How I learned to make dairy-free, anxiety-easing, gut-saving smoothies
Photo Courtesy of the Author
People who get to know me now find it difficult to imagine that I was not always joyfully dancing West African dance and singing rhythm and blues, but only two years ago I ended a decade of perplexing and debilitating physical and mental symptoms that turned out to be Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. I cured myself by changing what I ate.
Nutritionist Linda Clark, founder of Universal Wellness Associates, had successfully traversed her own journey with Hashimoto’s years before me, so I jumped with both feet into her autoimmune recovery diet. On paper this may sound easy. Let me assure you it is not! I chose to eliminate wheat and all grains, all dairy products, eggs, soy, all legumes, and all sweeteners except stevia. I did it because I wanted my life back. And I succeeded! Osteoarthritis gone. Body aches and fibromyalgia gone. Adrenal fatigue gone. Hypoglycemia gone. A hypersensitivity that I referred to as “adult onset autism” gone. Mental brain fog and emotional mood swings gone. For my partner and me to stay together, he had to join my diet—because even a soy kiss would start my heart racing in the wrong way. But he did, and we’re both healthier for it.
Today I like to envision myself as a butterfly that has sloughed off her former caterpillar self, but on occasion, despite my meticulous attention to diet, my autoimmunity rears its debilitating head. This happened recently when I helped my brother and sister provide home hospice during our mother’s passing. The sadness and stress was literally gut wrenching, and despite probiotic capsules that had helped me in the past, I could not seem to recover from diarrhea and nausea.
Then I found CocoYo kefir on the shelf of my local food co-op: a dairy-free, raw, probiotic pudding made from raw young coconut. (Traditional kefir is made from fermented milk, which I can’t digest.) Despite the $13.95 price, I bought some to try it out. It was delicious, and I felt so much better after eating it that I bought more, and more. After a few days, not only had my gut functioning normalized but I was feeling really good. Keep in mind, this was still less than a week following my mother’s death. About that time a study was published suggesting the probiotics in kefir really do ease anxiety. I felt I was living proof—and this kefir was dairy free.
So I decided to Google “coconut kefir” to see if I could learn how to make this magical elixir for myself. The search led me to Donna Schwenk’s article, “My Coconut Kefir Is Better Than Yours,” complete with accompanying recipe. Schwenk describes kefir as a “good friend” and a living fermented drink that has been around for thousands of years, containing 30–56 strains of good bacteria that colonize our insides for a healthy and vibrant life.
Reading further, I learned that people in the Caucasus Mountains maintain that kefir is the reason for their legendary longevity. In Turkey, scrolls about Abraham declare that his long life was due to fermented milk products. Mohammed professed kefir “grains” a gift from Allah. (The grains are a symbiotic mixture of yeast and bacteria that look like tiny popcorn.) And Noah claimed to have gotten these grains from angels on the ark. Whatever the actual history, the theme is clear: kefir acts with miraculous results, and aids in a long and healthy life.
I ordered my kefir grains from Schwenk’s website and they arrived in two days. I had to buy whole milk to “feed them” upon arrival, because the lactose in whole milk is what maintains their life and growth. The next day I rinsed the cow’s milk from my kefir grains, added them to coconut milk, and fermented them overnight—creating my first batch of homemade coconut kefir. It was bubbling with fermented goodness. I refrigerated it and enjoyed it over strawberries. The next day I made my first batch of “second fermented” kefir, a simple process that makes kefir less sour and more delicious. This time I mixed it into my smoothie.
I cannot tell you how exciting and empowering it is to create these health-giving treats with such ease. I definitely recommend trying out coconut kefir for yourself.