Cheers to Gut Health and Happiness!

As I stepped out of the Back Bay train station into Copley Square this week, I was actually overwhelmed by a rush of emotions and love for Boston. I have been fortunate enough to spend time in some amazing places, but I can definitely still say unequivocally – Boston is my favorite. Of course walking the same paths, visiting my old barre stomping grounds, shopping at my old Whole Foods and Trader Joes and having lunch around the corner from my old apartment (“The Nest”) conjured up some tremendous nostalgia.   However, there is something different about the atmosphere and vibe of the city that struck me even the very first time I visited. I had come to see my best friend Allyson, who was working at Brown University in Providence at the time, and my flights were in and out of Boston, so we decided to make a day of it, walking around and sightseeing. Although I can’t quite describe what it was, I knew instantaneously that I simply HAD to live in Boston. I was in the middle of school at the time, so it couldn’t be right away, but it was crystal clear to me that THIS is where I wanted to be.

Sometimes you just know. Intuition can be tricky and I don’t believe you should follow your emotions blindly or all the time, but there are definitely cases that you should trust your gut. Somehow when you know, you know. I also felt like this when I began dating my husband. I had just moved in with Allyson in Providence not even two weeks before when we met and I was not really too interested in a serious relationship at that point. But within a very short amount of time, and despite my initial resistance, we both knew quite quickly that this was it. Since the first month or two of knowing him, Jonathan has been my best friend, teammate and destined husband.

Interestingly, new science in microbiota also makes a case for trusting your gut. In their book Gut Reactions, Justin and Erica Sonnenburg discuss the developing field of intestinal health and the impact of our gut and its bacteria on our immunity to a multitude of illness and diseases as well as its influence on our weight, mood and brain. Although research in this area is still in preliminary stages, there is a lot of evidence linking digestive and immune health with stress in a bidirectional fashion. A major function of the healthy bacteria in our large intestine is to provide signals to the brain to cope with elevated stress levels to prevent impact to the rest of the body. The gut bacteria produce chemicals which impact our moods, such as serotonin (aka the “happiness” neurotransmitter) which communicate with the brain and help to reduce cortisol (the “stress” hormone). Not only does our gut communicate to our brain, but also in periods of prolonged or intense stress which translate to extended periods of the brain functioning in “fight or flight” mode, the composition of bacteria within us may be negatively impacted. Long story short, microscopic bacteria in our guts are working hard to keep us happy, healthy, and well-functioning and it is in our best interest to keep those little microbiota happy, healthy, and well-functioning.   Although there is a lot of detail and research behind the topic and recommendation, which I will not attempt to condense here, this is why you may have heard that probiotics and fermented foods are good for you. Both are inclusive of special consumable bacteria which, as they pass through the digestive system, help to strengthen the lining of large intestine, which provides nourishment for healthy bacteria, potentially conferring a host of benefits in terms of immunity from a wide variety of disease, illness, weight gain, and depression or anxiety. I am not personally into a lot supplementation or medication, so I prefer to regularly ingest foods rich in probiotics like my Coconut Yogurt or Kombucha.

One thing I have missed a lot living abroad is my favorite treat: GT’s Gingerade Kombucha. I don’t actually drink alcohol, juice, soda, or even most flavored waters, so even at my own wedding, this was my beverage of choice and I was sure to indulge while visiting the States, stocking up on a few which traveled back home with me. Although I have noticed a dramatic increase in availability recently (alas still not this particular brand of deliciousness), two years ago, kombucha was not a thing in Cork. So, I did what I have done for many less readily accessible “Miranda Essentials” and learned to brew my own at home. Starting simply, I left it unflavored, but since then have successfully created my Mojito Lime, Raspberry, and Cranberry Spiced versions. And just recently, I made my very own attempt at the Gingerade which I plan to brew as soon as my current stash runs dry.   It is effervescent and light and feeding all those miniature microbiota in my intestine. Although I have already drank the proverbial kool-aid on the impact of the gut on the brain and my mood, the taste alone truly does make me happier already!

 

Gingerade Kombucha

Prep time: 

Total time: 

Serves: 6-8

Kombucha is a light, effervescent fermented drink which promotes healthy gut bacteria. A well functioning gut/large intestine has been linked to improved immune and digestive health and impact to our weight, mood and brain
Ingredients
You will need a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast) to start. If you currently live in Ireland, I have plenty of extras that I am happy to give to you the next time I see you. If you are not nearby, you will have to order one to get started. I bought one on Amazon (I am not an affiliate, just trying to be helpful) initially and from there, every batch you brew results in a new, additional SCOBY which is why I am happy to give away whatever I do have on hand if you are close.
You will also need a 2 liter glass jar and then a few glass jars for drinking out of later on I originally just upcycled my old G.T. bottles, but then decided to upgrade to bottles with the flip lids and suction rings to increase the effervescence which is great, but not essential.
Ingredients
  • SCOBY with about .5 cup (120 ml) starter liquid
  • Filtered water 2.5 liters
  • Green Tea 6 bags
  • Organic Sugar 1 cup (200 g)
  • Fresh Ginger 6" knob roughly chopped
  • Juice of 2 Lemons
Instructions
  1. Place the SCOBY and starter liquid (leftover kombucha from your last batch works perfectly) into your glass jar. Never allow any metal to touch the SCOBY (spoon or tongs, etc.) as it can kill the colony
  2. Bring the water to boil and then add the tea bags and sugar, stirring to dissolve
  3. Remove from heat and allow to come down to room temperature. Don't rush it otherwise you could unintentionally kill your SCOBY
  4. Once cooled, remove the tea bags and pour into the glass jar with the SCOBY
  5. Cover with a loosely knit dishtowel/cotton cloth and a rubber band
  6. Store away from food area (cooking smells could change the flavor) and direct sunlight and allow to ferment for one week doing nothing. The SCOBY will ferment by breaking down the sugar in the tea
  7. After one week, remove the SCOBY storing in it a small glass container with some starter liquid at room temperature only lightly covered with the cloth and rubber band again
  8. And add the ginger pieces and lemon juice
  9. Then split the kombucha tea (dividing up the ginger pieces) into the smaller bottles, there should be about 6-8 cups (1.4 - 2 liters) worth which can be divided accordingly.
  10. Allow smaller bottles to sit unrefrigerated for 3 days to increase fizziness and then you can move to the fridge to chill before enjoying from there! You can strain the ginger out if you like or leave as a type of garnish.
Every time you brew a batch, a new SCOBY will grow so you can start another jar right away if you want. I always keep a few on hand in a separate glass jar sitting in a little kombucha so I have backup in case of mold or for spares to give away!
Do not refrigerate the SCOBY or allow it to touch any metal as this can kill the colony

 

 

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