Ask Kris: The Scoop on Kefir, Oxalates & Frozen Veggies

Hi Sweet Friends,

Each week you wonderful readers ask me really interesting and thought-provoking questions. They come in all shapes and sizes, in the comments section of my blog, my inbox, and on social media. Since I can’t reply to everyone individually, I thought it’d be fun and useful to pick a few commonly asked questions and start tackling them here, for everyone to enjoy. Introducing….Ask Kris. Today I’m covering kefir, oxalates, frozen veggies and juice/smoothie storage! Let’s get started…

Joanie’s Question: What’s your thinking on kefir? I’m finding that after a month of kefir from organic goat’s milk—my digestive issues have improved tremendously.

Kefir is a tart and even sour tasting cultured dairy (or non-dairy) drink that’s prepared by fermenting milk with bacteria. It’s often—but not always—pasteurized. Kefir is rich in probiotics and is generally kind to the digestive system.

One of the greatest health advantages of kefir is its high probiotic content, which may be the main reason for your improvement in digestive issues (congrats!). As you may have read in my dairy blog, goat’s milk is closest to human milk, is slightly alkaline, and has the least amount of lactose, making it more digestible and a better beverage compared to cow’s milk. But, keep in mind that goat’s milk kefir still contains casein and growth factors which may have a negative health impact. Plus, kefir typically has sugar added to make it more palatable (about 12 grams per cup), so make sure you’re being a food detective and reading your labels.

Non-dairy, unsweetened kefirs such as coconut kefir may be a great alternative. While a coconut kefir doesn’t contain the protein in a dairy kefir, it has a similar probiotic profile, none of the growth factors or dairy proteins found in dairy kefir, and the unsweetened varieties aren’t high in sugar.

You may also want to try supplemental probiotics. I’d encourage you to choose one of the higher quality probiotics like Dr. Ohirra’s, Primal Defense, Healthforce Nutritionals (Friendly Force), or MegaFood’s Megaflora as an experiment to see if it’s simply the probiotic content of the kefir that’s helping you. I talk about probiotics in my gut health blog, and I discussed probiotics with Kenneth Bock, Integrative MD in this Chat & Chew video. Take a peek!

Lastly, if you were drinking cow’s milk before switching to kefir, your improved digestion may be related to what you’ve eliminated rather than what you’ve added. Just an idea! If you’re interested in more veggie-based solutions, a plant-based kefir and/or probiotics may give you the same digestive benefits without the drawbacks of casein and growth factors found in animal-based milks and kefirs.

Patricia’s Question: I love my green smoothies! Should I be concerned about my oxalate levels with all the greens I am digesting?

Oxalates have been a really hot topic lately. Hopefully I can shed some light. Oxalates, which are formed naturally in the body and are also found in the leaves of some plants. They aren’t really a concern unless you’re prone to kidney stones, and even then, the evidence isn’t very strong (study here). But since eighty percent of kidney stones are calcium oxalate stones, nephrologists (that sounds kinky/spooky!) may still recommend avoiding high oxalate foods in individuals prone to them. Recent research points to an alkaline diet (lots of fruits and veggies, minimal amounts of animal protein, and plenty of alkaline water, which can be made by simply adding fresh lemon juice to your filtered water) as one of the most effective ways to prevent kidney stones.

The bigger concern with oxalates is that they bind to calcium in the body, and may decrease calcium absorption. The highest oxalate levels are found in spinach, beet greens, and Swiss chard. Because of their high oxalate content, they are not considered a reliable source of calcium. However, not all greens are high in oxalates. Low oxalate greens include kale, bok choy, romaine, arugula, turnip greens, and others.

When in doubt, rotate! If you love spinach, beet greens or Swiss Chard in your daily smoothies or juices, just rotate kale or other lower oxalate greens into the mix for nutrient variety and to maximize calcium absorption. This strategy also applies if you’re prone to kidney stones and want to be extra special careful (as always, check with your integrative doc to find out what’s right for you).

Sharri’s Question: What do you think of eating frozen vegetables when in a hurry and don’t have any fresh vegetables on hand?

Oh la la I love frozen veggies! They can be an awesome and healthy part of your plant-passionate diet. Once vegetables are picked, they start losing some of their water-soluble nutrients, especially vitamin C and folic acid. Each day, more of these nutrients are lost. So, if our “fresh” broccoli is harvested and transported across the country before we eat it, chances are it’s lost some of it’s vitamin C and folic acid content.

Ideally, we’d be picking our broccoli from the backyard or the local veggie stand and eating it the same day. But for those who don’t have access to fresh produce all the time, frozen varieties are a nutrient-rich alternative. Frozen produce is often frozen immediately after it is picked, and freezing halts the nutrient seeping that happens in fresh air.

Remember, boiling or steaming frozen vegetables will cause some of the nutrients to be lost, so including them in a soup that includes the cooking water will save the precious nutrients that would have gone down the drain.

Mike’s Question: Will freezing my juices and smoothies keep them fresher longer?

I’m often asked if it’s okay to freeze your juices and smoothies, and believe it or not, freezing juices or smoothies in mason jars, ice cube trays, or popsicle molds is a great option, especially if you want your juice etc. to last more than 24 hours. Freezing actually preserves most of the nutritional value of fresh juice and smoothies.

The longer your juice sits in the fridge, the longer it’s exposed to oxygen—causing nutrient degradation and the loss of enzymes. Keep in mind that for juice, the rate of degradation depends on the type of juicer used. Juice made with a centrifugal juicers have a shorter shelf life than juice made with masticating, twin gear or hydraulic juicers.

Here’s a handy chart showing what percentage of nutrients is lost during freezing (and cooking, reheating, etc.). Click here to view chart. It’s important to let your frozen concoction thaw naturally and drink it right away, or have it frozen. Nothing like a green smoothie popsicle on a hot, summer day! Heating or defrosting these nutrient-dense creations in a microwave will degrade the nutrients even more.

Hope that helps!

Your turn: What’s your “Ask Kris” question? Maybe I’ll answer it in the next round!

Peace & curiosity,

Kris Carr