FANTASTIC FERMENTED FOODS, PART 2
I’ve been making yogurt ever since 1992 when our son was a toddler, and we were focusing on super healthy foods for our kids. And we’d eat sauerkraut pretty regularly, but often cooked (not the best for the probiotic value!). It wasn’t until after I became a health coach that I became acquainted with the vast variety of fermented foods, when a friend introduced me to Kombucha, a fermented tea. At first it was a little sour and pungent but by the end of that first shared bottle, I was a convert. Not a big drinker of alcohol, I was already thinking “hey, wouldn’t this be a great drink to enjoy while everybody else is drinking their beer!” Bonus on the healthy! And things began to snowball, fermented foods had me tightly in their grip, to the chagrin of my teen, who is firmly convinced after her biology class that eating food that’s ALIVE is GROSS! Clearly, we don’t have a lot of gut health conversation at the dinner table. =]
If you were lucky, your family may have a heritage that includes some sort of traditional fermented food that you saw on the holidays. If you are a first or second generation American, you may have even seen and enjoyed (or resisted if you were wanted to ‘fit in’ with your peers as a kid) fermented foods weekly or even daily. I have a couple Asian friends who spent middle school yearning for the traditional Asian foods for lunch their moms made when they were at home, but caved to the social pressure of not standing out as the ‘weird’ kid in the lunchroom.
In “Fermented Foods Part 1”, I discussed some of the basics – what a healthy gut is, the bacterial micro biome within it, and a little bit about the bacteria, where it comes from, and how it’s supported. I also introduced some popular fermented foods to begin getting familiar with. And listed there some basic ‘what it is, what’s good, and what to avoid. Now, let’s dig a little deeper as to the WHERE these came from and the healthy benefits – WHY we should consider them. This is a LOT of information, so I’ll offer it in a few parts so you can pick and choose. In this article you can learn about HISTORY, the FERMENTATION PROCESS, and the THREE MAIN TYPES OF FERMENTED FOODS and their SPECIFIC BENEFITS. But first, the WHY you want to know more…..
WHY YOU WANT FERMENTED FOODS IN YOUR LIFE AND DIET
The benefits seem too good to be true, but really, it’s nature at its best. Over time, our bodies and the environment of foods developed a symbiotic relationship we’ve basically ruined with our current dietary habits. Getting back to what our bodies were designed to function with. Here is a ‘short’ list of benefits:
- Antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral properties
- Promote longevity
- Positively effect on the following conditions/diseases/systems
- blood disorders: anemia
- cardiac disease: hypertension, high cholesterol
- chronic fatigue syndrome, low energy
- dermatological disorders: eczema, acne, allergies, psoriasis, wrinkles
- digestive issues, including IBS/IBD, constipation, diarrhea, ulcer, reflux, hepatitis, colitis, leaky gut, canker sores
- genitourinary disorders: yeast infections, Candida
- immune system: autoimmune disorders, AIDS
- musculoskeletal disorders: arthritis, gout, osteoporosis, rheumatism, collagen maintenance
- neurological/Psychological disorder: depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD), migraine, sleep disorders,
- respiratory disorders, asthma
- weight lossIn dairy, reduces lactose – can be tolerated by those who lack lactase
- Starts the digestive process by already being partially broken down.
- Repopulates the microbiota with living active bacteria, which builds the intestinal tract’s lining.
- Increases bioavailability of nutrients, particularly vitamins + minerals
- Enhances enzymatic content of food: each metabolic reaction in the body is started, controlled, and terminated by enzymes, which can be digestive (created in the body) or ingested from raw, unheated food.
So, that’s a lot of good stuff! Did you find something in that list you’d like to improve in YOUR health? If so, keep reading! The following is also for those of you who are total information junkies……
WHERE THEY CAME FROM
Fermented foods have been part of human history for thousands of years, with records of ancient Greeks, Romans, Chinese, and many other cultures using fermented foods and recognizing them as medicinal. There is at least one type of fermented food found as part of almost every culture’s history, and are sourced mainly from plants and dairy, which support bacteria friendly to our health. There are three main categories of fermented foods I’ll cover, liquids, cultured dairy, and cultured vegetables and fruits. Sourdough bread deserves a mention, because people ask, and the starter is a ferment. However, the baking causes any bacterial benefit to be lost in the heat. Some of these foods we still consume regularly today, others have disappeared from favor, or become processed foods that, while used similarly, no longer offer the bacterial benefit to our micro biome (ex: ketchup, relish). Let’s look at a few details to unravel their mystery.
Bacteria which produce lactic acid are what make milk go sour and vegetables ferment. These bacteria help the body balance stomach acid, and help produce acetylcholine to facilitate nerve impulse transmission. On the preventative side, this friendly bacteria is critically important to limiting growth of pathogenic (disease causing) bacteria in our bodies. For that reason, fermented foods can also be referred to as FUNCTIONAL FOODS, and they are a key factor in the WHY of fermented foods, or at least active probiotics, in our system.
As modernization brought refrigeration and other forms of food preservation, lacto-fermentation fell out of favor, replaced by convenient processed foods which lack living bacteria. The evidence is becoming clearer that this shift in our Standard American Diet is depleting this bacterial balance and support, with the unforeseen outcome of an epidemic of chronic illnesses. A variety of foods offers a variety of bacteria, and as you’ll see in the health benefits listed below, specific foods are particularly effective in helping prevent or heal specific illnesses and chronic health conditions.
LIQUID FERMENTS: DRINKS!
You’re probably most familiar with alcoholic beverages such as beer and wine. Other fermented beverages include cider (hard cider is regaining popularity as an alcoholic beverage), vinegar, and kombucha. Also dairy, which I’ll cover separately. Fermented liquids are noted in the bible, and there is 9000 year old evidence of fermented liquids, most created from grains or fruits, and flavored with herbs, flowers, and honey. Healthwise, beer, many wines, and most cider is often pasteurized these days, and no longer great sources of probiotics, though if you hunt you may be able to find a source of unpasturized ‘live’ beverages. Sorry!
However, vinegar “with the mother” and kombucha are usually living foods and are great sources and can be found in most fully stocked grocery stores. *Vinegar: look for the brand “Bragg”, the label says Apple Cider Vinegar with the ‘Mother’. The mother is the floating cloudy debris that is the healthy bacteria you’re looking for.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF LIVE FERMENTED LIQUIDS (KOMBUCHA AND VINEGAR)
- Nutrients: B vitamins, enzymes, probiotics, acid (acetic, gluconic, lactic)
- improve digestion – antioxidants counteract free radicals, high in beneficial acid, probiotics, and enzymes, proven effective in preventing and healing leaky gut and stomach ulcers (proven as effective as prilosec)
- weight loss – acetic acid and polyphenols, improves metabolism and limits fat accumulation
- increase energy – enzymes and B vitamins, extends energy, boosts hemoglobin, stimulates cellular energy production (ATP)
- detoxification and cleansing – gloconic acid, probiotics, protects liver.
- immune support – antioxidants incl DSL, strengthens immunity, controls free radicals, decreases oxidative stress, protects against cell damage.
- Joint care – glucosamines to heal, repair, and prevent joint damage; preserves collagen and prevents arthritic pain, reduces appearance of wrinkles.
- Cancer Prevention – glucaric acid reduces cancer risk.
Cultured dairy is known to have been around since about 10,000BC and is found around the world on all inhabited continents. The best known traditional cultured dairy are: yogurt, curds, whey, cheese, sour cream, cottage cheese, cream cheese. Today, most of these are found only as “dead” pasteurized foods, meaning they have been heated to kill the bacteria, and now have no probiotic benefits. Exceptions you can find in most fully supplied grocery stores are milk kefir and yogurt. In health food stores and from private sources you can often find a few more. Cultured dairy is often well tolerated by lactose intolerant folks, because of the lacto-fermentation breakdown of the milk proteins (casein). Although most is made with pasteurized dairy, culturing restores the enzymes that help digestion.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF CULTURED DAIRY
- Yogurt nutrients: protein (9g/6oz), calcium, Vitamins B2, B12, C, D, potassium, magnesium, contains up to 5 bacteria.
- Kefir nutrients: Rich in Vitamins B1, B12, C, K, tryptophan, phosphorus, pantothenic acid, magnesium, calcium, contains up to 35 different bacteria – some of which colonize in the small intestine.
- Helps lower cholesterol, and protects against bone loss
- Provides beneficial bacteria and lactic acid to the digestive tract
- Reduces risk of osteoporosis, high blood pressure (50% reduction s 2-3 servings daily)
- Active cultures help gastrointestinal conditions (lactose intolerance, constipation, diarrhea, colon cancer, Inflammatory bowel disease, IBS
- Enhances immune system and gut microflora
- Discourages vaginal infections and candida
- Discourages allergies, especially with L acidophilus
- antibacterial and antifungal
- provides a ‘clean’ mucous to coat the lining of the digestive tract where beneficial bacteria can settle and colonize.
- Contributes to healthy immune system, especially for Nervous system (sleep disorders, depression, ADHD)
- Supports Immunity (AIDS, chronic fatigue syndrome, herpes, cancer, TB)
- Helps eliminate cravings (by more nourishment and balance in body)
- Promotes health of kidneys, liver, relieves skin disorders, boosts energy, promotes longevity.
CULTURED VEGETABLES AND FRUITS
This is our largest category, and the most available to make without special starters, as the bacteria naturally existing on the plant assists in the fermentation process. Lacto-fermentation for these foods usually begins with salt or sugars to start the process by inhibiting putrefying bacteria for the first few days til the lactic acid build up can take over to preserve the food.
Originally vegetables and fruits were fermented as a way to preserve foods for long periods of time by controlling bacteria exposure to the foods. These are universally found all over the world, with specialties somewhat specific to continents. Europe traditionally included cabbage, cucumbers, beets, turnips, peppers, tomatoes, and lettuces. In Asia, cabbage, turnip, eggplant, onion, squash, carrot, and plums, which today are still eaten on a daily basis w meals. The Americas included relishes such as corn, cucumber, and melon. In India, spiced chutneys were and are still a well known and loved specialty. The best known to most of us are sauerkraut, relish, pickles, and chutneys, but most of those available in grocery stores have, again, been pasteurized and no longer contain helpful bacteria – read the labels and seek out the refrigerated section for your best bet to find live fermented food sources.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF CULTURED PLANT FOODS
- Nutrients: vary by vegetable, but normally are rich in vitamin A, C, B, K, as well as iron, magnesium, calcium’, folate, selenium, potassium, and great source of dietary fiber
- Rich in enzymes, beneficial microbes,
- Sauerkraut is one of few foods containing Lactobacilli plantarum bact. (which fight infections and inhibis pathogens such as E.coli, salmonella, candida overgrowth)
- Boosts immunity against common cold, skin problems, weight gain, blood infections
- Cancer cell growth inhibitor esp breast, colon, lung, liver
- Supports eye health with antioxidant lutein and zeaxanthin
- Digestive aid that scavenges free radicals, neutralizes phytic acid from grains and trypsin inhibitors in soy
- Generates new nutrients incl Omega 3 fatty acids, and trace mineral GTF chromium.
- Cures upset stomach, stomach ulcers, canker sores (rinse w juice 30 sec 2+x/daily)
- Vital bacteria a strong flu fighter.
- Kim Chi mproves blood flow and lowers cholesterol levels when eaten daily
- Helps body rid of waste, stabilized bowel movements
BALANCE, DIVERSITY AND CONNECTION
It’s about optimal gut balance, and providing the diversity in an internal environment that supports our body ecology in the best way possible. Because many of my clients come to me with chronic health issues…and even if they don’t because gut health is so integral to how well our whole health functions, gut health is an area we address. Living probiotics and prebiotics from fermented foods are definitely a part of that in addressing the imbalances, whether it be weight loss and increasing metabolism, or resolving the source of some chronic conditions to strengthen the body and reduce dependence on medications.
The healing value of beneficial bacteria not only helps the gut, but our nervous system connections. Our gut is our second brain, and those tiny bacteria are powerful to the point of actually organizing and initiating the signals to the brain that create those critical life functions. And of course the dysfunction is a signal to us that something is wrong with the signals or their supplier. By adding some fermented foods to our diet, we open enhanced gut-brain connection for better body function. We also open awareness and a better ability to understand how our body communicates with us to help us maintain our future health. I’ve listed some great resources below for more in-depth information – like THAT WASN”T ENOUGH?! And be sure to check out the fermented foods recipes. If they’re not listed on my blog posts, just shoot me a request through the contacts and I’ll deliver them to your email. And if you would like some support in your health, I welcome an opportunity for a conversation to learn how I can support you best.
Happy, Healthy Digestion!
The cookbook that challenges politically correct nutrition and the diet dictocrats
by Sally Fallon
“Prescription For Nutritional Healing”
A practical A-Z reference to drug free remedies using vitamins, minerals, herbs, and food supplements
Phyllis and James Balch