FERMENTED FOODS: One of the Best Things You Can Do For Your Health
Picture above shows the fermented foods that are fermenting in my kitchen as we speak! Grated beets, grated carrots with ginger, beet kvass (fermented beverage made from beets… excellent liver tonic), lemon garlic dill sauerkraut, and grated carrots with orange peel and tarragon
Eating fermented foods helps keep our digestive systems healthy, and in turn helps keep our immune systems strong. Our gut or digestive system comprises at least 70% of our immune system. There are trillions of microorganisms in the gut… so much so, that one could say we are more bacteria than we are human. We rely on a balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria in the gut to keep our immune system in tip-top shape and our bodies healthy. So… how do we keep these microorganisms balanced and keep the good bacteria alive and well?
There are many factors that play into gut health and immunity. Diet obviously plays a key role. Modern diets comprised of highly processed foods, tons of sugar and toxic industrial seed oils, combined with high stress, chlorinated/flouridated drinking water, toxic chemical exposure, not enough sleep and frequent anti-biotic use is a perfect storm of elements that create an overgrowth of “bad” bacteria, an inflamed gut and compromised immunity. Yikes!!
Eating a nutrient-dense, whole-food, paleo-type diet that avoids toxic foods (sugar, industrial seed oils, processed foods) that suppress the immune system, sleeping 8-10 hours a night, managing stress levels well and exercising regularly sets a great foundation for optimal gut health and immunity. But… there is more we can and must do. We have to do something to help replenish the beneficial bacteria in the gut, especially in this day in age with frequent antibiotic use. This is where probiotics some in. You’ve heard of probiotics, right? Well… incorporating fermented veggies and other fermented foods in the diet is a natural way to keep a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut and improve your digestive system.
A HEALTHY GUT = A HEALTHY IMMUNE SYSTEM
Fermented food is not a new concept. Traditional cultures all over the world incorporated fermented foods in their diets regularly for thousands of years… many still do. Nowadays, most people in the Western world don’t even know what fermented foods are and definitely aren’t aware of their health benefits. Dr. Weston Price studied a variety of isolated cultures all over the world in the 1930’s that were eating their traditional diets and had not been touched by modern, Western foods. These societies enjoyed robust health and were not plagued by the modern, degenerative conditions that are so epidemic in our present day and age. While the macronutrient ratios and types of foods differed according to climate and geographic location, all groups of people shared commonalities. One of the common characteristics of these healthy populations was the consumption of fermented foods. Could this be something we are desperately missing in our diets in the modern, Western world? I think so!
Fermented vegetables and fruits are prepared via lacto-fermentation, which is a traditional method of preserving food that was used before we had the luxury of refrigerators. This process not only prevents food from decaying, but enhances nutrient content and provides the body with beneficial microbes and enzymes. This process enhances B vitamin content, vitamin K2 and many life-giving enzymes. According to Dr. Mercola, fermented foods are an excellent source of K2, which is important for preventing arterial plaque buildup and heart disease. Research studies also suggest that eating fermented foods may help to normalize weight.
Lacto-fermentation involves submerging a vegetable in a salt-water brine that kills “bad” bacteria and allows “good” bacteria to proliferate. Chemical reactions occur that involve the bacteria, lactobacilli, to break down the starches and sugars of the vegetable and produce lactic acid, which is the medium that preserves the food and prevents spoilage. The end result creates a nutrient-dense, therapeutic food that is best eaten in small quantities as a condiment. Adding a couple spoonfuls daily to your meals will help with digestibility of your food, as well as an accumulation of health-promoting benefits over time. Fermented foods help to nourish, balance and heal the gut, and optimize immunity.
Examples of lacto-fermented vegetables include raw sauerkraut and kimchi. Beets, carrots, cucumbers, turnips and radishes are also popular vegetables that can be fermented. Fruits can also be lacto-fermented and made into things like fruit chutneys or preserved lemons. Other fermented foods/beverages include, yogurt, kefir, beet kvass, kombucha, and many more. Sauerkraut or other fermented veggies are a great place to start for the fermented foods novice eating a Paleo diet. A Paleo diet is a great nutritional foundation, now adding nutrient dense, traditional foods like fermented foods (and bone broths, organ meats) will help take your health to the next level!
Summary of the Benefits of Fermented Foods
- Improves the health of the digestive system
- Improves immunity
- Helps prevent colds/flu
- Helps to chelate the body and eliminate toxins
- Helps aid in the absorption of vitamins and minerals in the body
- May help normalize weight
- Provides the body with K2 which helps prevent heart disease
Sounds good… I want to start incorporating fermented foods in my diet, but where do I start?
Buy them or make them.
Raw cultured vegetables, such as sauerkraut and kimchi, can be occasionally found at natural grocery stores. The jar must say RAW. Raw, fermented foods are not heated or pasteurized, and therefore turns the food into a powerhouse of nutrition with significant healing and immune boosting effects. For the food to be therapeutically beneficial it must be raw and unpasteurized!
If you can’t find them locally, you can buy very high quality products online. Use the Resources section below to buy already prepared, raw, unpasteurized fermented foods. I also included a link to a company that makes raw, unpasteurized coconut kefir and coconut yogurt which is delicious!
Making fermented foods is not difficult and is much less expensive. For example, to make sauerkraut all you need is cabbage, salt and a glass container to put it in. Some methods involve using a vegetable starter, whey or salt. It is a very inexpensive way to improve your health, boost the immune system and prevent colds/flu. Lacto-fermented veggies last for many months in cold storage. Please note, it is very important to use ORGANIC veggies when making your own. See Resources section below for online recipes and books with recipes.
Caldwell’s is an excellent company where you can buy already prepared and packaged fermented foods that provide a highly therapeutic bacteria content. You can order online and get them delivered to your door.
Tula’s Cocokefir sells high quality coconut yogurt and coconut kefir loaded with tons of probiotic bacteria per serving…and it tastes amazing. It’s a great option for kefir and yogurt for those that don’t eat or tolerate dairy.
Make your own (see below for online resource and book that contain recipes to make your own fermented foods)
Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live Culture Foods by Sandor Ellix Katz and Sally Fallon
Real Food Fermentation by Alex Lewin
Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon-Morrell and Mary Enig
By Brenda Walding, FDN, DPT