‘Probiotics 101’ and a recipe for a homemade probiotic drink: Beet Kanji

What does the word ‘probiotics’ mean? It seems to be the new buzzword? Everyone seems to be talking about probiotics and gut health. For the last 18 months or so I have been reading up a lot on the relationship between the gut and the immune system and thereby the implications for autoimmune diseases. I have been following a strict paleo diet(autoimmune protocol version) . Many of my friends and family have asked me about the relationship between diet and disease. Some of them seemed confused that our gut would have so much of an impact on our health and wanted to know why ‘probiotics’ were important.

So I thought of writing up this post explaining the basics for my readers.

  1. Significance of gut health on our overall health:  As I was reading up about the impact of diets on disease, one of the facts that really helped me understand this relationship was that “80% of our immune system resides in our digestive tract”!  Now, once you begin to appreciate this, it all begins to make sense doesn’t it? yeah, so if immune system is located in the gut, then what you eat has an impact on the immune system! Ta Da! Many health issues, such as thyroid imbalances, chronic fatigue, joint pain, psoriasis, autism and many other conditions originate in the gut.
  2. Good bacteria vs bad bacteria: The secret to restoring your digestive health is all about balancing out the good and bad bacteria in your gut. Probiotics are bacteria that line your digestive tract and support your body’s ability to absorb nutrients and fight infection. There are actually 10 times more probiotics in your gut then cells in your body! If you don’t have enough probiotics, the side effects can include digestive disorders, skin issues, candida, autoimmune disease, and frequent colds and flus.
  3. Probiotic ‘Killers’ or Eroders: In the olden days, our ancestors used plenty of probiotics in their diets from eating fresh foods from good soil and by fermenting our foods to keep them from spoiling. However, because of refrigeration and dangerous agricultural practices like soaking our foods with chlorine, our food contains little to no probiotics today, and most foods actually contain dangerous antibiotics that kill off the good bacteria in our bodies. Following are some ‘probiotic killers’ in our environment today: prescription antibiotics, Non Steroidal Anti inflammatory medications (NSAIDs/Pain killers), sugar, tap water , GMO foods, Grains, emotional stress etc.

Thus adding probiotics to our diet can help  to provide us with a

  • Stronger immune system
  • Improved digestion
  • Increased energy from production of vitamin B12
  • Healthier skin, since probiotics naturally treat eczema and psoriasis
  • Reduced cold and flu
  • Healing from leaky gut syndrome and thereby all autoimmune disorders

What are some natural probiotics?

Sour foods and fermented foods like apple cider vinegar, yoghurt (dairy free coconut yoghurt is best), kefir, sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), Kimchi (fermented vegetables), beet kvass (fermented beets) are all great sources of probiotics.

What are some other sources of probiotics?

Nowadays you can buy probiotic capsules from the pharmacy and GNC stores that contain the good bacteria inside a capsule. Make sure you use a probiotic supplement that has a mix of strains from the two main genus lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. Pick a brand that has at least five billion CFU (colony forming units) of bacteria. Otherwise it is not good enough. And always store them in a cool place always.

(references: https://draxe.com/probiotics-benefits-foods-supplements/



I recently came across this lovely recipe for an Indian probiotic drink called as Beet kanji from Myheartbeets.  This drink has been traditionally made in Northern India and I am so glad that I got to know about this drink.  I have been making it regularly now.  The first time I made it , it came out too strong and so after a couple variations, I have the process nailed down – adding just the right amount of mustard and keeping it for fermenting for the right amount of time. I love having this drink chilled! At our dinner gatherings at home, I sport a glass of bright red kanji while others have their alcoholic drinks 🙂  Oh, and you can use the fermented vegetables to add to your salads!

Probiotic 101 and a recipe for a homemade probiotic drink: Beet Kanji
Recipe type: Healthy drink
Cuisine: Indian
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8
A healthy traditional indian probiotic drink made from fermenting beets and carrots.
  • 1 large organic beet, peeled and cut into thin, long slices
  • 1 large organic carrot, scraped and cut into thin, long slices
  • 6 cups filtered water
  • 2 tsp powdered mustard seeds (coarsely powdered is fine)
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  1. Take a large glass jar and add the vegetables and the mustard and salt. Pour the filtered water to cover all the vegetables completely plus leave about 1-2 inches of water above. Cover the jar with a lid and keep it aside on the kitchen counter for 4-5 days or until you see bubbles on top. Taste the liquid to see if you get a strong fermented taste and that's when it is done.



This is my fight!

May is Arthritis Awareness Month, and the Arthritis Foundation is kicking off their ‘Fight for 50’ campaign to raise awareness about the reality of living with arthritis—and to fight for the more than 50 million Americans suffering with this painful disease.  As part of this campaign, the foundation is encouraging their readers to post stories about themselves or their loved ones facing arthritis.  As you know (or might know) if you have been reading my posts regularly, I have been struggling with Rheumatoid arthritis for the past two years and boy, it has been a tough journey. When I paused to think about all that has happened in my life in the past two years since my diagnosis, I thought it was worth sharing my story with others. Hence I submitted my story too and it is up on the Arthritis.org site now on the following page :

http://www.arthritis.org/fightfor50/stories.php. I have copied and pasted my story here for my readers. But do check out the other stories on the Arthritis site. Hope my story and the other stories help you to increase your knowledge about the different types of arthritis and help you empathize better with individuals suffering from the same since it is not only a physically crippling disease but is an emotionally challenging one as well.

Here is my story as published on Arthritis.org:


Since my mom had Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), I always had that in the back of my mind that I might get it too some day. But never had I imagined that it would hit me so early and so aggressively! RA struck me suddenly at 42, two years ago. Overnight my world changed. In a matter of a year, I went from ‘hyperactive supermom’ who would be up on her feet from 6 in the morning till 11 at night, to almost an ‘invalid’ needing help for the simplest of chores.

Pain was paramount. Severe shoulder pain episodes waking me up in the middle of the night. I couldn’t sleep and would just sit up or walk around in the dark. At first only the back of my knees would hurt and then gradually the knees started getting worse. I would stand at the top of the stairs and pause for a few seconds trying to muster up the courage to take the steps down! There was swelling in my hands making it difficult to do anything in the kitchen. I had so much stiffness in the mornings that I couldn’t even get up and make lunches for my kids – that part hurt the most. Shoulder pain, Ankle pain, foot pain, elbow pain  – Every day it would be a new joint. As if a monster was moving inside my body and going to the different joints and hitting them with a hammer.

My rheumatologist put me on a medication that is first line for RA called Methotrexate. It is actually a chemo drug but used in lower doses for RA. I was doing reasonably ok – meaning about 50% better on it but the severe pain episodes were still coming. And then after being on it for about 7 months, the doctor increased my dose to the highest allowed. That brought a severe reaction with me getting an episode of severe uterine cramps – I was on the floor writhing in pain and I passed out. My husband called 911 and l found myself in the ambulance and the ER! That incident shook us both and we asked the rheumy to change the medication. He put me on a different medication called as Lefluonomide, which was clearly not a good one for me. I lost 15 pounds on it in 4 weeks and I became so severely weak that I didn’t have the energy to take even a few steps in my house.! I developed shortness of breath and would start panting if I climbed the stairs in my home. All these side effects made me decide to stop meds altogether and try naturopathy. I went to India last summer taking a break from work and also tried Ayurvedic treatment which sadly did not help much.

Although my naturopath had me on a dairy free, gluten free and night shade free diet, it was not showing any results. My condition got worse and worse. Work was also getting stressful. I had neck pain too now. There were times when I felt completely depressed and frustrated. I would look at the mirror and ask myself – who is this woman? What happened to the girl who could do 30 Kathak chakkars (dance twirls) at a time! Is this the same person who would be standing in the kitchen for 5 hours at a time cooking for a crowd? I would weep alone in my bed at night not wanting my kids to see my pain and anguish.

Husband and kids helped out a lot. We hired help to cook and do things around the house. After trying so many different things, instead of getting better I was getting worse. I did not know what else to do. I had run out of options. I was totally inconsolable as I didn’t have a plan. Last November, I started seeing a new rheumatologist and he told me I had severe RA and he recommended Rituxan infusions, which is a highly potent injectable used to treat some forms of cancer. It comes with a serious potentially fatal side effect. I requested him if he could still keep me on the oral meds and asked if I could be on a combination of oral meds – Methotrexate and Plaquenil. He agreed although he was not very hopeful. I was hopeful that the lower dosage of each medicine in the combination would help keep the side effects on the lower side.

Around the same time, I started doing meditation by the encouragement of a co-worker who is a close friend too. We started reading the Bible together every week. Being able to connect with God had a profound impact on my perspective. I went from ‘feeling sad about myself’ to ‘feeling wonderfully positive’. Now once again I wanted to give diet a try since I had read so many case studies about individuals turning their autoimmune disease around by healing their guts with the right foods. I consulted with a new naturopath from California who put me on the ‘AIP or autoimmune protocol’ diet, which is a ‘grain free’, dairy free’ ‘nut free’ and sugar free’ diet that relies on nutrient dense foods like fresh vegetables, fruits, good quality fish and meat to heal the body.

I slowly started getting better. So what was working now you may wonder? Was it the medications? Or the diet? or my positive attitude? I really think it is a combination of all three. I am able to do a lot more things by myself now than before. And I am continuing to work to heal my body. I regularly exercise, do yoga and do meditation. I am grateful to God for helping me to make these positive changes in my life. I also quit my stressful corporate job in Jan of 2017 so that I could focus on healing and getting better. I now spend my time blogging about my ‘autoimmune paleo’ recipes and studying more about natural healing. I still have a long way to go but I hope my story motivates fellow RA sufferers to ‘not give up’ and to remain positive and hopeful. Always count your blessings and be thankful. Things will definitely start turning around!

Low fat or Full fat? Do you want the ‘whole’ truth?

BrooklynMilk_Preview_960Over the last two decades the media has been pushing it down our brains (and consequently down our throats!) – Whole milk is full fat and that it is bad for you. “To stay healthy and slim, go SKIM” seemed to be the golden mantra. Well, don’t be so sure! Like all myths (yes this is one!) this one was just awaiting the time when it would be busted.  And so finally now it’s time to bust the myths related to the different types of milk and take a closer look at ‘good whole‘ milk :).

Myth#1: Whole milk has a lot of fat

Truth: Whole milk has only 3.5% fat.  Whole milk is ‘whole’ because it is — for lack of a better word — intact. “2 percent,” “1 percent,” and “nonfat milk” are not intact, because they’ve been stripped of some of their dairy fatwhich makes them less creamy. However, you will be surprised that whole milk is not even that much more calorific; it only has about 30 calories more per cup than 2 percent milk1.

Myth #2: Whole milk can make you fat

Truth: As stated before, whole milk has only 30 additional calories per cup than 2% hence consumption of whole milk (instead of skim or low fat milk) is not likely to result in weight gain.  In fact, some recent studies have shown that consumption of full fat milk (whole milk) was linked to reduced body fat and to a lower risk of obesity 2. It has also not been proven that consuming reduced fat milk can prevent weight gain. A 2010 study by Children’s hospital, Boston concluded that switching from whole milk to reduced-fat milk at 2 years did not appear to prevent weight problems in early childhood 3.

So what could be the association behind whole fat milk and reduced weight gain?. One possible (which sounds plausible) theory : Whole milk gives us a greater sense of satiety and hence we tend to eat less. For instance we don’t feel the need to have that additional cookie or snack, which incidentally could be loaded with sugar!

Myth #3: Whole milk can increase your cholesterol

Truth: Whole milk contains beneficial omega-3 fatty acids which promotes cardiovascular health2. A study published in 2o14 found that higher intakes of whole fat milk, yogurt, and cheese were associated with better cardiovascular health 4. A systematic review published in 2012 showed that there was no association between the intake of dairy products and increased risk of CVD, coronary heart disease, and stroke, regardless of milk fat levels 5.  Organic whole milk has a higher omega-3 fatty acid content than regular whole milk and hence is more beneficial.

Bottom line: Stick to whole milk whether its for you or your kids.  I personally moved to whole milk about two years ago and did not gain any additional pounds by moving from skim to whole. My kids have  only had whole milk all these years and they are not overweight – far from it actually :). Of course, you do need to continue to eat a healthful diet with lots of vegetables and fruits and limit the amount of sugar. I say the new mantra should be “Stay Natural; Stick to Whole” !

1.http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/10/03/whole-milk-is-actually-3-5-milk-whats-up-with-that/?tid=sm_fb 2.http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014/02/12/275376259/the-full-fat-paradox-whole-milk-may-keep-us-lean 3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3229928/ 4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25476191 5.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3649459/

Picture Credit: I got this cute milk bottles picture from this site – http://work.repponen.com/Brooklyn-Milk

To be ‘gluten-free’ or not? : Gluten Unraveled

gluten-freeThese days you see ‘gluten-free’ everywhere  – in the print media ,on TV and of course all over the social networks. There has been a deluge of  ‘gluten free’ labeled foods in the supermarket.  There are also restaurants that are ‘gluten-free’ friendly with menus offering ‘gluten-free items’. The last time I had read about ‘gluten’ and its effect on health, which was like 10 years ago probably (and thereby not highly relevant or meaningful now!), gluten was a problem only for those who had an allergy to it.  That condition is called ‘celiac disease’. Clearly I needed to read more and update myself on the latest scientific literature. So I have been doing exactly that these last few weeks and I have to admit that I have been ‘enlightened’. Here’s a gist of my learnings and gleanings for your benefit.

Disclaimer/Request: I did not have ample time to do an exhaustive research and hence if you have any additional points on this topic that you feel I have not included here, or if you feel that I have not done full justice to the topic, please feel to write in your comments here and fill me in! 

So let’s start at the very beginning ….with the ABC’s….”So what exactly is ‘gluten’ ?”

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Gluten also shows up in many whole grain foods related to wheat, including bulgur, farro, kamut, spelt, and triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye). Some celiac disease experts warn patients to steer clear of oats, as well.

Gluten free grains include amaranth, buckwheat,corn,millet,quinoa and teff.

How can you know if you have celiac disease? What are its symptoms?

  1. Experts estimate that about 1% of Americans have celiac disease. The condition, caused by an abnormal immune response to gluten, can damage the lining of the small intestine. That, in turn, can prevent important nutrients from being absorbed.
  2. Symptoms of celiac disease include diarrhea, anemia, bone pain, abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss and a severe skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis. But celiac disease often has few or no symptoms. In part for that reason, only about 5% to 10% of cases are diagnosed in the U.S., Green says.
  3. The only way to know whether you have celiac’s disease or not is by testing for it. The first test is typically a blood test that detects antibodies related to an abnormal immune response. If the blood test is positive, a biopsy is performed to confirm inflammation in the lining of the small intestines. Going gluten free before testing may impact your test results.

If you don’t have celiac disease can you still be sensitive to gluten?

Some people may be sensitive to gluten even though they don’t have outright celiac disease2. For years, health professionals did not believe nonceliac gluten sensitivity existed, but experts are beginning to acknowledge now that it may affect as many as 20 million Americans3,7. Based on a 2010 study, researchers concluded that these patients with ‘gluten sensitivity’ who did not have celiac disease share the same “metabolic fingerprint” as diagnosed celiac patients and should follow the same avoidance of wheat, rye and barley8.

Gluten sensitivity and celiac disease are two distinct “clinical entities” with the same environmental trigger – gluten – and many of the same symptoms shown below6:

  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Eczema
  • Headache
  • Foggy brain
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Joint pain
  • Numbness in the extremities

Why are we seeing this sudden increase in ‘gluten sensitivity’ in the population?

We are no longer eating the wheat that our parents/grandparents ate. In order to have the drought-resistant, bug-resistant and faster growing wheat that we have today, we’ve hybridized the grain. It’s estimated that 5 percent of the proteins found in hybridized wheat are new proteins that were not found in either of the original wheat plants. Many experts believe that these “new proteins” are part of the problem that has lead to increased systemic inflammation, widespread gluten intolerance and higher rates of celiac.4

So is there any harm in folks trying to go on a ‘gluten free’ diet to determine if they feel better?

Per se there is no harm in trying to determine if one is gluten-sensitive or not by going on a gluten-free diet.  If you have some symptoms of ‘gluten-sensitivity’ and if your symptoms are not relieved from other treatments, it is ok to go experimentally on a ‘gluten-free diet’ for a short period of time (like a 30 day period) to see if you feel better.  Then re-introduce gluten into your diet and see if those symptoms come back. If they do, then this would confirm your suspicions that you are ‘gluten sensitive’.

But there are certain risks when you go on a ‘gluten-free’ diet unless you work your diet plan in consultation with a nutritionist.  This is because by going ‘gluten-free, you are inadvertently eating less of whole grains that are otherwise nutritious with minerals,vitamins and fiber. Going gluten-free also means that you will have to drastically change your diet – eliminating all wheat and other whole grains with gluten may mean that you are limited to a narrow range of food options which means risk of not getting adequate nutrients.

Is eating less ‘gluten’ beneficial to our health in general?

There has been no evidence thus far to suggest that eating less gluten can be beneficial to people who do not have either ‘celiac disease’ or ‘gluten sensitivity’. And for those folks who are really sensitive to gluten, they have to eliminate it completely from their diet- Even trace amounts can cause serious problems. So just going on a ‘partial’ gluten free diet if you are not really ‘gluten sensitive’ may not show any real benefits.

Will going ‘gluten-free help me lose weight?

Gluten does not cause weight gain. But portion control issues might cause weight gain. Hence cutting out gluten from your diet may not promote weight loss and there is no evidence in the literature to support that.

Some people who go off gluten to lose weight end up gaining weight instead. That’s because they consume gluten-free packaged products that are often just as high in saturated fat, sugar and sodium as other junk food, and these products often contain high-glycemic refined ingredients like white rice flour or fillers like potato starch that can affect your blood sugar and trigger cravings.5

But if one replaces the gluten-containing foods with naturally gluten-free meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, and nuts rather than gluten-free junk food, then such a diet could help one stay healthy and also perhaps lose some weight.  All healthy diets should contain plenty of vegetables and fruits,whole grains and proteins.

The bottom line:

If you think you may have a problem with gluten, get tested before you decide to go ‘gluten-free’. If your blood test results come negative and if you still would like to see if your symptoms get better with a gluten free diet, try a gluten free diet for 30 days. If you completely eliminate gluten for 30 days and begin to feel better (lack of your earlier symptoms), and if your symptoms come back when you re-introduce gluten in your diet, then you probably have gluten sensitivity and should make a serious effort to avoid it.  Going on a gluten free diet(even though you are not allergic or sensitive to gluten) just to lose weight does not seem practical based on available evidence6.