxification is a multi-step process requiring phase I and phase II detoxification enzymes. Estrogens that enter the liver interact with phase I detoxification enzymes, which modify estrogens into one of two main products (metabolites): 2-hydroxyestrone (2-hydroxyestradial) or 16α-hydroxyestrone (16α-hydroxyestradial). For estrogen balance and chemoprotection, increasing the ratio of 2-hydroxyestrone to 16α-hydroxyestrone is desired. This is due to 2-hydroxyestrone having weak estrogenic activity. It also can occupy estrogen receptors, thereby reducing binding sites for stronger estrogens. Conversely, 16α-hydroxyestrone has strong estrogenic activity. It is a “bad estrogen,” due to its association with rapid cell division, DNA damage, and carcinogensis (1,2).

Factors that favour “good estrogen” over “bad estrogen”

Numerous factors, including dietary modifications, enhance production of 2-hydroxyestrone over 16α-hydroxyestrone, thereby lowering estrogenic activity and offering protection against estrogen-sensitive cancers. For example, indole-3-carbinol(3)from cruciferous vegetables favours the production of 2-hydroxyestrone. Consider drinking raw cabbage or sauerkraut juice to increase the protective effect of indole-3-carbinol on breast cancer cells (4). In addition, lignin from flaxseed (5)improves the ratio of 2- to 16α-hydroxyestrone. Consider adding 10 grams (1 ½ tablespoons) of freshly ground flaxseeds into your diet daily. Add it to muffins, hot cereal, meatloaf, meatballs, or as a coating for “crispy” baked chicken. One tablespoon of ground flaxseed soaked in 3 tablespoons of water  of 5 minutes can replace an egg. Aside from dietary additions, moderate-intensity physical exercise (6)and genetics (7)increase estradiol metabolism via the 2-hydroxyestron pathway. On the flip side, there are other factors that lower the 2:16 ratio by either inhibiting the 2-hydroxyestron pathway or enhancing the 16α-hydroxyestrone pathway, thereby increasing estrogenic activity and possibly enhancing carcinogenesis in estrogen-sensitive organs. Its recommended to avoid endocrine (hormone) disrupting chemicals (8,9), especially those with estrogenic effects such as phthalates in scented products and fragrances, nail polish and removers, and soft plastics; parabens in lotion and sunscreens; and bisphenol A in the lining of food cans, till receipts and plastics marked PC or #7. Try to achieve a healthy body weight, since excess body fat is a well-known risk factor for breast cancer (10)due to its alteration of estrogen processing, specifically its inhibition of 2-hydroxyestron pathway (11).

Phase II liver detoxification

The fate of estrogen metabolites, 2-hydroxyestrone and 16α-hydroxyestrone, largely depends on phase II detoxification enzymes. These convert fat-loving (lipophilic) estrogen metabolites to water-loving (polar) forms, which can then be eliminated from the body via urine or feces. Fat-loving compounds, of which includes all sex hormones, are poorly eliminated from the body. Each detoxification enzyme is dependent on nutrients to function. Low levels of vitamin B12, B6, folate, and sulphur-rich foods (see table for examples) inhibit phase II enzymes needed to finish detoxification of estrogen metabolites. Prolonged circulation of these in the body causes stronger estrogenic effects suggestive of estrogen excess.

Take home

Effects from hormonal imbalances can be corrected; women need not endure embarrassment, disappointment, and confusion from the effects of hormonal imbalance. Hormonal therapy is not always required. Understanding the fate of estrogen in the body is a great start; modifying factors that promote or inhibit certain pathways is a necessary follow-through for balancing hormones indefinitely. Once again, dietary modifications are strong factors for balancing hormones as is being active and maintaining a healthy body weight. To learn more about how liver detoxification affects systems in the body, plan to attend Whole Foods Detox Class on May 9 from 7:00-9:00 pm at the St. Elias Ukrainian Orthodox Church (basement) in Bonnyville, AB. There is so much more to say! The focus of this article was not on progesterone, the other female sex hormone. Though imbalances in progesterone are also cause for concern, it will be addressed in a future article. References 1. Bolton JL, Pisha E, Zhang F, Qiu S. Role of Quinoids in Estrogen Carcinogenesis. Chem Res Toxicol. 1998;11:1113–27. 2. Cavalieri E, Rogan E. Catechol quinones of estrogens in the initiation of breast, prostate, and other human cancers: keynote lecture. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2006;1089:286–301. 3. Reed GA, Peterson KS, Smith HJ, Gray JC, Sullivan DK, Mayo MS, Crowell JA, Hurwitz A. A phase I study of indole-3-carbinol in women: tolerability and effects. Cancer Epidemiol Biomark Prev Publ Am Assoc Cancer Res Cosponsored Am Soc Prev Oncol. 2005;14:1953–60. 4. Szaefer H, Licznerska B, Krajka-Kuźniak V, Bartoszek A, Baer-Dubowska W. Modulation of CYP1A1, CYP1A2 and CYP1B1 expression by cabbage juices and indoles in human breast cell lines. Nutr Cancer. 2012;64:879–88. 5. Brooks JD, Ward WE, Lewis JE, Hilditch J, Nickell L, Wong E, Thompson LU. Supplementation with flaxseed alters estrogen metabolism in postmenopausal women to a greater extent than does supplementation with an equal amount of soy. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;79:318–25. 6. Bentz AT, Schneider CM, Westerlind KC. The relationship between physical activity and 2-hydroxyestrone, 16alpha-hydroxyestrone, and the 2/16 ratio in premenopausal women (United States). Cancer Causes Control CCC. 2005;16:455–61. 7. Taioli E, Bradlow HL, Garbers SV, Sepkovic DW, Osborne MP, Trachman J, Ganguly S, Garte SJ. Role of estradiol metabolism and CYP1A1 polymorphisms in breast cancer risk. Cancer Detect Prev. 1999;23:232–7. 8. Colón I, Caro D, Bourdony CJ, Rosario O. Identification of phthalate esters in the serum of young Puerto Rican girls with premature breast development. Environ Health Perspect. 2000;108:895–900. 9. Sepkovic DW, Bradlow HL. Estrogen hydroxylation–the good and the bad. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2009;1155:57–67. 10. Harvie M, Hooper L, Howell AH. Central obesity and breast cancer risk: a systematic review. Obes Rev Off J Int Assoc Study Obes. 2003;4:157–73. 11. Bradlow HL, Sepkovic DW, Telang N, Tiwari R. Adipocyte-derived factor as a modulator of oxidative estrogen metabolism: implications for obesity and estrogen-dependent breast cancer. Vivo Athens Greece. 2011;25:585–8.

DIY Sprouting Jar Lids

Healthy food need not be expensive; it need not be limited to people in first-world countries; it need not require fancy equipment. Everyone, regardless of income or privilege, can regularly consume nutrient-dense, disease-preventing, anti-aging food for less than $0.10 per meal – if they are willing to learn simple skills and create do-it-yourself (DIY) systems for sprouting. Sprouts are the epitome of affordable, health food able to prevent disease, recover health, increase energy, and turn back the clock on aging.

Although some sprouting equipment makes sprouting quicker and more convenient, the basics remain foundational: a jar, seeds, a screen, a rubber band or jar ring; water, air, and warmth. Compared to spouting in plastic containers, glass jars consistently yield healthy sprouts when starting with quality organic seeds and regular rinsing – and you don’t have to worry about any toxic residues leaching into your sprouts. Almost everyone has a rubber band, nylon mesh (an old pair of women’s nylons will do, if absolutely necessary!), and a glass jar to spare. A wide-mouth canning jar or a recycled food jar formerly filled with olives, peanut butter, or Bick’s Pickles will do. If you don’t have one, just ask your neighbour or go to your local thrift store.

Other methods for sprouting include the tray, saucer, and bag method. Out of these four sprouting methods, the jar method is the most versatile, allowing you to sprout every sprouting seed, legume, and grain except mucilaginous chia, flax, cress, arugula, and psyllium seeds. These produce a gel-like substance (mucilage) as seeds germinate and require an unglazed clay saucer to sprout, successfully. This article will provide a breakdown of lid options for sprouting seeds using the jar method. If you need step-by-step instruction on how-to sprout, please reference “Sprout when in doubt,” a previous article posted on this blog.

The jar method requires a wide-mouth jar and screen or mesh covering on top, secured with a canning jar rim or a rubber band. Functionally, the screen allows for water drainage and air circulation, and must be small enough to retain small seeds (alfalfa seeds are comparable to the tip of a pen) and strong enough to retain large beans. It should also be made from non-toxic materials. Materials that fit this description include food-grade woven stainless steel mesh and some woven mesh fabric. For now, let’s look at the pro’s and con’s of four DIY sprouting lids to get you sprouting A.S.A.P.

#1 Mesh fabric and a rubber band

Though not a natural fibre, nylon-based mesh is a staple for the jar method. People have used tulle, window sheers, nylon pantyhose, or produce bags cut in 5-inch X 5-inch squares or large enough to cover a wide-mouth jar with a rubber band. Alternatively, sprouters use cheesecloth in place of nylon mesh fabric.

Pro: Easy to find in grocery, department, or thrift stores. Repurposing common household items makes sprouting affordable and convenient to start. Cheesecloth is made from cotton, a natural fibre.
Con: Nylon is synthetic so it could, potentially, introduce toxic chemicals into your sprouts. Cheesecloth holds more moisture than nylon, so it remains like a damp cloth for the duration of sprouting. Taut fabrics create a water lock, preventing water from easily draining from the jar when inverted. To break this lock, just lift the fabric slightly, then water will drain freely. This requires a few more seconds at every rinsing. The fabric needs thorough washing after every sprout batch to reduce bacterial contamination.

#2 Plastic needling canvas screen and regular jar rim (aluminum)

Picture from

Most internet blogs on DIY sprouting lids recommend plastic needling canvas as the screen. It can be made by tracing the inner lid of your canning jar with a non-toxic felt marker on a plastic needling canvas. Then, with regular household scissors, cut out the circle, place it inside your jar ring, and screw it onto your sprouting jar. These cost about $0.10 per sprouting lid.

Pro: Inexpensive. Materials are easy to source (Walmart or other craft store carry plastic needling canvas). No rust, at least initially.
Con: Plastic is plastic is plastic regardless of whether it is hard or soft, flexible or rigid. Plastics are made of synthetic polymers that can disrupt endocrine (hormonal) function regardless of how minimal its contact with food. Disruption to endocrine function doesn’t require high doses of endocrine disrupting chemicals. Meniscal changes in hormonal concentrations that occur naturally in the body are sufficient to initiate puberty, sustain pregnancy, and trigger menopause, and determine fertility. When non-plastic options are available, it is much safer to choose these instead of risking the exposure to plastics.

#3 Stainless steel jar rims and woven food-grade stainless steel screen

Picture from

Many sprouting lid packages sold in health food stores contain stainless steel jar rings and a circular woven stainless steel screen insert. Regular canning rings are aluminum-based, which rust in the presence of water. Avid sprouters have encountered this, giving rise to stainless steel sprouting rims and screen. These sell for $6.50 – $18.00 per jar lid.

Pros: Durable, rust-free, promotes easy rinsing and drainage, easy to clean, and sanitary.
Cons: Sourcing stainless steel jar rings, even on the internet is not easy (I found it impossible without buying a wholesale amount); thus, this may not be a realistic DIY project. Buying these in sprouting lid packages is the most expensive lid option, but it may be worth the expense if you plan on sprouting, regularly.

#4 Plastic rim with a woven food-grade stainless steel srceen

This is the best of the stainless steel lid option (#3) and the plastic canvas lid option (#2). Lids with a plastic ring and stainless steel screen can be purchased, pre-made, in bundles of five at a health food stores or for $25-$30. For the DIY-type of person, below are instructions to make this lid option at home:

Purchase plastic wide-mouth plastic storage lids meant for canning jars. Next, cut out the inside of the rim with a utility knife, preferably one with a hook blade used to cut shingles.

Hook blades available at most hardware stores.

For the inner screen, source food grade stainless steel mesh, which is classified as Type 304. Look for mesh with a 0.6mm aperture or 30 square mesh count per inch. This gauge is fine enough to retain alfalfa seeds, the smallest sprouting seed.

If you are afraid that the metal mesh contains impurities even though it is food grade or if you simply can’t source it, repurpose an old fry pan splash guard into sprouting lid screens. Thrift stores may have old splash guards that have past their prime as splash guards but serve as perfect sprouting screens. With a non-toxic marker, simply trace the inner jar lid from a canning jar onto the stainless steel mesh. Using sheet metal cutting scissors, cut the outside of the traced line to ensure the woven metal fits snuggly rather than loosely into the plastic rim. Lastly, insert the mesh screen into the plastic rim. Viola! You have a functional and safe sprouting lid for around $1.50 or less.

Pro: Inexpensive, durable, rust-free, easy rinsing and drainage, easy to clean, sanitary, minimal contact between plastic and sprouts than plastic canvas screen.
Con: Some plastic remains in contact with the sprouts. Requires sheet metal cutting scissors and a utility knife in addition to the basic lid items. Food-grade woven metal mesh may be difficult to source, locally, though it is available on


There you have it – the pros and cons of four DIY jar sprouting lids. No system is perfect. Decide what features are important to you – expense, durability, ease of rinsing, free of plastics – and how many jar lids you need to supply you and your family with sprouts daily (aim for 1 cup per person, daily). Then, choose your lid option. As always, DIY lids are least expensive, but for some people, buying pre-made lids, regardless of price, is worth the investment for health and time. Now get sprouting!





Me-for-You Resolutions

You’ve make a resolution for 2018. You know what you want to achieve, how to achieve it, who it will involve, where it will be pursued, and when it will be completed – ideally. New Year’s resolutions usually involve improving health whether that’s by shredding pounds, eating healthier, getting quality sleep, exercising regularly, building into relationships, or taking more alone time. All of these are notable pursuits, but what happens when progress stalls, time pressures hit, tensions rise, and physical limitation are realized (i.e. time, energy, and money are not infinite). How will you stay committed to your goals for the long haul well after the new year hype has waned?

People often abandon their goals for one of three reasons: (1) the goals are unrealistic, (2) skills or knowledge for achieving goals are lacking, or (3) personal conviction is too weak. The first two are relatively easy to correct. Unrealistic goals, such as losing fifty pounds in two months, can be reframed in smaller manageable goals set in realistic and healthy time frames. Becoming confident in executing action towards a goal may require registering for a class, asking a friend to teach you, hiring an expert, or watching several YouTube videos to teach yourself (that’s how I learned web-building). Maintaining conviction, thus staying motivated, is the crux.

Creating stronger conviction

People struggle with commitment because they lose sight of why they are pursuing health investments that cost them time, energy, sleep, and, perhaps, money. Without meaningful “why’s” at the foundation, challenges can easily thwart good intentions. So, I propose that the strongest “why’s” – the “why’s” that double the motivational strength to keep going when we feel like throwing in the towel – are those that focus on the benefits to you as well as others. I’ve termed this mindset Me-for-You.

Mainstream health messages propose, “Do it for yourself” – and it stops there. I’m proposing something that looks similar outwardly, but is framed by a vastly different mindset. I propose that you invest into yourself for you and for the benefit of others. Me-for-You investments – exercising, meditation, prayer, healthy eating, alone time – launch the capacity to benefit others. When you have energy, you can give energy; when you are loving, you can extend love. Neither energy, love, peace, nor joy come naturally to most people without an investment in healthy habits, healing brokenness, and personal growth. Me-for-You mindsets recognize that the best gift I can give to other is a healthy self. Benefit to others, then, becomes the overarching pursuit; personal investments become a means to that end; and your motivation for sticking with the challenge strengthens.

Absolute health is not required

If you’re thinking optimal healthy is required for Me-for-You living, it’s simply not true. A long-time friend, who has endured substantial energy deficits for thirty-plus years due to chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME), showed me that physical weakness does not limit her from being all she can be for herself and others. She insists on vacuuming to stimulate her muscles even though her husband has gladly offered his energy over hers. She eats regularly to stabilize what little energy her body extracts from food (CFS disrupts energy metabolism in the mitochondria). She eats as healthy as she knows how to best manage her nutrition-related chronic diseases and prevent further deterioration. Personal investments allow her to have enough energy to call people, write encouraging cards, knit dish cloths, and allow some visits on better days. Abounding health is not necessary for benefitting others and not necessarily more effective, though better health can increase our potential to benefit others.

What Me-for-You looks like in my life

In December, I turned the big 3-0! With that came some reflection on my 20’s, namely the sharp contrast between how I thought that decade would unfold versus what was. Can anyone relate? Looking towards my 30’s, I thought about what I want to pursue and where I want to invest my energy and time despite ongoing environmental limitations.

I am already convinced that health is a gift needing regular health investments for maintenance and restoration. Somehow going from needing six hours in bed a day (plus 10-11 hours at night) to running and cooking again has given me a new-found appreciation for health. Having a Me-for-You mindset helps to strengthen that conviction, especially when I want to become lazy with my diet, exercise, and prayer life. I think about the other aspects of my life, such as travel and climbing, that will be recovered by staying disciplined. Greater yet, I am thinking about the awareness and skills I can bring to others in helping them recover or maintain their health.

If my nearly three years with CFS taught me anything, it was to hold all plans loosely while pursing them intently. Health can change without warning or reason despite doing the right things – or so I think. These setbacks don’t leave me helpless in all respects. I have to wipe away tears, and remind myself how far I’ve come. When setbacks strike, I can continue working towards my goal, although it may look different and be at a different speed than if I had normal resources (i.e. energy without environmental sensitivities). Whatever state of health you’re in, think Me-for-You to help strengthen your conviction for health investments this new year.

Wishing you the best in 2018,

Guaranteed ways NOT to gain 5+ pounds these holidays

Come January, advertisements for weekend detoxes, fat-burning shakes, and weight loss plans to shed 10 lbs in 10 days will be circuiting to the masses who are uncomfortable with their holiday indulgences. The stash of cream puffs, short bread cookies, spiced nuts, eggnog lattes will be put away. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy – been there, ate that. All that’s left in the fridge may be limp lettuce or dried out veggies that remained on appetizer plates, obviously left behind for something more delectable.

While I’m not opposed to decadent holiday food – I have my far share and enjoy every bite! – I am opposed to the mindset with which people approach holiday celebrations. Broadly it is summarized as the “enjoy now, lose weight later” mindset. People with this approach are usually the ones looking for drastic weight loss methods to recover their pre-holiday weight. They may use semi-starvation, fad diets, non-therapeutic food restrictions, medications, or intensive detoxes to shed holiday pounds, fast.

Of course, a few-pound increase over the holidays is quite normal, owing to Christmas truly being a special time of celebration that involves more sugar, fat, and salt. Extra sugar and salt hold more water, so the weight gained is not entirely all extra padding (a.k.a. fat). The problem is when holiday weight gain exceeds a little, and the overeating taxes the body and weakens the immune system. This article is intended to help you assess whether you have conscious or unconscious mindsets that promote weight gain over the holidays. The battle is lost and won in the mind, so let’s do some mind work now to save later.

1. Are you deferring weight loss to your 2018 New Year’s resolution list?

Discussing New Year’s Resolutions may sound premature with Christmas still a month away. But hear me out: Going into this Christmas season already thinking of using quick weight loss programs come January is giving the mind liberty to indulge in whatever looks appealing. Essentially, strength for self-control (we all have it) drops a few notches because the mind is set on future reactionary approaches for weight management rather than present proactive approaches. Encountering the dessert table that seems to call your name from across the room will be much easier to deal with holiday eating is dealt with head-on. Preventing excessive weight gain requires an active plan, a resolve to be healthy, to respect yourselves, and to use your resources (time, energy, mental clarity, skills) for things other than weight loss.

Don’t get me wrong. New years are great times for making changes, setting goals, kicking bad habits, developing a new skill. January speaks motivation simply because we associate it with a fresh start. However, this motivation may be more worthwhile for personal development rather than losing holiday weight because holiday weight gain can be prevented.

2. Are you skipping meals prior to a holiday feast?

Those who save their daily calories to splurge on a later meal are not doing their waistlines any favours. Eating one large, rich meal over a day versus multiple meals – even if both scenarios provide the same number of calories – will have vastly different effects on weight. Spikes in blood sugar, thus insulin levels, is to blame.

As carbohydrates-containing foods are digested, blood sugar rises. Insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas, rises in response to blood sugar to facilitate movement of sugar from the blood into cells. Without insulin, sugar would remain in the blood and damage blood vessels. The downside to insulin is its fat-stimulating effect. Blood sugar spikes, thus insulin, are related to eating foods with simple sugars (e.g. white bread and pasta, desserts, refined foods) and large portions. Even eating oversized portions of healthy carbohydrate-rich foods, such as quinoa, amaranth, steel-cut oats, and wild rice, can elevate blood sugar levels. So can powdered protein powders, because the body can converts excess protein to sugar, which is then stored as fat. In summary, do your body a favour: don’t starve it during the day to indulge at one meal, regardless of how decadent the food is.

3. Are you socializing near food and have treats left in the open – everywhere?

Whether at the office or at a family Christmas gathering, food, especially high sugar, high fat, and high carb food, tends to be everywhere. Frequent exposure to calorie-dense, nutrient-low food, characteristic of the holidays, makes it tough to prevent weight gain.

I’m not suggesting holiday foods should be avoided outside of a couple holiday meals. No. People express the joys of the season through food – and rightly so. The giver infuses food she prepares with love; the grateful consumers receives this love as pleasant satisfaction on their taste buds. If there was ever a person who appreciated the rich value of food, outside of its mere nutritional value, I’d be she. However, I’ve learned the art of tempering low-nourishing food with food that  nourishes my body. Feeling like crap when I eat not-so-good-for-me foods is very motivating to stay the healthier course.

We can’t deny that too many of these holiday treats add up over a month and a half of celebrations. To make it easier on yourself this Christmas, take your socializing away from food. It will be there later. At holiday parties, chat away from food tables. Be more engaged in people than the food. Help put food away after holiday meals, so there is less chance of nibbling all evening. Don’t sit next to the nut bowl. At least if you have a handful it will require walking over to the bowl instead of just reaching for it. Encourage family members or colleagues to join you in a walk to grab some fresh air and exercise rather than grazing over snacks. Lastly – and this may sound rather odd – brush your teeth after a meal. For some, a clean mouth may add extra motivation to avoid more finger food.

4. Are you eating like Christmas dinner is your last supper?

Christmas holidays come once a year, yet birthdays, weddings, baptisms, baby showers, Easter, summer BBQ’s, etc. offer many other times throughout the year to celebrate with special food and people. Still many approach Christmas like it was their last good meal, the mindset of getting their fill before Christmas passes. Certainly, my grandma’s homemade perogies, nalysnyky, cabbage rolls, and kasha are special to Christmas and Easter. I look forward to these traditional Ukrainian foods every year. However, good food doesn’t end with  the season. Temper what you eat this holiday season, knowing celebrations continue over the year.

A new mindset I leave you with

There are several conscious and unconscious mindsets people have around the holidays that lead to easy weight gain. Prioritizing healthy foods in appropriate portions is valuable for preventing weight gain over the holidays. Keep in mind that enjoying holiday foods with friends and family is equally valuable and health-promoting. Calorie counters: Go easy on yourself. Rather than feeling regret from overindulging or lonely from adhering to a long list of “do not eat,” the best mindset to approach holiday eating is one of thankfulness for good food, a healthy body, and your loved ones. 



Six Ways to Make Fermented Vegetables Appealing to Kids

Let’s face it: Few children are naturally fond of vegetables. When given the choice between vegetables and fruit, most children will choose the sweeter option. Perhaps carrots and sweet red bell pepper may make it into their mouth. Other vegetables like broccoli, asparagus, or spinach may remain on their plates long after everyone else has left the dinner table. There are, however, those children – most angelic in a dietitian’s eyes – who ask for vegetables and devour asparagus and daikon radishes without being told or bribed.

If you thought vegetables were difficult to make appealing to kids, fermented vegetables may be even more difficult. Tangy, sour, and odd-textured, fermented vegetables may either be hit or miss among children. Some kids love pickles or sauerkraut (at least some days of the week or times of the day) while other kids can’t stand the smell of a cleaned sauerkraut jar. When handing out samples at markets, I’ve seen numerous puckered faces with squinted eyes and scrunched noses upon first trying sauerkraut. Regardless whether children are asking for more or are repulsed by the smell, there are ways to make vegetable ferments more appealing. Below are six tips to make fermented vegetables more appealing to children.

Make fermented vegetables at home

Increasingly, children are more and more removed from knowing where food comes from. The same is true of traditional food practices such as fermentation. Ask children where cabbage comes from. Likely, they’ll respond, somewhat accurately, “The grocery store.” Ask children where sauerkraut comes from. If they’ve never seen it being made at home or stored in the fridge after purchasing from the market, they may not have the slightest idea about its origin. The mystery of fermented vegetables will remain a mystery if children aren’t shown or told about it.

Exposing children to the process of fermenting cucumbers from the garden into dill pickles, yummy carrot sticks into pickled carrots, or shredded cabbage into sauerkraut may help them connect the dots between field and plate. Familiarity with a food’s origin may break down barriers kids have to trying new foods, such that their curiosity may prompt some sampling.

Be the role model

Children are notorious for being copy-cats! Guess what mom and dad. You are their heroes, the ones they look up to, the ones they watch intently, the ones whose words, behaviours, and emotions they copy – at least until they become teenagers. Even if children do not have a natural palate for vegetables, seeing their role models (i.e. you) eat fermented vegetables may persuade them to try it too.


We’ve heard it said, children need up to twenty food exposures before they develop a liking for it. Seeing role models eat fermented vegetables is one type of food exposure; offering it to children in a variety of ways is another. A highly acclaimed expert in raising healthy children and creating stress-free eating experiences, Ellen Satyr, coined a well-known feeding principle for parents. She recommends parents determine when, where, and what food is served, while children determine how much they eat or if they eat at all. Children have the choice to refuse any food presented to them. This may sound off to those of us raised with the expectation of finishing everything on our plate before leaving the table.

Satyr’s method for presenting food to children has stuck with me since first hearing it. Applied to fermented vegetables, it means parents are responsible for presenting vegetable ferments as many as twenty times to their children with the chance (or likelihood) of repeat rejection. And that’s completely okay. You’ve done your job. Consider starting with as little as one teaspoon of sauerkraut on sausage dogs, a slice or two of fermented dill pickles in a grilled sandwich, a few sticks of fermented carrots with dip, a tablespoon of kraut or pickle brine (loaded with probiotics) in smoothies, or a dollop of fermented salsa with tacos.

NOTE: Fermented vegetables are not recommended in high amounts for infants under one year old. The salt and type of lactic acid, D(-) lactic acid, from fermented vegetables can overwhelm the kidney filtration capacity. Priming their taste buds with the tangy, sour taste of fermented foods is best done in small doses. For example, parents can dip their finger into fermented brine from sauerkraut, kvass, or pickles, then put it into the infant’s mouth. Be ready with a camera to catch a puckered face!! Whoohoo!

The earlier the exposure to fermented vegetables, the more accepting children may be of tangy fermented foods. That means better gut health!

Make it tactile

Children love getting their hands in things, especially if that means smearing, squeezing, and tossing wet shredded food around in a giant bowl. They are often told, “Don’t play with food.” However, involving your children in making a batch of sauerkraut, gives them an excuse to break the rules. It also helps children associate sauerkraut with fun. Even if involving them makes a mess, it is well worth creating a positive experience for your children with foods they may otherwise reject. Brooms were meant for sweeping up things dropped on the floor. Relax. Enjoy the moment, and be ready with a broom.

Another way to make fermentation tactile is by asking children to help press shapes in carrots, daikon radishes, kohlrabi, bell peppers, or turnips for lacto-fermented (brine-pickled) vegetables. Vegetable cutters are available from Amazon here. Again, children who are involved in food prep are more likely to sample the end product.

Highlight the art

Colour is pleasing to the eye regardless of age. As children learn colours, vegetable fermentation offers a great review: purple from cabbage and beets; orange from carrots and bell peppers; white from cabbage, onions, leeks, garlic, and cauliflower; red from chili peppers and tomatoes; yellow from zucchini and onions; green from broccoli, celery, kohlrabi, cucumbers, and summer cabbage.

Parents may also want to highlight the change in colour as fermentation progresses. Making sauerkraut with a combination of green and purple cabbage will yield a transformation from deep, dark purple with distinct green shreds to a wash in pink. Likewise, pickled cucumbers start bright green, then yield a mossy green as the lactic acid bacteria work their magic.

Share the science and health of fermentation

Lastly – the part I am most passionate about sharing – teach children about the beneficial microbes. Use the spontaneous bubbles that surface on the second or third day of fermentation to teach children about invisible microbes. Explain that the bubbles are carbon dioxide being produced by microbes, which is the same gas we exhale. Bubbles are evidence that there are tiny germs living in the ferment. Link these germs to the health benefit we receive from eating these foods. Of course, a picture of smiling microbes always helps emphasize that these microbes are friendly and nice – nice for our taste buds and nice for our bodies.

I hope your children will develop a liking for vegetable ferments, thus a healthy gut for current and future health. Who knows. Maybe they’ll like fermentation so much that they start drinking cabbage juice from the bottom of the bowl. A special thanks to Joelle and Morgan Allan for allowing me to do some science, art, math, and health with their three cute kids.




Zucchini Dill Pickle Soup

There are few recipes containing homemade lacto-fermented vegetables that I will subject to heat. High heat kills bacteria – good and bad – and my aim is always to develop recipes intended to optimize good bacteria for the gut. So this recipe is a stretch for me: I know heat will undoubtedly reduce the amount of probiotics in this soup compared to eating a raw fermented pickle. Here, I’ve relented and allowed the flavour of fermented foods to trump its functional benefit. Although some probiotics will be destroyed by heating the soup, I’ve tried to minimize the loss by adding the pickle juice (a potent source of probiotics) at the end and keeping the heat low. Canned or store-bought Bick’s Dill Pickles are completely fine to use instead of fermented pickles.

Gut health goodness isn’t entirely sacrificed in this soup. I’ve added more as prebiotics from pureed cannellini beans. This bean puree also adds “creaminess” to this dairy-free soup. Don’t worry about losing out on calcium though. White beans – be that navy (pea), Great Northern, or cannellini – all contain higher amounts of calcium than any other pulse, actually triple that of black or kidney beans. These beans also add fibre, which will stabilize blood sugar and promote healthy bowel movements. Hey, we all need to go!

Zucchini Dill Pickle Soup

Prep time: 10 mins | Total time: 25 mins |  Yield: 8 servings | Author: Sarah Campbell
nightshades, dairy, gluten, grains, soy, eggs, nuts


  •  2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon celery salt
  • 6 cups diced zucchini with softer skin
  • 2 tablespoons fresh or frozen dill weed
  • 2/3 cup cooked cannellini beans
  • 3 cups homemade chicken broth
  • ½ cup finely diced dill pickle (1 large or 2 medium)
  • 2 tablespoons dill pickle juice
  • 1 teaspoon unrefined sea salt
  • freshly ground pepper to taste
Ingredient Tip: Use small to medium-sized zucchini rather than large zucchini the size of a baseball bat. The larger, more mature zucchini develop a bitter flavour due to concentration of cucurbitacins, a bitter-flavoured chemical in zucchini and cucumber. It is best to use zucchini with skin still tender enough for your fingernail to penetrate. Using mature zucchini with thick skin may cause the soup to become a tad bitter.


  1. Heat a 8-quart pot over medium, then add the olive oil. Sauté onion for 10 minutes, reducing heat if necessary to prevent the onion from browning too much. Browned onion may create off flavours.
  2. Add minced garlic and celery salt; sauté for one minute, then add zucchini and stir. Continue sautéing for another 10 minutes or until zucchini have reduced in volume and have become tender. Add a quarter cup broth if moisture is needed before zucchini has reached tenderness.
  3. Meanwhile, puree the cannellini beans with ¼ – ½ cup broth in a blender. Pour the remaining chicken broth into the zucchini mixture; stir to distribute heat from the vegetables into the cool broth. Transfer this mixture to the blender with pureed beans. Blend on high for a smooth consistency for 1-2 minutes, less for a chunkier texture.
  4. Transfer puree vegetable mixture back into the pot and warm mildly, trying to avoid a rapid boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Add diced dill pickles. If pickle juice is fermented add at the end to preserve as many good microbes as possible. If pickle juice is from canned pickles, then it can be added with the dill pickles.

1 serving equals 1 cup

Should kombucha be avoided like alcohol during pregnancy?

Access from

Kombucha, a fermented beverage made from brewed tea and sugar, is vogue in North America. We are catching up to other parts of the world like China, Russia, and Germany where people have consumed this beverages for centuries. This slightly sweet, acidic, and carbonated tea beverage became popular with the advent of research in the microbiome. Easy and quick to make, it is touted for reducing blood pressure, relieving arthritis, improving immunity, aiding with digestion, and even preventing cancer, although none of these claims are substantiated by research. Still, no one can deny the wealth of anecdotal testimonies that attest to improved health. People feel better when drinking kombucha regularly. Could the reason that they “feel better” have anything to do with the alcohol content? And if the alcohol content is enough to get a buzz off, is it actually safe for women planning on being pregnant or who are currently pregnant?

The how-to’s of kombucha

Alcohol in kombucha is found as ethanol, a major by-product of yeast fermentation. Similar to brewing beer or wine, yeast cultures convert sugar to ethanol. Kombucha is made by brewing tea leaves in boiling water with 50-150g/L (5-15%) of sugar (sucrose) added. After 10 minutes, tea leaves are removed; the brew is cooled; and a mushroom-like SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) is added to the mix (1). Yeast inside the SCOBY breakdown sugar into glucose and fructose, then convert the majority of glucose to ethanol and carbon dioxide. In the presence of oxygen (air), bacteria then complete the process by converting ethanol and some glucose to acetic acid (vinegar) and gluconic acid.

After 7-10 days of fermenting, the end product tastes slightly sweet due to the remaining glucose and fructose. This fermentation process does not convert 100% of the sugars into end-products, leaving this as a sugar-containing beverage (sorry to all you ketos and paleos out there). It also tastes acidic due to less than1% of acetic acid and a pH of 2.5. You may not taste any alcohol, but, I assure you, it’s there, at least 0.5% after 7-10 days of incubation (2).

Being technical about alcohol

According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, “a beverage containing 1.1% or more alcohol by volume is considered to be an alcoholic beverage (3). Low-alcohol beverages are those with less than 1.1% alcohol weight by volume, and non-alcoholic beverages contain less than 0.5% (4). For comparison, regular beer, ale, stout, or porter contain between 4.1 – 5.5% of alcohol.

What’s the big deal?

So what’s the problem for pregnant women if kombucha contains a level of alcohol consistent with a non-alcoholic beverage? Uh…a couple things.

First, drinking non-alcoholic beverages in excessive amounts can concentrate alcohol in the mother’s system. There are a number of unknown factors related to how quickly a woman can detoxifies alcohol, which affects how much gets to the fetus. This is why Health Canada says, “There is no safe amount or safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy or when planning to be pregnant” (5). That being said, kombucha is non-alcoholic beverage, so what gives? The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises the general public not to consume more than 4 oz. per day of kombucha for multiple health reasons (6).

Second, unpasteurized kombucha that is bottled continues to ferment and may produce up to 3% alcohol, the alcohol strength of light beer. This would most certainly raise some concerns for pregnant women. Unless kombucha is pasteurized, yeast continues to convert sugars into ethanol after it is bottled. In anaerobic conditions (i.e. in bottled kombucha), carbon dioxide inhibits bacteria from converting ethanol into acetic acid (2). Some commercial kombucha producers recalled unpasteurized versions of kombucha since many contained 3% alcohol, which legally requires alcoholic labelling and new tax legislation as reported by Severson (7). This caused Whole Foods to remove bottle after bottle of unpasteurized kombucha from its shelves in June 2010.

Pasteurization kills yeast and bacteria, thereby preventing further ethanol accumulation during storage. The drawback to pasteurizing kombucha, however, is losing beneficial microbes, the very microbes that make kombucha a healthy drink.

The choice is ultimately yours

Continuing to drink kombucha prior to or during pregnancy is a personal decision. It is technically a non-alcoholic beverage, although very small amounts of alcohol still exist. When fermented properly, following hygienic procedures and the correct incubation time, alcohol content and the potential for pathogenic bacteria can be minimized. Kombucha, like other fermented foods, contain beneficial bacteria, which are of the highest importance before, during, and after pregnancy for the future health of the next generation. There is no reason why pregnant women should exclude fermented foods; there is reason for these women to be especially careful in choosing fermented foods that are correctly, thus safely made.

Have questions about safely making your own fermented foods with optimal nutritional content, beneficial microbes, and the lowest alcohol content that is safe for pregnancy?

Want to know how I can help you?

Please send me a note using the “Contact” form on the tab above and I’ll reply shortly.



  1. Greenwalt CJ, Steinkraus KH, Ledford RA. Kombucha, the fermented tea: microbiology, composition, and claimed health effects. J Food Prot. 2000;63:976–81.
  2. Nummer BA. Kombucha brewing under the Food and Drug Administration model Food Code: risk analysis and processing guidance. J Environ Health. 2013;76:8–11.
  3. Government of Canada CFIA. Labelling Requirements for Alcoholic Beverages [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2017 Sep 13]. Available from:
  4. Government of Canada CFIA. Labelling Requirements for Alcoholic Beverages [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2017 Sep 13]. Available from:
  5. Canada PHA of, Canada PHA of. Alcohol and pregnancy: The Sensible Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy [Internet]. aem. 2011 [cited 2017 Sep 13]. Available from:
  6. Unexplained Severe Illness Possibly Associated with Consumption of Kombucha Tea — Iowa, 1995 [Internet]. [cited 2017 Sep 13]. Available from:
  7. Severson K. Kombucha May Be Treated Like Alcohol, Government Says [Internet]. Diner’s Journal Blog. 1277492072 [cited 2017 Sep 13]. Available from:


African Basil Beet Kvass

Repeat after me…”Beet kvass is not like grape juice, and it is not wine.” Beet kvass is made from beets, which ultimately have an earthy taste. Regardless of how you flavour basic beet kvass, it will still have a beety taste. Sorry, if you’re not a fan of beets, you may not enjoy beet kvass. However, I hope you’ll grow to enjoy it because it has a stellar nutritional profile.

African Basil Beet Kvass

Vessel: 5 L airlock jar |  Fermentation Time: 3 weeks |  Yield: 3 L  | Author: Sarah Campbell


  • 4 lbs. large organic beets
  • 1 tablespoon whole cloves
  • 2 teaspoons whole anise seed
  • 8 basil flowers or 2 cups whole basil stems
  • 16 cups filtered or distilled water
  • 19-38 grams (~5-9 teaspoons) unrefined sea salt for a 0.5-1% brine


Primary Fermentation (brine with beets)

  1.  If using fresh beets from the garden, let rest in the root cellar or fridge for a week, beet greens removed. When ready, wash beets well. Peel if using non-organic beets; otherwise, trim the stem and any blemishes and cut into, roughly, one-inch cubes.
  2. Boil 4 cups of water, add salt, and stir to dissolve. Add remaining water to make a 0.5-1% brine. Water should be cool or lukewarm, not hot. Set aside.
  3. Add basil flowers at the bottom of the jar, then the beets, cloves, and anise seed. The airlock-adapted Fido jar should be ½ full.
  4. Pour cooled brine just below the neck of the jar (i.e. almost all the way to the top). The beets, herbs, and spices may float to the top, but that is okay. Fill airlock with filtered water to the fill-line. Insert through the lid into the grommet. Clamp lid.
  5. Ferment in a warm place, 18-22º C, for at least 10 days out of direct sunlight. Consider a longer fermenting time of 2-3 weeks to develop deeper flavour and acidity. Beet kvass should not taste like salty beet water.

Secondary Fermentation (only beet brine)

Strain beets, herbs, and spices from brine (beet kvass). Transfer to clean swing-top bottles (expect a 3L yield). If the taste suits your preference, transfer to the fridge. For fizz and further flavour depth, leave the sealed bottles at room temperature for several more days or weeks. Additional spices or herbs such as turmeric, lavender, whole basil leaves, or cayenne pepper can be added to adjust or enhanced flavour. When finished, add drops of stevia for a sweeter taste.

Start with an ounce per day, working up to ¼ cup on an empty stomach for better nutrient absorption. Try to consume the batch within one month.

Transfer leftover beets to a jar, covered with beet kvass, and top with lid. Store in the fridge and use on salads, in wraps, or traditional Russian borscht.


Caution: Straining beet brine from the beets can get a tad messy!

Why fermented beet juice is hard to beat

We all know (at least I hope you do) that vegetables and fruits are good for health and disease prevention owing to their abundance of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and fibre. Red beetroots, not to be confused with sugar beets, are particularly healthy. Beetroots have betacyanins, a deep-red pigment, that stimulates cancer cell death (apoptosis) in breasts, lung, and skin cancers and has high antioxidant capacity (1,2). Beetroots also contain high amounts of flavonoids, phenolic compounds, and organic acids in addition to betacyanins. Together, these compounds are anti-inflammatory and neutralize free radicals, which damage cells and DNA, and, ultimately, contribute to cancer, heart diseases, and aging.

Dietary nitrates in beetroots drive other health benefits. When converted to nitrite then to nitric oxide in the body, beetroot juice relaxes blood vessels, increase blood flow, and promotes oxygen uptake by muscles. Nitric oxide is the most potent compound for dilating blood vessels (vasodialator), something that has caught athlete’s attention (3). A recent 2017 study with 32 soccer players given 140mL of beetroot juice for six consecutive days showed improvements in high-intensity intermittent-type running performance and lower heart rate (4). Beetroot juice has become the rage among endurance athletes when its sports performance benefit became realized. Some studies have failed to duplicate these results (5), yet timing and dose of beetroot juice and many inter-individual variables such as conditioning, arginine status, and duration and intensity of exercise may explain these differences.

Beetroot juice: a concentrated form of beetroot goodness

Beetroot juice is the most nutrient-dense and convenient way to attain the goodness of beetroots in a therapeutic dose. You would need to eat beet after beet after beet to get the same amount of betacyanins as in a couple ounces of beetroot juice. Squeezing and pressing beets destroys the fibre structure, thereby releasing valuable compounds and making nutrients available for absorption (6). Drinking a shot or two of beetroot juice daily ensures betacyanins, flavonoids, phenolic compounds, organic acids – not to mention vitamins and minerals inherent in beets – are absorbed into the bloodstream and exert their benefits. That being said, fresh or roasted beetroots in salads or as a side remains a healthy way to enjoy beetroots, just don’t expect any earth-shattering therapeutic effects. And don’t be alarmed when you see red-tinged urine in the toilet bowl: eating beets will color your urine.

If you thought fresh beetroot juice was great for health, fermented beetroot juice is even better

Lacto-fermented beetroot juice is made by inoculating fresh beetroot juice with a culture. Alternatively, beet kvass is another type of fermented beetroot juice made from brine of fermented beets. Beet kvass originated in Ukraine and is popular throughout Eastern Europe. Both methods yield high amounts of betacyanins. Betacyanins in beetroot juice are unstable, especially as storage time increases. However, betacyanins optimally stabilize in acidic conditions (6). Lactic acid fermentation reduces degradation since it achieves a pH of around 4.0. Compared to non-fermented beetroot juice, betacyanin levels in fermented beetroot juice stay stable for about 30 days in an airtight swing-top bottle (7).

Fermenting beetroot juice also creates other types of betacyanins, betanidin and isobetanidin, unique to fermented beets (7). Essentially, these new betacyanins add more antioxidant potential in every shot you drink. Because acidity will stabilize these compounds during storage, you will be receiving more antioxidant benefits than you would by drinking non-fermented beetroot juice. I hope you’re thinking less risk of disease and wrinkles!! I certainly am.

Those who are watching their blood sugar-levels and carbohydrate intake need not worry about sugar in beetroot juice. Fermented beetroot juice is diabetic-, paleo-, and keto-friendly because lactic acid bacteria consume naturally occurring sugars in the fermentation process. Compared to non-fermented beetroot juice, the fermented variety has half the total sugars. Furthermore, regular beetroot juice often has lemon or apple juice added to preserve vitamin C. As you could imagine, this increases total sugar content. Lacto-fermentation naturally preserves vitamin C, so adding lemon and apple juice is not needed.

If that wasn’t enough, here’s one more reason for drinking fermented beetroot juice: lactic acid bacteria in beet kvass produce short-chain fatty acids during fermentation. These fatty acids promote health by maintaining healthy colon cells and decreasing substances known to promote abnormal cell growth (i.e. tumors) in the intestine.

Tips for successful and delicious beet kvass (recipe posted next week)

To be honest, the first time I made and tasted my homemade beet kvass, I only drank it for the health benefits. You’d be surprised what I eat and drink for health. Green smoothies with raw chicken liver anyone? Since my early days fermenting, I’ve learned a lot about fermentation in general, including how to make beet kvass that actually tastes good and does not have a salty undertone. Here are a few tips:

  • Start with your largest clamp-lid jar adapted with an airlock. Tasty beet kvass should not have any oxygen exposure. Yeast and mould growth with certainly produce off flavours in your kvass.
  • When buying beets from the grocery store, look for the firm beets about the size of your fist. Ideally these would be fresh, local, and organic.
  • When using beets from your garden, detach the greens and let the root sit for a week before progressing. Starches will convert to simpler sugars during this time in a similar way that ripened fruit tastes sweeter than unripened.
  • Chop beets in cubes no smaller than an inch. Smaller pieces will progress fermentation too quickly
  • Opt for longer fermentation. Previously, I began drinking my kvass after 10 days of fermenting. Now, I let it ferment for 2-3 weeks at 18-23º C before tasting it. If it does not taste like salty beet water, I will add herbs or spices and let it sit for another 2-4 days for flavours to meld. Afterward, I strain the beets from the brine, pour the brine (kvass) into a swing-top bottle, and refrigerate.
  • Although beet kvass gets richer and perhaps fizzier with time, I try to drink it within 30 days before nutritional value Lactobacillus bacteria drop off.

Stay tuned for next week’s post when I bring you a recipe for African Basil Beet Kvass. It is still fermenting…



  1. Kapadia GJ, Tokuda H, Konoshima T, Nishino H. Chemoprevention of lung and skin cancer by Beta vulgaris (beet) root extract. Cancer Lett. 1996;100:211–4.
  2. Das S, Filippone SM, Williams DS, Das A, Kukreja RC. Beet root juice protects against doxorubicin toxicity in cardiomyocytes while enhancing apoptosis in breast cancer cells. Mol Cell Biochem. 2016;421:89–101.
  3. Khatri J, Mills CE, Maskell P, Odongerel C, Webb AJ. It is rocket science – why dietary nitrate is hard to “beet”! Part I: twists and turns in the realization of the nitrate-nitrite-NO pathway. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2017;83:129–39.
  4. Nyakayiru J, Jonvik KL, Trommelen J, Pinckaers PJM, Senden JM, van Loon LJC, Verdijk LB. Beetroot Juice Supplementation Improves High-Intensity Intermittent Type Exercise Performance in Trained Soccer Players. Nutrients. 2017;9.
  5. Bondonno CP, Liu AH, Croft KD, Ward NC, Shinde S, Moodley Y, Lundberg JO, Puddey IB, Woodman RJ, Hodgson JM. Absence of an effect of high nitrate intake from beetroot juice on blood pressure in treated hypertensive individuals: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015;102:368–75.
  6. Kazimierczak R, Siłakiewicz A, Hallmann E, Średnicka-Tober D, Rembiałkowska E. Chemical Composition of Selected Beetroot Juices in Relation to Beetroot Production System and Processing Technology. Not Bot Horti Agrobot Cluj-Napoca. 2016;44:491–8.
  7. Klewicka E, Czyżowska A. Biological Stability of Lactofermented Beetroot Juice During Refrigerated Storage. Pol J Food Nutr Sci. 2011;61:251–6.

Minty Watermelon Salad

After cutting into a large watermelon, have you ever thought, “What am I to do with all this fruit?” I seldom have enough people around to help me eat a whole watermelon. Watermelon has a high glycemic index, which limits me from eating too much at once, so I’ve dreamed up unconventional ways to use it other than as a delicious snack. Watermelon salad, anyone?

Unlike watermelon and summer, watermelon and salad may not be the most likely pair, but you’d be surprised. Mint in the recipe below pairs well with watermelon. Rather than using lettuce, I’ve used cabbage to prevent wilting just in case you are mixing this in advance for a summer BBQ with friends. And, of course, what would a Super Sarah Salad be without sprouts. If you haven’t read my past blog on the ridiculously valuable health benefits from sprouts, find it here. I try to add sprouts to all my salads and meals. Throw in some garden cucumbers, red onions, and a  homemade lime-ginger dressing, and you have yourself a super salad.

Minty Watermelon Salad

Prep time: 10 mins   |   Serves: 4 |   Author: Sarah Campbell



  •  2 cups cubed watermelon in ½” cubes
  • ½ cup fresh mint, chopped (about 4 springs)
  • 1 cup cubed cucumber in ½“ cubes
  • ¼ cup sliced purple onion
  • 1 ½ cups broccoli or kale sprouts
  • 4 cups shredded green cabbage
  • ¼ cup of raw sunflower seeds

Lime-Ginger Dressing

  • zest of a lime (~½ tsp.)
  • freshly squeezed juice of ½ a lime
  • 1 Tbsp watermelon juice
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated ginger
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • freshly ground pepper to taste
  • sea salt to taste


1. In a medium bowl, combine, cubed watermelon, mint, cucumber, purple onion, and ½ cup of sprouts, gently pulled apart to disperse amongst other ingredients.

2. Whisk together all ingredients for the dressing in a jar or small bowl. Set aside.

3. Plate one cup of shredded cabbage per plate. Next layer cabbage with a ¼ cup of sprouts, then spoon roughly one cup of the watermelon mix overtop of the sprouts. Spoon a couple spoonful of dressing over the plated salad. Garnish with 1 tablespoon sunflower seeds and a few whole mint leaves.

If you are serving this potluck style, add all the ingredients together into a larger bowl rather than plating the cabbage, sprouts, and watermelon mix. Mix enough dressing into the salad to coat.

Sprout When in Doubt

If you are doubting what to eat for health, for prevention of disease, for anti-aging, and for recovery from illness, consider sprouting. Anyone can sprout anywhere and at any time of the year with the most basic of equipment: a wide-mouth jar, nylon mesh screening or metal sprouting lid for mason jars, a rubber band, and sprouting seeds – no soil required.

Sprouting is easy enough for children to manage, some may even take on the official title of Household Sprout Grower! This means any adult can sprout too. For people without space or the desire to garden, sprouting can become your “garden.” Unlike vegetable gardening outside, sprouting has no seasonal limits. When fresh and local produce is long gone in the cold winter months and the only option for fresh produce is what’s been imported thousands of kilometers, turn to sprouts. Even when stored, sprouts retain more nutrients days after “harvesting” than vegetables and fruit that are imported. With that to challenge your doubt, let’s dive deeper into the what, why, where, and how’s of sprouting.

What actually happens in sprouting

The core of all human, animal, and plant life begins from seed; what comes of it depends on favourable conditions for growth. With water, air, and warm temperatures, stored energy in the seed flows to the sprout. Hormones and enzymes that laid dormant are activated when seeds are soaked in water, causing germination (sprouting), the first stage of plant development. Enzymes multiply vitamins and minerals while pre-digesting complex nutrients into simpler easy-to-digest forms: starch to simpler sugars, fats to fatty acids, and protein to amino acids. As long as sprouts are kept moist by rinsing two the three times a day and drained in-between, sprouts will be harvestable in 3-10 days. Plants will enter the second stage of development if left for longer, though soil or another medium is often required for this (1).

The best bang for your nutrition buck

“Pound for pound sprouts are perhaps the most nutritious food there is per dollar value,” says Ann Wilgmore, author of The Sprouting Book (2). Seed costs are minimal, especially when bought in bulk quantities, and weigh next to nothing, yet increase in volume many fold. I use two tablespoons (20 grams) of broccoli seeds per wide-mouth quart jar, which yields around 3 cups of broccoli sprouts in 5-7 days. At $39.49 per 1 kg bag from Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds (, 20 grams of broccoli seeds work out to $0.79. This corresponds to roughly $0.13 for every ½ cup serving.

Much has been published on health benefits linked to eating sprouts (refer to International Sprout Growers Association  or International Specialty Supply  for access to an extensive library of articles on nutrition and health benefits of sprouts). Some notable benefits include increased digestibility and availability of nutrients, removal of toxins, anti-nutrient reduction, alleviation of menopausal symptoms due to phytoestrogens, antioxidant nutrients, and amplified vitamin, mineral, and protein content. Here we will focus in depth on two benefits: detoxification of carcinogens and antioxidant capacity.

Detoxification of carcinogens

Modern living in rural and urban centres exposes us to carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) on a daily basis from personal care products, chemical residues on food, substances in water, and pollutants in air. Avoidance of chemical exposure reduces our risk of cancer, yet our intrinsic detoxification pathways in the body removes carcinogens that are unavoidable. Certain nutrients – many of which are highest in sprouts and to a lesser extent in vegetables, fruit, grains, and nuts – are essential for detoxification.

Sulphoraphane, an isothiocyanate, is one of the most potent food-derived antycarcinogens. Its activation depends on an enzyme found in plants and intestinal microbiota that converts the inactive precursor, glucosinolate, which is abundant in broccoli and broccoli sprouts, to sulphoraphane. Chewing, chopping, and blending facilitate greater conversation. Preheating broccoli sprouts in water at 21º C for 10 minutes before eating or blending is reported to increase sulphoraphane 4-fold (3). The more sulphoraphane formed, the more detoxification of carcinogens since sulphoraphane raises the activity of detoxifying enzymes. Broccoli sprouts increase the activity of these detoxifying enzymes 10-100 times more than mature broccoli (4). All the more reason for everyone to eat more broccoli sprouts and raw broccoli!

Less wrinkles and no diseases please!

Cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, macular degeneration, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis, and other chronic diseases are initiated, aggravated, or promoted by oxidative stress (5). Skin wrinkles, bone stiffness, and loss of flexibility – basically the body becoming increasingly “rusty” – are also attributed to oxidative stress. The best way to minimize oxidative stress is with antioxidants. These are needed to neutralize very reactive and unstable particles called reactive oxygen species (ROS). The body produced ROS as a by-product of normal functions, and we consume ROS from rancid, processed, or oxidized oils. Antioxidants stabilize ROS without themselves becoming unstable. Without antioxidants (i.e. a diet high in sprouts, fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, pulses, and nuts or seeds) ROS stabilize by scavenging electrons from DNA, cell membranes, fats, enzymes, etc. to become stable. This essentially damages DNA, makes cell membranes leaky, creates harmful fats, and disrupts the function of protein (enzymes). All in all, this equals bad news for health.

Fortunately, sprouts are abundant in nutrients with antioxidant properties, including vitamin A (as carotene), E, C, and zinc – higher than in the mature vegetable equivalent. Sprouts with especially high levels of these antioxidant nutrients are lentils, cabbage, alfalfa, mung beans, wheat, oats, rye, sesame seed, red clover, green peas, and mustard. There are many to choose from, so pick at least two and read on.

How to sprout

The basic principle of sprouting is keeping seeds/sprouts moist while providing adequate drainage and air circulation (2). Keeping sprouts out of direct sunlight and rinsing 2-3 times per day (more on hot days, less on cooler days) should yield beautiful sprouts. With time, practice, and patience, you’ll soon get the hang of it.

To get started, first, you need seeds – reputable organic, non-GMO seeds, ideally. Buying organic seeds with good germination potential will reduce your risk of foodborne pathogens, such as Salmonella or E.coli, since all foods are vulnerable to bacteria and harmful microbes (6). I’d recommend Organic Matters or Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds, a Saskatchewan seed company that sells specific for sprouting. Order on-line for either company or buy Mumm’s seeds from select health food stores, such as Blush Lane or Planet Organic in Edmonton. Buying seeds in larger quantities like 1 kg bags is more economical. Consider dividing a variety of large seed packs among a few friends.

Second, you need the following equipment for the jar-sprouting method: 1 to 4 quart wide-mouth jar, screen or nylon mesh, a rubber band, a sieve or colander, fresh water you feel comfortable drinking, and a collecting plate to catch draining water. Sprouting bags, tray-type sprouters, and automatic sprouters are available for purchase; however, trays and automatic sprouters are often made of plastic. It is best to avoid plastic when glass alternatives work just as well.

Directions for sprouting in a 1-quart jar:

1. Clean your sprouting jar with sudsy, hot water, and sterilize with boiled water. Empty the jar.

2. Sort through beans, lentils, or peas and discard any that are broken or chipped. Note: split peas won’t sprout.

3. Measure 2 tablespoons of seeds into the jar or enough to just cover the bottom with small seeds. Larger seeds or beans should not fill the jar more than one-eighth to one-quarter full.

4. Fill jar with 2 inches of water, and let seeds soak. Find soaking times for your particular seed on your seed package. Generally,

•Broccoli and related plants such as cabbage, kale, radish, etc. require 2-3 hours
•Other small seeds require 2-6 hours
•Large seeds, peas, lentils, and grains require 6-12 hours.

When in doubt, Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds suggest soaking for less time rather than more (7). A sprout chart such as this one by Sproutman gives detailed recommendations for a variety of seeds, peas, lentils, and grains. Consider adding powdered kelp, wheatgrass, or an alternative source of minerals to the water used for soaking as it will enhance trace minerals absorb by the seeds, thus the minerals transferred to the sprout. This is especially important if you are using distilled water.

5. Cover jar with screen, and secure with a rubber band. You may need to poke a few hold in fine-mesh screening or a suction will form when seeds are drained. Alternatively, screw on a reusable stainless steel mesh screen lid made for sprouting in wide-mouth mason found here.

6. Drain off water, and place jar at a 45º angle, mouth down so water can drain freely and air can circulate.

7. Rinse sprouts 2-3 times a day by filling jar with water, allowing it to overflow, then inverting jar to drain. Here you can use regular tap water or continue with filtered or distilled water. Rinsing will remove waste products. Return jar to a 45º angle in a sieve or colander to allow excess water to drain.

8. Harvest your sprouts once these have matured by first removing the rubber band and screening, then by transferring to a small glass mixing bowl. Fill bowl with clean water; swish gently, loosening indigestible hulls from small seeds. Hulls will float to the surface. Weigh down sprouts with one hand, fingers spread wide. Take a spoon with the other hand, and skim off the hulls.

9. Drain sprouts in a colander, then transfer to a clean cloth to dry for an hour or two out of direct sunlight.

10. Store in a clean, air-tight container or jar lined with paper towel. Cover with another piece of paper towel to absorb excess moisture. Sprouts should keep in the refrigerator for seven to ten days.

Ways to enjoy

  • Add to sandwiches, wraps, pitas in addition to or in place of lettuce (e.g. red clover, alfalfa, radish, broccoli, kale)
  • Blend into smoothies and vegetable juices (e.g. green pea shoots, cabbage, mung bean, lentil, broccoli, kale)
  • Grind up and use in hummus for a real kick (e.g. lentil, radish)
  • Add to grilled cheese sandwiches (e.g. alfalfa, clover)
  • Eat fresh on salads (e.g. salad mixed sprouts, broccoli, clover, kale)
  • Top omelet or scrambled eggs (e.g. broccoli, clover, radish)
  • Combine in rice dishes after cooking or served cold (e.g. fenugreek, lentil, mung bean)
  • Add to sushi (e.g. radish, sunflower, red clover)
  • AND sprouts are great to bring with you while travelling.



1. Growing Your Microgreens Business [Internet]. Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds. [cited 2017 Aug 2]. Available from:
2. Wigmore A. The Sprouting Book: How to Grow and Use Sprouts to Maximize Your Health and Vitality. Avery Trade; 1986.
3. Matusheski NV, Juvik JA, Jeffery EH. Heating decreases epithiospecifier protein activity and increases sulforaphane formation in broccoli. Phytochemistry. 2004;65:1273–81.
4. Nestle M. Broccoli sprouts as inducers of carcinogen-detoxifying enzyme systems: clinical, dietary, and policy implications. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1997;94:11149–51.
5. Stipanuk M. Biochemical, Physiological & Molecular Aspects of Human Nutrition. 2 edition. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders; 2006. 960 p.
6. Growing Lessons: Get Your Green Thumb + Tasty Fresh Sprouts [Internet]. Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds. [cited 2017 Aug 1]. Available from:
7. Sprouting Basics – Discover how to Sprout Your Own Seeds [Internet]. Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds. [cited 2017 Aug 1]. Available from:

Histamine: the one disadvantage to fermented foods

You’ve heard that fermented foods are good for health. Few would dispute that, including me. From the gut to the brain, to the womb and skin – there is no part of the body that doesn’t benefit when we eat foods wiht good microbes (read more about this in past articles here, here, and here). There is one potential problem of fermented foods, however, that is not widely known or discussed. The issue is histamine.

Bank on it: Fermented foods have histamine!

Histamine is plentiful in all fermented foods whether that be vegetable-, dairy-, meat-, grain-, or legume-based ferments. These include but are not limited to sauerkraut, kvass, kimchi, and fermented pickles; yogurt, kefir, lassi, cheese, sour cream, and buttermilk; salami, pepperoni, bologna, and fermented sausages; wine, beer, and other alcoholic beverages; natto, miso, soy sauce, vinegar, and, to my dismay, chocolate. If food products have used microbes to transform raw materials into something with a tangy, sometimes sour source of nutritional goodness, histamine is likely present. I wish it were different.


Histamine is one of many bioactive chemical messengers classified as biogenic amines that regulates vital body processes; such as brain, cardiovascular, and digestive functions; and defends against foreign substances. Without histamine, we would have major functional deficits; in excess, histamine causes problematic symptoms. The total load of histamine in the body at any instant is a product of three things: 1) the amount coming into the body from histamine-rich foods and food additives (external inputs), 2) the amount made and stored in the body (internal inputs), and 3) an individual’s capacity to degrade excess histamine through functional enzymes. When histamine inputs exceed the body’s ability to degrade histamine, thereby, keeping histamine below its threshold, symptoms develop.

Think of your daily histamine tolerance as a bucket (see image on the right) (1). Your bucket may be larger or smaller than another’s, representing an dose-dependent limit of tolerance unique to each individual. Once your bucket is full, histamine spills overs and symptoms result. Larger amounts of excess histamine often produce more severe symptoms than smaller amounts. Acute symptoms may resemble an allergic reaction, but should not be mistaken for an allergy. Chronic symptoms are often vague and hard to attribute to histamine excess. Still, individuals manifest excess histamine differently with a combination of early and late onset, acute and/or chronic symptoms, which only adds to the diagnostic difficulty.

Acute symptoms (1, 2):
Skin: urticarial (hives), erythema (flushing and reddening), swelling, pruritus (itching),
Gastrointestinal tract: heartburn, bloating, diarrhea, cramps, and gastric reflux
Lower airway: cough, respiratory distress, asthmatic symptoms
Oral cavity and upper airway: nasal congestions and runny nose, swelling of the lining of the nose, phlegm, cough; conjunctivitis (irritated, watery, reddened eyes)
Cardiovascular system: hypotension (drop in blood pressure), tachycardia (“heart racing”),
Nervous system: headaches

Chronic symptoms:
• Chronic inappropriate fatigue
• Dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation)
• Sleep disturbances (insomnia)
• Confusion, irritability, panic disorder, and depression

Histamine in foods other than ferments (external histamine)

In food, histamine is formed by specific microorganisms that can convert histidine, one of 20 protein building blocks, to histamine. Not all microorganisms have machinery (enzymes) for this conversion, which makes some foods more prone to histamine than others. With fermentation founded on the activity of various microorganisms – many of which have histamine-producing enzymes – fermented foods typically have high histamine levels (3, 4).

Besides fermented foods, histamine is also a product of microbial action in fish not gutted within 20 minutes of catching, leftover meat and poultry, and overripe or rotting plant foods. Citrus fruits, berries, pineapple, tomatoes, eggplant, and pumpkin are also histamine-rich, yet it is unrelated to microbial histamine activity. Aside from histamine content, certain foods and food additives have histamine-releasing properties possibly related to food intolerance mechanisms. Egg whites, food dyes such as tartrazine, stabilizers, taste enhancers, and preservatives such as benzoates and sulfites are known to increase plasma histamine in people sensitive to these chemicals (1). Histamine-rich foods and foods with histamine-releasing chemicals increase the total histamine load in the body, thereby filling the histamine bucket.

Histamine produced in the body (internal histamine)

In addition to external histamine inputs, immune cells throughout the body convert histidine to histamine for storage in mast cells. Inflammation or invasion of pathogenic bacteria and other foreign invaders, such as allergens, cause mast cell degranulation, releasing excessive amounts of histamine. Histamine is the first “defence chemical” to the scene, and triggers inflammatory and allergic symptoms we all hate. Although allergy symptoms resemble symptoms of histamine excess, the cause and onset of each is different: The onset of all allergies is immediate and is immune-mediated; whereas, histamine intolerance may have delayed onset and results from excess histamine that is not efficiently cleared by enzymes in the body.

Microorganism in the gut account for the second part of internal histamine inputs. Similar to microbes in fermented foods, the gut also has microbes equipped for converting histidine to histamine. Healthy intestinal microbiota has less histamine-producing microbes. Instead healthy microbiota has microbes that actually degrade histamine, thus lowering the total load of histamine in the body. An intestine overgrown by harmful microbes, on the other hand, often has numerous histamine-producing microbes and a lower amount of histamine-degrading microbes.

This is where problems arise. Individuals with an altered composition of intestinal microbes, which is due to dysbiosis or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, may have lower tolerance to histamine-rich foods, such as ferments. So a much loved breakfast of sauerkraut, beet kvass, eggs benedict, and fermented sausage may push some people over the edge with symptoms galore, while leaving other asking for more.

Why is histamine a problem for some people and not others?

Allergies and poor gut health aside, there is yet another reason why histamine in a problem for some people and not for others. People with increased sensitivity to histamine often have a genetic or acquired impairment of the enzymes that degrade histamine in the gut and peripheral tissues. Two enzymes, diamine oxidase (DAO) and histamine-N methyltransferase (HNMT), are essential for histamine degradation. Without these enzymes functioning properly, food with acceptable amounts of histamine (i.e. fermented foods, fruits, eggs – the normal things people should tolerate and enjoy without inducing symptoms) easily tip the histamine bucket, so to speak, causing histamine to spill over into the bloodstream.

The diagram (below) (2) illustrates the difference between a healthy, normal response to histamine, histamine intoxication/poisoning, and histamine intolerance. Healthy individuals have fully functioning and adequate amounts of DAO and HNMT (see figure A, left). They can handle day-to-day inputs of histamine, not to mention sausage and perogies with sauerkraut (my favourite yet intolerable at the moment). Cases of histamine intoxication (see figure B, middle) result when healthy people have excessive inputs of histamine either from food or allergies. Ingestions of foods with histamine above 500mg/kg body weight is intolerable for anyone (2). Food scientists actually use histamine levels to assess spoilage, which is communicated in best before dates. Then there are people whose histamine tolerance is drastically lower than in healthy individuals (see figure C, right) due to impaired DAO and/or HNMT.

The third scenario is where I am currently; however, the following practices have improved my tolerance, immensely, allowing me one ounce of beet kvass and a tablespoon of sauerkraut, daily, symptom-free. I can also eat meat without asking a billion questions. Whoohoo!!! Life for this fermentation lover is better now than five months ago when my histamine intolerance was discovered.

Solutions for people with histamine intolerance

Overhaul the gut. This is easier said than done, and may take months to accomplish. I like Tom Malterre’s 5-R Program from his book, Nourishing Meals, for healing the gut: remove, replace, reinocculate, repair, and rebalance (5). Remove offending foods that are irritants to your system. Replace enzymes and digestive substances that may be low in a damaged gut. Reinocculate with probiotic-rich food (if histamine is tolerated) or use a histamine-friendly probiotic supplement (see below). Repair the gut lining especially using homemade bone broth, which supplies glutamine and glycine (note: bone broth must be made in a specific way to minimize histamines). Rebalance your lifestyle to instill balance, exercise, relaxation, and enjoyment. These are basic principles that will make some improvement to your gut.

Take a Bifodobacteria-exclusive probiotic (6). Many lactobacillus strains used in probiotics are histamine producers, which we want to avoid when trying to lower histamine.

Avoid toxins in your environment (air, water, food, clothing, furniture, personal care products, etc.). Toxins dump into the intestinal tract to further damage good bacteria, the ones that degrade histamine. Additionally, detox toxins currently stored in the body.

Work with a health professional, specializing in histamine intolerance. A 4-week elimination diet followed by a systematic reintroduction phase (1) (7) (8) will help you identify which of the many histamine-rich or histamine-liberating foods are actually problematic for you.

Ensure your diet is specifically adequate in vitamin C, vitamin B6, copper, and zinc, which are required for optimal DAO and HNMT function (2) (9).

Grow green pea sprouts. Peas, lentils, and other dried beans contain high levels of DAO when grown in the dark. Removing an element for proper plant growth “stresses” the plant and increase DAO (6).

The majority of people can enjoy fermented foods and other histamine-rich foods, without symptoms. For the minority of us who can’t, I hope these tips will steer you towards healing so you can enjoy fermented foods, symptom-free.


1. Joneja J. Health Professionals Guide to Food Allergies and Intolerances. Chicago: Acad of Nutrition & Dietetics; 2012. 477 p.
2. Kovacova-Hanuskova E, Buday T, Gavliakova S, Plevkova J. Histamine, histamine intoxication and intolerance. Allergol Immunopathol (Madr). 2015;43:498–506.
3. Leuschner RG, Heidel M, Hammes WP. Histamine and tyramine degradation by food fermenting microorganisms. Int J Food Microbiol. 1998;39:1–10.
4. Straub BW, Kicherer M, Schilcher SM, Hammes WP. The formation of biogenic amines by fermentation organisms. Z Lebensm Unters Forsch. 1995;201:79–82.
5. Segersten A, Malterre T. Nourishing Meals: 365 Whole Foods, Allergy-Free Recipes for Healing Your Family One Meal at a Time. New York: Harmony; 2016. 528 p.
6. FAQs and Fact Sheets – Vickerstaff Health Services – Vickerstaff Health Services [Internet]. [cited 2017 Jul 26]. Available from:
7. Joneja JMV, Carmona-Silva C. Outcome of a Histamine-restricted Diet Based on Chart Audit. J Nutr Environ Med. 2001;11:249–62.
8. King W, McCargar L, Joneja JM, Barr SI. Benefits of a Histamine-Reducing Diet for Some Patients with Chronic Urticaria and Angioedema. Can J Diet Pract Res Publ Dietit Can Rev Can Prat Rech En Diet Une Publ Diet Can. 2000;61:24–6.
9. San Mauro Martin I, Brachero S, Garicano Vilar E. Histamine intolerance and dietary management: A complete review. Allergol Immunopathol (Madr). 2016;44:475–83.









Steel-Cut Oat Risotto

Risotto has the right features of comfort food: warm, creamy, flavourful, hearty, and packed with quickly-digesting carbs sure to send blood sugar levels sky high! Arborio rice, which is traditionally used in risotto, is a soft, starchy rice with its bran layer removed. These properties make it ideal for absorbing liquid (and flavour) while giving a soft yet defined risotto texture. On the health conscious side, it is a carbohydrate-rich food with a high glycemic index (GI). Some replace this rice with pearl barley, trying to healthify risotto. This switch is healthier in terms of glycemic index, reducing the grain from high to low GI, from 89 to 29, according to the University of Sydney Glycemic Index Database. With respect to blood sugar, that’s an improvement. In terms of eating whole foods, we need to go back to the drawing board.

Intact grains are whole foods

Whole foods retain all original components, and are either unprocessed or minimally processed to reserve its nutrients. Whole grains, or what we call intact grains, are those with all three parts of a grain remaining: germ, endosperm, and bran. In other words. whole grains retain 100% of its original kernel. Pearl barely is hulled and polished to remove most of the bran, such that it becomes refined.

Refined comfort foods like risotto are sought by some, avoided by others, and enjoyed by most – at least in the moment. Risotto can ignite symptoms for people affected by high GI carbohydrates when arborio rice is used or gluten when barely is used. How can we put a low GI and gluten-free slant on a much-loved dish? Make it with steel-cut oats.

What about steel-cut oats?

While steel-cut oats are minimally processed, all layers remain partially intact; in each piece, there remains a bran, germ, and endosperm. Its intact whole grain equivalent, oat groats, is not soft enough to absorb liquid like risottos need. Steel-cut oats to the rescue!

Oats and celiac disease

Technically, pure, uncontaminated oats do not contain gluten, although avenin, a protein in oats, contains similar amino acid sequences as wheat gluten and can be mistaken by the body as gluten. For people with celiac disease or gluten-related disorders, oats may cause symptoms until the gut is healed. Afterwards, it is recommended that adults limit consumption of dry oats to less than 50 grams per day (about 1/2 cup dry oats) and 25 grams per day (1/4 cup dry oats) for children. FDA legislation for gluten-free foods in Canada does not include oats, so labelling reading is essential if you are restricting oats. Gluten-free foods may contain oats.

If you can tolerate oats and want a risotto that is better for blood sugar, then try this unique version of risotto. I’m not gonna lie: Risotto made with arborio rice is by far the best. Let this version be second best, relishing in being symptom-free and enjoying rich flavours.

Important side note: Start with a smaller portion size (e.g. 1/4 cup) if you are not used to eating intact whole grains. Your intestinal bacteria will be thanking you for prebiotics with gas as a byproduct. This should resolve as your microbial community adapts to a whole foods diet.

The recipe…

Dilly Steel-Cut Oat Risotto

Prep time: 5 mins   |   Cook time: 30 mins   |   Yield: 2 ½ cups |   Author: Sarah Campbell


  • 2 ½ cups chicken bone broth, preferably homemade
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 leek, white part only, sliced
  • 1 ½ cups cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/3 cup garlic scapes
  • 1 cup steel-cut oats
  • ¼ cup fresh dill, finely chopped
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground pepper


  1. Bring bone broth and white wine to a slight simmer in a saucepan.
  2.  Heat a 4-quart saucepan over medium. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, then the leeks and sauté for 4 to 5 minutes to soften, being careful not to brown leeks. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, then add the mushrooms and sauté for 4 minutes. Add the garlic scapes and steel-cut oats; sauté for a minute, stirring mixture together.
  3. Reduce heat slightly from medium. In ¼ to ½ cup portions, add simmering bone broth to oat mixture. Stir until all liquid is absorbed into the grain, then add another ¼ cup and continue stirring. This process takes 25 to 30 minutes.
  4. Risotto is finished when oats are al dente, and risotto can hold its form. If the oats are too firm, add another ¼ to ½ cup more broth and stir until absorbed. If you prefer a thinner consistency, remove risotto from heat earlier or add slightly more broth.


Traditionally, parmesan cheese is stirred into risotto after turning off the heat. If you are dairy tolerant, consider stirring in ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese and leaving with the lid overtop for 5 minutes.

For those with histamine intolerance, replace white wine with more chicken bone broth. Reduce histamines in homemade bone broth by making broth in an Instant Pot over 1 cycle (about 2 hours), cooling quickly in a tub of cold water, and using immediately or freezing in jars soon after. Some people with high histamine intolerance will not tolerate chicken bone broth even when its made in an Instant Pot. In this case, use vegetable broth in place of chicken broth. The flavour won’t be as rich, but it will do.



Dietary Alternatives to Gut-Altering Acne Medications

Top row taken January 2007. Bottom row taken July 2017. I am the same weight in these photos, yet notice the slight puffiness in my face 10 years ago. Also note the brightness in my eyes compared to the sluggish look I had in 2007. Over the 10 year span of these photos, I overhauled my diet, identified my food intolerances, introduced detoxing, created healthier rhythms, and addressed gut health.

Acne: a four-letter word that most people in Western populations have the misfortune of experiencing at some point in life, in some degree of severity, and on some part of their body. When pimples emerge as either red, white, black or pink circles; pustular or papule; inflammatory lesions or noninflammatory comedones; mild, moderate, or severe; superficial or cystic, few are thinking of their gut. Most people are thinking how to restore clear skin A.S.A.P?

Off to the drug store they go looking for an over-the-counter topical acne cream or gel, often containing benzyl peroxide or salicylic acid. These agents prevent pores from becoming blocked by removing dead skin cells on the surface.

Still, these common topical agents used exclusively may only be effective for people with mild forms of comedones (whiteheads or blackheads). Something stronger is needed for others. Here’s where prescription drugs are introduced to an acne treatment plan.


Topical or oral antibiotics are the mainstay for targeting bacteria, and a logical one owing to the well-established connection between inflammatory acne lesions and the overgrowth of Propionibacterium acnes. Topical antibiotics are first-line treatments for mild to moderate forms of acne. If improvements are minimal, an oral antibiotic may be trialled for three weeks to six months, and, in rare occasions, a year – in very rare situations a few years. But here’s the caveat: Before antibiotics are absorbed into the bloodstream to target acne on the skin, antibiotics first hit microbes in the intestine. Antibiotics don’t discriminate good bacteria from bad bacteria, and effects from antibiotics are not isolated to a target area, such as skin. Instead, antibiotics are absorbed into the bloodstream, circulate throughout the body, and exert their antibacterial effects on bacteria in the intestine, lungs, vagina, nasal passages, ears, and skin. Certainly, narrow-spectrum antibiotics exist, but don’t start looking for antibiotics that are specific to one bacterial strain. These don’t exist. Actually, many antibiotics used for acne treatment are broad-spectrum, non-specific antibiotics.

For the gut, antibiotics mean alterations to intestinal microbiota, reducing diversity and microbial abundance. These changes upset the balance of bacteria in the gut. Microbiota are resilient though, and do bounce back from hits. However, repeated courses of antibiotics over extended periods (a common scenario for people with acne), may permanently alter microbial composition in the intestine. As a result, there are fewer competitive factors to prevent harmful microbes from flourishing. This offsets the balance of pro- and anti-inflammatory microbes in the gut. As well, disruptions in microbial composition weaken gut integrity, making it possible for foreign microbes or substances to breach the intestinal lining. In the worst-case scenario, immune-related disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease – issues that go well beyond the skin – may arise.

Oral Contraceptive Pill

Antibiotics are not the only gut-altering acne medication commonly used. Women with acne may use an acne-specific oral contraceptive pill, such as Diane 35, not for its contraceptive action, but for its androgen-suppressing effect. Acne is provoked by androgens, male hormones such as testosterone, which, in general, promote “building up” and growth of muscles, in males and females (even females have testosterone although at much lower levels than males to prevent masculinization). Oral contraceptive pills, however, are positively associated with two common intestinal inflammatory diseases, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease (1). The risk of these increases with prolonged use perhaps owing to the affect estrogen has on the immune system, thus, inflammation (2).

Isotretinoin (Accutane)

Isotretinoin, more commonly known as Accutane, is the go-to for treating severe cystic acne, but not without drawbacks for the gut. Aside from dry, burning skin, dry eyes, dry lips and dry mucous membranes in the respiratory tract (very unpleasant from first-hand experience!), it is associated with intestinal inflammation, some of which develops into inflammatory bowel disease in acne patients (3,4). Isotretinoin is one of the most effective treatments for acne because it accelerates skin turnover (5). Likewise, it may be problematic for the gut because it interferes with immune response at its lining (3).

Been there, done that!

From the perspective of one who has endured the emotional and social effects of severe acne in adolescent years into adulthood, I appreciate the desperation for quick solutions to a glaring issue. I trialled an array of acne facial creams, three types of oral antibiotics, an oral contraceptive, and Accutane, yet cessation of all medications saw a return of my acne within three to six months. It wasn’t until my life can to a halt with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, an illness marked by reduced diversity and altered composition of the gut microbiota (6), that I started to consider the effect that all my years on gut-altering acne medication had on my health.

Dietary changes are known to effectively prevent or improve acne (7–9) while preserving (and actually enhancing) the gut health. These diet changes work in much the same way as acne medications. Both sides target effects of insulin and insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) on genetic expression and cell signalling that promotes acne, and excessive androgen production (high testosterone) (10,11). Foods that contain carbohydrates, such as grains, starchy vegetables, fruit, sweeteners, milk and yogurt breakdown into simple sugars (glucose, galactose, and fructose), which increases insulin and IGF-I further down the chain. Milk and dairy products, exclusive of carbohydrate, also elevates IGF-I (12). Elevations of insulin and IGF-I drive acne development, which becomes a main target area when wanting to clear it, naturally.

What do these dietary changes include?

Reducing insulin and IGF-I is effectively addressed by modifying the quality and quantity of carbohydrates, glycemic index and glycemic load, respectively, in our diet. In food terms, this means choosing complex carbohydrates from intact grains and pulses and avoiding starchy vegetables, refined grains, and sugar sweeteners of all types – maple syrup and honey included. Milk and dairy products, including whey-based protein powders, should also be avoided and replaced with other calcium and protein-rich food sources. Fermented dairy products, such as unsweetened yogurt and kefir, may be tolerable for some people with acne and actual improve it (13), but needs to be assessed on an individual basis. These as well as other nutritional factors combat the root of acne development and aid in restoring clear skin.

Clear skin can be achieved naturally without damaging the gut. I can help you or someone you know with acne.  Just visit the “Work with Me” tab and click on the “acne” hyperlink for more info on what I offer.

Work with Me



  1. Cornish JA, Tan E, Simillis C, Clark SK, Teare J, Tekkis PP. The risk of oral contraceptives in the etiology of inflammatory bowel disease: a meta-analysis. Am J Gastroenterol. 2008;103:2394–400.
  2. Cutolo M, Sulli A, Straub RH. Estrogen’s effects in chronic autoimmune/inflammatory diseases and progression to cancer. Expert Rev Clin Immunol. 2014;10:31–9.
  3. Shale M, Kaplan GG, Panaccione R, Ghosh S. Isotretinoin and intestinal inflammation: what gastroenterologists need to know. Gut. 2009;58:737–41.
  4. Reddy D, Siegel CA, Sands BE, Kane S. Possible association between isotretinoin and inflammatory bowel disease. Am J Gastroenterol. 2006;101:1569–73.
  5. Trotter M. The complete acne health and diet guide: naturally clear skin without antibiotics. 2015.
  6. Giloteaux L, Goodrich JK, Walters WA, Levine SM, Ley RE, Hanson MR. Reduced diversity and altered composition of the gut microbiome in individuals with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome. Microbiome. 2016;4:30.
  7. Smith RN, Mann NJ, Braue A, Mäkeläinen H, Varigos GA. A low-glycemic-load diet improves symptoms in acne vulgaris patients: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;86:107–15.
  8. Smith RN, Mann NJ, Braue A, Mäkeläinen H, Varigos GA. The effect of a high-protein, low glycemic-load diet versus a conventional, high glycemic-load diet on biochemical parameters associated with acne vulgaris: a randomized, investigator-masked, controlled trial. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2007;57:247–56.
  9. Smith RN, Braue A, Varigos GA, Mann NJ. The effect of a low glycemic load diet on acne vulgaris and the fatty acid composition of skin surface triglycerides. J Dermatol Sci. 2008;50:41–52.
  10. Melnik BC. Linking diet to acne metabolomics, inflammation, and comedogenesis: an update. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2015;8:371–88.
  11. Melnik BC, Zouboulis CC. Potential role of FoxO1 and mTORC1 in the pathogenesis of Western diet-induced acne. Exp Dermatol. 2013;22:311–5.
  12. Melnik BC. Evidence for acne-promoting effects of milk and other insulinotropic dairy products. Nestle Nutr Workshop Ser Paediatr Programme. 2011;67:131–45.
  13. Kang SH, Kim JU, Imm JY, Oh S, Kim SH. The effects of dairy processes and storage on insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) content in milk and in model IGF-I-fortified dairy products. J Dairy Sci. 2006;89:402–9.

Banana Ice Cream with Endless Flavour Possibilities


School is out; the weather is balmy; and we are all screaming for ice cream. Banana ice cream is the perfect way to involve kids in making a treat that is healthy yet fun (often they don’t associate the two). It isn’t loaded with added sugar like normal ice cream; it doesn’t have processed ingredients, such as carrageenan, guar gum, mono- and diglycerides; and it doesn’t have saturated fat. It is just plain goodness, and healthy enough to add to breakfasts, such as baked oatmeal.

The low-down on sugar

Sugar in Banana Ice Cream comes from the fruit it contains. In general, the benefit to using whole foods, such as fruit and dried fruit, dates, raw honey, and maple syrup, as sweeteners is the additional fibre, minerals, vitamins, enzymes, and phytonutrients that naturally tag along. These whole foods still contain higher amounts of carbohydrates found as simple sugars, including glucose, fructose, and sucrose compared to other fruits. Expect your blood sugar to rise after eating natural sweeteners just as you would with refined sugar. But, if you are going for something sweet anyway (like we all do, especially in the summer), natural sweeteners from whole foods will impart valuable nutrients while you saver each sweet bite.

Refined sugars have all its nutritional goodness stripped away, leaving simple carbohydrates that are easily digested and absorbed into the blood stream. Simple sugars are simple sugars, regardless of the food source – natural or refined. White table sugar is 100% sucrose, a two sugar molecule (disaccharide) of fructose and glucose bound together. Bananas are about half sucrose, a quarter fructose, and a quarter glucose. Bananas are still far a better source of these simple sugars because these sugars are not isolated in a very concentrated form. Bananas, as well as all fruits, have fibre, which will slow down digestion. The way sweeteners are digested alters how impacting it is on blood sugar levels. Bananas are also providing potassium and magnesium, not to mention prebiotics when the peel is still green.

Flavours are endless

Use your imagination for flavours, or let your tastebuds guide you. Here are a few ingredient combinations that go well together in banana ice cream:

banana + blueberries + peaches
banana + strawberries + vanilla
banana + peanut butter or almond butter
banana + chocolate (cacao powder or cocoa powder) + fresh mint (optional)
banana + pistachio + lemon

Feel free to add other add-in’s, such as baking spices, citrus zest, chopped nuts, dried fruit, herbs, nut butters, and whatever else your mind dreams up with the exclusion of candy and gummies. Let’s keep this free of refined sugar and food colouring.

My favourite flavour

When I could tolerate diary products, pistachio was my favourite gelato flavour. Since developing a dairy intolerance, which has put many loved dessert off limits, I have been dreaming of a similar alternative. I thought, why not recreate pistachio gelato as a banana ice cream version. It turned out awesome, although it is not as sweet at the gelato I used to buy from my favourite gelato cafe in Edmonton, Leva. I’m quite certain they add sweeteners to their gelato concoctions. This banana version is a great alternative. Here’s what to do:


Pistachio-Lemon Banana Ice Cream

Total time: 15 mins | Yield: 3 – 1 cup servings | Author: Sarah Campbell


  • 1/2 cup roasted, salted, and shelled pistachios
  • 2 bananas, peeled, cut into 1′ pieces, and frozen
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice


  1. In a food processor, grind shelled pistachios into fine pieces; add lemon juice and process until a nut paste forms.
  2. Add frozen banana pieces to pistachio paste, and process until smooth. You may need to add 1-2 tablespoons of almond or coconut milk to assist the machine in blending the mixture smooth.
  3. Put into a flat glass container, and place in a freezer for 15 minutes to firm up.

And another for good measure…

Another common flavour is strawberry-banana. It is super simple, right in time to Strawberry U-Pick season. The red is even fitting for upcoming Canada Day celebrations.

Strawberry-Banana Ice Cream


  • 2 bananas, peeled, cut into 1′ pieces, and frozen
  • 1 cup frozen strawberries
  • 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract


  1. Blend ingredients together in a food processor. Add 2-4 tablespoons milk or milk beverage, if needed, to assist in processing these frozen ingredients.
  2. Place in a glass contain, and put it in the freezer for 30 minutes for a firm texture, or eat immediately after blending. Either way it’s delicious.

Uncomplicating Food

Whether plant-based or animal-based, all food starts as a seed – small, simple, and directive – then springs into life under the right conditions. Food was designed with extravagance in mind, not only for its utility. In all types of colours, tastes, textures, and sizes, food surpasses its fundamental purpose of filling the stomach and nourishing the body. It inspires our imagination, delights our taste buds, appeals to our eye, and draws people together.

Somewhere between starting a seed, nurturing its growth, harvesting a yield, and preparing a spread something went wrong. Seeds are genetically modified; animals are injected and confined; food is added to non-food then called food; enjoyment of food is secondary to calories; meals arrive through car windows; and we eat scattered – anywhere but sitting down at a table, away from electronics. What has food and the dining experience become? Nothing less than complicated.

Returning to uncomplicated food

Michael Pollan simplifies food in seven words: “Eat food. Not too much, Mostly plants.” This adage first coined by Pollan in his 2008 book, In Defence of Food, was intended to answer the question, what should we eat? If that short directive lacked depth, the year after Pollan released another book, Food Rules, which unpacks this adage in three parts: (1) What should I eat? (2) What kind of food should I eat? and (3) How should I eat? Over these parts, he gives 83 practical rules, or personal policies, to consider if we want to simplify food. He is not demanding we adopt all 83 of these policies as hard and fast rules. Rather he is calling for people to distinguish food from non-food, to go beyond just choosing “food,” and to cultivate a healthy relationship with food. If one or two rules from each section assist people in the former, then Food Rules will have done what it set out to do.

Take some and leave some

Certainly, I have left some rules and adopted others as my own. There are fundamental rules and there are negotiable rules for simplifying food. In my mind “cook[ing]” (rule #82) is inseparable from eating well and being well, while “treat[ing] meat as a flavouring or special occasion food” (rule #26) may be more valuable to some people than others. Some people feel better eating meat daily. Still, others thrive off a vegan or vegetarian diet. Pollan has considered both sides, which is why he also includes rules on mindfulness. For us meat eaters, he suggests to “eat animals that have themselves eaten well” (rule #30). And when we choose plant-based foods, regardless of the ratio they make in our diets, Pollan suggests to “eat well-grown food from healthy soil” (rule #33) Neither rule #30 or #33 mean eating exclusively organic foods, because farmers who care for their soil and animals may not be certified organic. These rules, however, does not exclude organic farming. At the end of the day, being mindful of how food was grown or raised, what chemicals were added, how food will affect our health, and whether we are welcoming others to share the enjoyment of food is important.

My most loved food rules

Here are my top fifteen food rules. Limiting myself to sharing only fifteen was a difficult exercise (I still can’t believe I only read this book now instead of in 2009). I hope these select rules entice you to read Food Rules, or at least ponder what, why, and how you eat.

#5 Avoid foods that have some form of sugar (or sweetener) listed among the top three ingredients.
#7 Avoid food products that a third-grader cannot pronounce.
#10 Avoid foods that are pretending to be something they are not.
#14 Eat only foods that will eventually rot.
#21 If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.
#28 Eat your colors.
#33 Eat well-grown food from healthy soil.
#34 Eat wild foods when you can.
#36 Eat some foods that have been predigested by bacteria or fungi
#42 “The whiter the bread, the sooner you’re dead.”
#50 Avoid ingredients that lie to your body.
#74 Don’t get your fuel from the same place your car does.
#78 Eat with people whenever you can.
#82 Cook.

And my favourite…

#83 Break the rules once in a while.

So…relax. Breathe the enjoyment of food. Make it flavourful and functional, and invite others to partake.



Pollan, Michael. Food Rules. New York: The Penguin Press, 2011.

Getting the Facts Right on Probiotics

The “probiotic” buzz word makes for a profitable industry if you’re in that market – a money-grabber for the rest of us if we don’t have the facts right on probiotics. Just adding “probiotic” to the packaging of granola bars, chewing gum, orange juice, and even chocolate will have people convinced that it is worth the extra money, but is it really? And what about probiotic supplement? There is certainly no lack of probiotic supplement suppliers, but is taking a supplement better than getting live microbes from traditionally fermented foods? Whatever your source of probiotics is, it is important to dispel the myths by knowing the facts on probiotics. You can be confident that you’re receiving the benefit you are targeting.

#1 Myth: Probiotics colonize the gut and become a part of the body.

Fact: Probiotics never move-in and make the gut their residency; these microbes never colonize the intestine, thus never belong to the body. Only microbes we are exposure to in the first three years of life will colonize the intestine and become a part of who we are. Think of probiotics as tourists and colonized intestinal microbes as residents: probiotics interact with cells along the intestine briefly before passing through; whereas, colonized microbes are permanent citizens of the intestine. Pregnancy, infancy, and toddler years then become significant years for developing healthy microbiota that grows with us.

#2 Myth: All fermented foods contain probiotics.

Fact: Only fresh, fermented foods that have not been heat treated and have been tested for approved probiotics can be promoted as such. Some fermented foods are treated with heat, which destroys all live microbes. Sourdough bread, chocolate, tempeh, most vinegar, and soy sauce are fermented foods, yet do not contain live cultures. These cannot be herald as probiotics. Sorry, chocolate lovers!.

Other fermented foods do contain live cultures; however, not all these cultures will be probiotics. Cultured foods are those I often promote such as raw miso, yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, brine-cured olives, kvass, kombucha, fermented pickles, and other lacto-fermented vegetables. Although all of these have live microbes, not all these microbes are probiotics. Sauerkraut, for example, contains Lactobacillus planetarum, an approved probiotic, which develops after the first month of fermentation. Sauerkraut, then, is a probiotic when fermented properly. Though some microbes in fermented foods are not regarded as probiotics, people still note general health benefits from regularly consuming fermented foods with live cultures.

What to do? Enjoy fermented foods, with and without live cultures, for the love of food and sharing flavourful food with others. If you love sourdough bread, by all means, enjoy it for its non-microbial benefits, i.e. low glycemic index. If you like ferments that are not technically probiotics, continue to experiment with novel ways of incorporating these into you diet daily, just don’t expect any targeted benefits.

#3 Myth: Any probiotic strain or combination of strains are beneficial for targeting a specific health issue.

Fact: Successful treatment of health issues with probiotics depends on using the exact strain (or strains) demonstrated to confer the benefit at the right dose. Microbes are distinguished by genus, species, and strain. Common probiotic genera are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. These are further categorized by species. Under the
Lactobacillus genus, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus rhamnosus are common probiotic species. Still with me? Adding yet another layer of specificity, each species may have multiple strains with rare effects, such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (ATCC 53103).

Selecting the right strain for a desired health benefit is best done by consulting a health professional knowledgeable in this area or referencing reputable probiotic supplement guides such as the Clinical Guide to Probiotic Supplements Available in Canada 2016.

#4 Myth: Probiotic supplements are superior to fermented foods with living cultures.

Fact: Whether you choose to take a probiotic supplement or to eat fermented foods for your daily dose of microbes is a matter of personal preference, convenience, and desired effect. If you enjoy the culinary appeal of fermented foods incorporated into your meals (think sausage and perogies with sauerkraut, beet kvass vinaigrette, or smoothie with a zing from sauerkraut brine), then ferments are likely the way to go for maintaining a healthy gut and preventing illnesses. Just ensure your ferments are not heated, or else the live microbes will die. And ensure, the yogurt you buy has “active bacterial cultures” on the ingredient list.

If you are going away on holidays, a freeze-dried probiotic supplement may be more practical since it does not require refrigeration to maintain its potency – perhaps the last thing on your mind when you are traveling. Not all probiotics are freeze-dried, so ensure you read the storage instructions to determine whether refrigeration is required or not.

Finally, if you are using a probiotic to target a desired health outcome, you will need to use a strain-specific probiotic at the dose known to confer the effect you desire. Eating large amounts of ferments are unlikely to target the effect you desire. You will end up consuming a whole lot of sodium from naturally fermented foods, which may create problems of its own.

Bottom line: Probiotics pass through the body relatively quickly, calling for a daily dose from fresh fermented foods or supplements. Probiotics are not all alike. Depending on the genus, species, and strain of a probiotics, there are numerous potential health effects. Choosing the right probiotics at the right dose will give you the best chance of seeing specific results. If you are looking for general health benefits and maintenance of a healthy gut, opt for incorporating fermented foods into your diet daily from a variety of sources.