Fermented Foods & Probiotics

This past winter I got into the habit of consuming homemade sauerkraut on a regular basis. I did this for a few reasons:

First, it tastes delicious! In my opinion, any vegetable is improved when salt is added and the texture is softened.

Second, I feel good buying local foods and eating seasonally.

It’s easy to get in the habit of picking up a box of spinach and having the same salad for lunch. However, regularly buying prepackaged and prewashed spinach, flown in overnight from California in the middle of December, makes little sense. But, buying a dozen heads of local cabbage in the fall, to shred and store in jars for the winter, is much more natural and earth-friendly.

Thirdly, it introduces more variety to my diet.

Every food has a distinctive nutrient profile. For example, sauerkraut will provide more Vitamin C than spinach.

Conversely, all plant-based foods contain anti-nutrients. Over-consumption of oxalic acid in spinach interferes with mineral absorption. Fermenting or cooking vegetables breaks down anti-nutrients.

Finally, fermented foods provide beneficial probiotics to the body.

As research progresses, we learn that more and more of our health is dependent upon the intestines or gut. This is one of the last stops for everything we consume and is a vast ecosystem with over 100 trillion living microorganisms. The balance of these microorganisms, or bacteria, determine how our bodies function. 80% of our immune system exists in our guts and literally hundreds of health conditions can be tied to the balance of its bacteria.

Although the science of this ecosystem, known as the gut flora or microbiota, is still developing, we are aware of some general affects.

Non-digestible fiber, known as prebiotics, found in vegetables and fruits, stimulate the growth of advantageous bacteria in our gut.

Probiotics, living cultures present in fermented foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut, also benefit our gut flora.

Alternatively, antibiotics and excessive sanitary practices, although sometimes necessary to fight disease, can destroy healthy gut flora.

Unnatural foods such as refined sugar and artificial sweeteners also starve good bacteria. This is one proposed reason that sugar-free and even calorie-free products, such as diet soda, still result in weight gain and diabetes.

Finally, overconsumption of grains feed bacteria with inflammatory properties. Some constituents of grains even have the ability to tear through the gut lining, resulting in autoimmune conditions such as arthritis, eczema, and GERD.

Since I have little need for antibiotics and have already replaced grains with vegetables, regularly consuming probiotics from fermented foods is that last major step I can take to improve my gut health.

The best part about fermenting food – it’s easy!

  1. Simply shred or finely chop desired vegetable.
  2. Massage thoroughly with non-iodized salt until vegetable juices are released.
  3. Pack into a glass jar and fill with water.
  4. Weight down vegetables under water to prevent mold from growing! Check regularly for visible mold growth resulting from vegetables floating above the water line.
  5. Let jar sit at room temperature for desired amount of time. Do a quick Internet search to confirm appropriate fermentation time. Some foods only take a few days while others can take months!

So far I have made and LOVED sauerkraut and beet kvass. I have also tried fermenting raw goat milk with kefir cultures but did not enjoy the taste.

Use trial and error to find your favorite inputs and fermentation time. At worst, you’ll dislike the strong vinegar flavor and lose about 15 minutes of preparation time. At best, you’ll improve the health and function of your entire body!


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