Most of us understand that there are both good and bad bacteria that live in our gut. We also know that a healthy balance of good bacteria in this internal “ecosystem” is crucial for good health. But how do we increase the number of “good” organisms that reside inside our digestive tract?
The answer is PROBIOTICS.
Adding fermented foods to your diet is an easy and inexpensive way to add probiotics into your diet. There are many different brands of probiotic supplements that you can purchase, but getting your flora in balance by eating a little fermented food with every meal is not only more delicious but also more economical and reliable.
Some common fermented foods you may have heard of include sauerkraut, kimchi, fermented cheeses, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and miso (fermented soy). Unfortunately, the standard American diet is pretty much void of any real fermented foods. The pickles, ketchups, and sauerkrauts that were traditionally fermented are now brined in vinegar and pasteurized, killing any beneficial organisms. What we are talking about here are REAL fermented foods that are lacto-fermented, meaning that the starches and sugars in vegetables and fruits are converted into lactic acid by the many species of lactic-acid-producing bacteria present on the surface of all living things. Lactic acid is a natural preservative that inhibits putrefying bacteria. All you do is add SALT. Bacteria that could be harmful to us can’t tolerate much salt, but there are healthy bacteria that can. Lacto-fermentation wipes out the bad guys , then lets the good guys get to work . The product is a living food, full of enzymes and probiotics.
Sally Fallon is a huge proponent of lacto-fermentation in her book Nourishing Traditions :
“The proliferation of lactobacilli in fermented vegetables enhances their digestibility and increases vitamin levels. These beneficial organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anti-carcinogenic substances. Their main by-product, lactic acid, not only keeps vegetables and fruits in a state of perfect preservation but also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine.”
Health Benefits of lacto-fermented foods:
* Fermented foods improve digestion.
Fermenting our foods before we eat them is like partially digesting them before we consume sometimes people who cannot tolerate milk can eat yogurt. That’s because the lactose (which is usually the part people can’t tolerate) in milk is broken down as the milk is fermented and turns into yogurt.)
* Fermented foods restore the proper balance of bacteria in the gut.
Lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance, constipation, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, yeast infections, allergies, and asthma have all been linked to a lack of good bacteria in the gut.
* Raw, fermented foods are rich in enzymes.
Your body needs enzymes to properly digest, absorb, and make full use of your food.
* Fermenting food actually increases the vitamin content.
Fermented dairy products consistently reveal an increased level of folic acid, as well as pyroxidine, B vitamins, riboflavin and biotin depending on the strains of bacteria present.
* Eating fermented food helps us to absorb nutrients.
You can ingest huge amounts of nutrients, but unless you actually absorb them, they’re useless to you. When you improve digestion, you improve absorption.
* Fermenting food helps to preserve it for longer periods of time.
Milk will go bad in the fridge but kefir and yogurt last a lot longer. Sauerkraut, pickles and salsa will keep for months.
* Fermenting food is inexpensive.
The foods required to make fermented foods are cheap, and no fancy equipment is needed.
* Fermenting food increases the flavor.
Once you try real lacto-fermented foods, you will realize how amazing they taste. They make everything better. I would recommend starting out slow if you are new to fermented foods. Once you introduce good “bugs” into your gut, the opportunistic, bad flora starts to die off. Good to go slowly.
In our household, jars of fermented veggies on the kitchen counter are a given. We eat sauerkraut on everything. Breakfast eggs, Mexican foods, meat dishes, etc. My toddler licks her fingers after eating her daily dose. Look for my favorite, easy recipes in coming posts.