We’ve heard it before, the importance of good bugs in a healthy digestive tract. Much of our immune system resides in the digestive tract and a balanced level of beneficial bacteria has been linked to reduce allergies and fewer colds, along with overall reduced digestive distress (such as gas, bloating, constipation, etc). More recent research is connecting positive gut environment with improvements in mental health, such as reduced levels of anxiety as in this study.
For more detailed information on the benefits of balanced gut bacteria, check out a past post: “Let Them Eat Dirt”
Incorporating fermented and cultured foods in your diet is one of the best ways to promote good bacteria.
What exactly are fermented foods and how do they contribute to healthy gut flora? According to Sandor Katz, author of The Art of Fermentation, fermented foods are “the flavourful space between fresh and rotten.” Nice, eh? During the fermentation process, beneficial bacteria digest sugars and starches in the food and release lactic acid. It’s the lactic acid that prevents any unwanted organisms from growing. Just a few days of fermenting, et voila! A bacteria rich, health promoting food that also tastes great!
Pickling and fermenting are not the same thing. Pickling involves soaking veggies in an acid - like vinegar, while fermenting is a process that happens over time, and in a salt-water brine. The benefits of the high bacteria content occurs only in fermentation. More details on the differences can be found on pickle.com
Common examples of fermented or cultured foods include sauerkraut, miso (soybean paste), Kombucha tea, natural yogurt, aged cheeses, kimchi and kefir.
Another wonderful thing about fermented foods is that it doesn’t take much to reap the benefits. As little as a few tablespoons of sauerkraut, 1/2-1 cup of kefir, or 2 cups of kombucha tea provide therapeutic benefits.
There are many resources on how you can make your own fermented foods, but if you’re not into fermenting food at home, many quality products are available for purchase online or at local health food stores.
Not all fermented foods are created equal. When purchasing fermented foods, be sure to follow these guidelines offered by Dr. Frank Lipman, MD:
Be a Smart Shopper – In Five Steps
To get the most active cultures be on the look-out for:
KEEP COOL: Fermented foods are full of live organisms that must be kept cool to survive, so buy only fermented items in the refrigerated section of the store
IT IS WHAT IT IS: Fermented foods will, not surprisingly, have the phrase “fermented” printed somewhere on the label, so make sure it says so.
PUT IT OUT TO PASTURE: Be sure the label does not say “pasteurized” – because the pasteurization process wipes out the cultures you need to help fortify your gut.
FERMENTED AND PICKLED ARE TWO DIFFERENT THINGS: …So don’t confuse the two – they’re not interchangeable. Pickled foods are exactly that – they’re pickled in liquids like vinegar or brine, but not fermented (unless it says otherwise on the label).
BUY ORGANIC: Look for fermented foods that are made from the best raw materials possible, namely those made from organic, non-GM or locally farmed produce. (Dr. Blake’s note: especially SOY products such as Tempeh and Miso)
Aside from promoting a healthy environment in the digestive tract, fermented foods are rich in antioxidants like vitamin C, have anti-cancer benefits, and support healthy blood sugar levels. This article details the benefits of sauerkraut.
Adding a dose of fermented foods to your daily routine will go a long way in promoting a flourishing and nourishing life!
A few of my favourite resources:
Fermented Recipes & Websites:
Fermented foods For Health by Deirdre Rawlings
Delicious Probiotic Drinks by Julia Mueller
The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook (features an entire chapter on cultured foods) by Tom Malterre & Alissa Segersten
Kartheins Unpasteurized Kimchi and Sauerkraut
Yogi Kombucha Green Tea