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I learned to love yogurt when I was in my teens. My dad used to eat it all the time at home, but I didn’t care for it at first. We’re talking plain yogurt without the fruit and the tons of sugar the way most of it is made now. Just yogurt. I could never understand what he liked about yogurt until I got the chance to try the full-fat variety—the kind they have in Europe. It was delicious—custard-like and mellow, not tangy like the usual plain yogurt I’d had before. I couldn’t get enough of the stuff.
Unfortunately, full-fat yogurt is not exactly the perfect health food, and it’s difficult to find in the U.S. Somehow it didn’t matter, though. I liked plain regular yogurt anyway after I’d tried it, although I also ate the sugary kind for years. Now my favorite yogurt is the Fage brand, 2%. It’s not as custardy as full-fat yogurt, but it has that mellow taste that I like so much. I’ve learned to think of it the same way an artist thinks of a blank canvas—as full of possibilities. There are so many ways to dress up plain yogurt that you will not miss the refined sugar.
Kefir was a little more unusual, but when I discovered the Lifeway brand organic kefir at Kroger, that’s when I started drinking it more regularly. Kefir tastes a little bit like fresh buttermilk, except that it has a slight fizziness. Like plain yogurt, plain kefir can also be combined with a wide variety of other foods to create interesting dishes.
Fermented foods like yogurt and kefir offer a wide range of health benefits. Both are naturally high in protein, for starters. They also make the nutrients in your food more available for your body to use by increasing your body’s ability to absorb any vitamins and supplements you may be taking. In addition, fermented foods are probiotic—they contain living cultures that help keep the fauna and flora in your gut in balance, which in turn keeps your immune system tuned up. That’s why research continues to uncover the many conditions that can be helped by consuming probiotics, from colitis and constipation to heartburn, gum disease, and high cholesterol, as well as a whole lot more. They heal the digestive tract and improve the digestion, and they work much better than chewable antacid tablets because they don't just stop the digestive process--they actually promote better digestion instead. It has often been said that immunity is in the intestines, and probiotics keep that immunity strong. Also—good news for the lactose intolerant—the plain organic kefir is 99% lactose free.
Both yogurt and kefir are great additions to smoothies, make a nice topping for fresh fruit (with vanilla and stevia added), and have a place in raw desserts. If you’re not yet sold on having them plain, you can doctor them up to be more like the sugar-heavy kind in the dairy case—those I would NOT buy, because they have as much sugar as a bag of cookies. If I’m going to eat that much sugar, just go ahead and give me the cookies. One extra benefit of kefir is that it actually colonizes in your intestines so you don’t have to keep drinking it constantly to get the benefits; yogurt, on the other hand, needs to be consumed over and over because the benefits don’t last.
Kefir is super blended with some fresh berries and a little stevia, but my favorite way to drink it is with cinnamon. Here’s my recipe:
1 C. plain organic Lifeway kefir
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 shakes of Now brand stevia powder (or to taste)
Then just mix or shake it up, and you’re good to go. The Now brand stevia is available at Nutra Foods Huber Heights, and you can use any kind of ground cinnamon you like. You can make this into a smoothie by blending it up in the Vitamix with an organic apple. Lifeway has a cute online kefir bar that lets you experiment virtually with different flavor combinations that you can then try at home.
Yogurt can be made into lots of things, from banana pudding to salad dressing. Greek tzatziki (cucumber-dill) dressing is really good on salad, but it’s also delicious as a dip or on sandwiches. You may have had it on gyros. You can make it like this:
3 cups 2% plain Fage yogurt
1 large, thinly sliced and diced cucumber
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 T. fresh dill, chopped (only use fresh here)
Sea salt to taste
Mix this up, and if you want a little extra “fire,” you can add cracked black pepper.
If you experiment a little or search the Internet, you can find more ways to include yogurt and kefir in your diet. Yogurt and kefir are the chameleons of the live foods section. They can be breakfast, a snack, a beverage, or a dessert, and no matter how you fix them, they’re feel-good foods that will boost your immunity and help fill you up.