The Food that Won’t Go Away!
These days my social news feeds are full of talk about gut health and its impact on our overall health. Here’s a great overview.
In my journey to health I took a deep dive into all the possible ways by which I might restore my health. I quickly learned that a healthy gut was a prerequisite to a healthy body & mind.
Somewhere along my journey to health I discovered fermented foods. I blogged about them here and basically at the time rode the fence a bit about whether they’re an essential part of a healing diet. Admittedly, fermented foods can be a bit mysterious in the beginning, so perhaps I was still very steeped in the learning curve when I was riding the fence. Additionally, the science to support the benefits of fermented foods wasn’t nearly as strong as it is now.
Regardless, over time fermented foods got their hooks in me. I started to ferment more & more foods until eventually I was fermenting EVERYTHING that had a sugar and starch in it. Initially I did it for the increased nutritional value but I soon realized there was more!
#1 – Preserved & Convenient
You might be surprised that “preserved” is my #1 reason for fermenting foods but here’s the thing, eating a whole foods diet in today’s busy world that is 99% slanted toward convenience, requires a few insider tricks! Most foods that we go to the effort to ferment are a) nutrient dense and b) fresh. It’s the “fresh” part that can interfere with the “convenience” part (and can increase costs when the fresh foods go bad before we can eat them all). So…drumroll please, preserving otherwise labor-intensive (because you have to shop for them often and prep them each time you want to eat them) foods imbeds convenience! Because let’s face it, if the process of eating healthfully sucks the life outta you… Clearly that’s not what we want!
The small upfront investment of time & effort to preserve foods makes them immediately available to you when you need them most – when you’re busy and tempted to eat something less nutrition.
And for a bonus (#1+), perserved foods aren’t as sensitive to the need for refrigeration which makes them quite portable. Talk about convenience!
#2 – Pre- and Pro-biotic & Reduced Sugar Content
The Standard American Diet (lots of processed carbohydrates) and our typical lifestyles (from c-seciton births, to strict avoidance of microbes, to overuse of antibiotics, to chronic stress) wrecks havoc on our digestive & gut health. In fact, our gut health is determined by the microbes that reside in mostly our large intestines. You’ve probably heard of “gut microbiome” or “gut microbiota”. This is the symbiotic & synergistic relationship of microbes (bacteria, yeast, viruses, etc,) in our gastrointestinal tract.
Chances are if you’ve got any digestive disorders, your gut microbes are out of balance.
During then process of fermentation, the probiotic (good microbe) content of foods are enhance. AND the fibers of fermented foods serve as probiotics, food for probiotics, as well. How does this happen? The good microbes convert sugar and starches to more good microbes! Talk about a WIN-WIN-WIN!!
#3 – Enhanced Nutrient-Availability of Foods
Without getting too sciency, the fermentation process sort of “pre-digests” foods that can otherwise be difficult for a compromised gut to digest. Let’s back up a second…did you realize that just because you “eat” a nutritious food, there is not guarantee your body will “absorb” the nutrients from said food?? Say whuh?? Yep! Not only are some foods difficult to digest but many of us have such compromised gut health we don’t efficiently use the good food we take in. Insert big frowny face.
However…the cure (restoring our gut health) for what’s ailing us is…you guessed it #2!
#4 – Promote Regularity
This one kind of goes back to #3 but since it’s such a common complaint in our modern world, I gave it a number! I thought about giving it #2…..
#5 – May Treat a Myriad of Health Conditions Way Beyond the Gut
New & exciting science is emerging daily that points to our gut health being the main “driver” of our overall health. From hormone balance (responsible for energy levels, metabolism/weight management, sexual health, and mood regulation) to immunity, the gut sets the stage.
Here’s a crazy long list of how gut health matters:
- This is a great comprehensive article that covers a lot!
- Improved mood disorders
- Immunity (and this may even explain why some people who get flu shots still get the flu)
- Hormone balance
- Gastrointestinal function
- Reduce inflammation (the root of all disease)
- Treatment of Allergies
- Weight management
- Control cravings
- And a few others!
#6 – You’ll Learn A LOT About Food
If you DIY it, you’ll become a mini-food-scientist. You’ll have the privilege of watch food transform over a relatively short period of time and, in my experience, with each batch of fermented foods, I’ve learned so much about “living foods”. NOTE: As you discover fermenting foods, I always welcome your questions!
#7 – Taste GREAT!
For some, this may not be immediately true. In my experience, as I detoxed my tastebuds from sugary, processed foods, I developed a strong desire for healthier, earthier foods. But this scene, which is probably pretty common, did recently happen…
I was at the farmer’s market waiting in the “peaches line” (summer-summer-summer!). The lady behind me overheard a conversation I had with someone else about sauerkraut and she asked a few questions. She quickly professed her conclusion that she wouldn’t like it and her unwillingness to give it a try. At this, the words of my friend came to mind, “You might not like the taste of cough medicine either but there comes a time when you are willing to drink it anyway because you want the effects. So why would a health-promoting food by any different?”. Anyway, luckily for her, it was my turn to pick out my peaches.
I think the point though is that we’ve been culturally groomed to believe 1-food doesn’t matter much (if at all), so why even consider something that you are sure you wouldn’t like and 2-food should always be hyper-palatable. I admit to not always loving sauerkraut. I grew to love the taste of sauerkraut and other fermented foods but even when I didn’t yet love them, I held the mindset that eating them was more about health & healing than anything else. Sometimes maybe we need to default to a mindset of health instead of whatever mindset and beliefs we hold that are keeping us hostage to foods that don’t support our health.
What are they?
Now that you’re convinced fermented foods are worth a try, let’s be sure you know what they are!
Simply put, fermented foods (and beverages) have been through a process of lactofermentation in which natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food (beverage) creating lactic acid. This process preserves the food, and creates beneficial enzymes, b-vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, and various strains of probiotics.
You should know that all you need is high quality food (organic is preferred) and salt. Yes, salt. I am not pulling your leg!
I regularly ferment sauerkraut (raw cabbage) which I season in an infinite number of ways, carrots, celery, beets, onions, kimchi, garlic, lemons, milk (this requires a different culture medium, not salt), and kombucha (this also requires a different culture medium than salt).
Who shouldn’t eat them?
Some people have what is called Histamine Intolerance which would really stink because I think it’s hard to know that’s what it is. But like the article indicates, healing your gut may help. Hopefully, you can skip this paragraph altogether but I felt I need to at least include it.
Otherwise, people who have seriously disturbed gut microbiota may not tolerate fermented foods well. In most cases, slowly introducing them works just fine.
You Should Know
…that very few commercially prepared foods are truly fermented in the most beneficial way. Most commercially prepared “fermented/probiotic foods” are pasteurized and the microbes added back in. I guess this is better than nothing. But it’s certainly not the best. Homemade is best! Or buy from someone who you know understands fermentation and does it the right way.
Here’s why fermenting your own foods is superior to store bought:
- it’s really not hard
- you learn soooooo much about the science of food just by having your hands in it & participating in the process
- it’s about a million times cheaper
I teach all kinds of fermentation classes (maybe you’ve been to one) and I have lots of requests to teach those of you who cannot come to my kitchen. I hope to be able to offer online options for classes soon.
That said, please don’t wait for me. There are lots & lots of online resources for learning simple fermentation, sauerkraut. Try this one! I strongly recommend sticking to basic sauerkraut for starters. I find that my most successful fermentation students are the ones who master the basics first.
It’s Really THAT Simple?
Yes, fermenting foods is really that simple! But healing a broken gut and its sequelae (other health issues) may be a bit more complex than simply making & eating fermented foods.
Maybe fermented foods will be your gateway food to better health…
Leave a comment with your thoughts and/or questions about fermented foods or share fermented foods you already eat!