Many cultures have fermented foods as part of their cuisine. The Germans have sauerkraut, the Japanese have miso, the Russians have kefir, and western society has embraced yoghurt (although it originated in Asia). I have even written a blog on Kombucha, which is the latest fermentation craze – fermented tea.
So why all this talk on fermented foods?
In a nut shell it is great for digestion. Our body is home to trillions of bacteria. Yes, that is right, TRILLIONS! In fact, we have more bacteria in our gut that we do cells in our body! Now that begs a philosophical question of who is in charge of whom (but that is for another day!)
These bacteria do many beneficial things for our body.
- They make vitamin K for us (which is very important in blood clotting)
- They protect our gut from harmful toxins and by products of digestion
- They help to bulk our stool to make it easier to pass
- They are involved in weight gain or loss (and recent research has shown that by changing the gut bacteria of an obese person, they can loose weight more easily)
And there is recent research to show they are involved much more widely in our body than just the digestive system.
- They can help our immune system (an imbalance of gut bacteria has been linked to allergies and food intolerances)
- They can even can have a positive affect on mental health in conditions such as depression, and anxiety, and even autism.
So, because they do all these wonderful things for us it is important that we treat them well.
The first thing is to avoid anything that may kill them off.
– Antibiotics are an obvious one (try and avoid these unless absolutely necessary)
– Alcohol and caffeine
– Tap water – the chlorine kills them. Drinking filtered water will preserve your gut flora
– Stress (I have come to realise that stress doesn’t help anything!)
The second is to give them a good food source so they can stay healthy and happy in there
– Soluble fibre is the food they like the best which is found in all fruits and vegetables, as well as grains.
– AND, fermented foods are the other food source they like. In fact the act of fermenting is culturing a food to grow many friendly species of bacteria. The bacteria grow as part of the fermenting process, and then set up homes of their own in your gut. Regular consumption of fermented food is the best way to maintain these beneficial colonies.
If you are a person that regularly feels bloated, has a lot of gut pain, and cramping, and flatulence, and perhaps an urgency to go to the toilet, then trying some fermented foods on a daily basis may help you. If you are the sort of person that feels better when taking probiotics but your gut problems come back when you stop taking them, then fermented foods may help you.
However, an important note: if your problems are not resolved from trying them, then go and see your naturopath as there may be something else going on.
Fermented foods are easy to make yourself. In March 2015 I posted about making Kombucha tea and there are many tutorials on how to make yoghurt and kefir. You can even make them in a slow cooker; the ultimate modern take on an ancient tradition.
What are your favourite fermented foods? Let me know if you have made any yourself. I would love to hear from you.