Why everyone’s talking about probiotics, bacteria & your gut
Fermentation is the process of using bacteria and yeast to change carbohydrates (sugar) into lactic acids and alcohol. This process also creates carbon dioxide, leading to fermented food and drinks’ signature fizziness (and in the case of bread, fluffiness). For thousands of years its been used to preserve foods and beverages all over the world. Why are these foods still important in a time when we can just refrigerate things?
Fermentation = Predigested
Bacteria and yeast LOVE sugar. These microbes do a lot of the eating for you – they find the big complex carbohydrates, simple sugars or milk sugars and break them down. Your tummy has a lot less work to do. Some foods like grains and vegetables don’t like to give up their goods. They are full of fiber or wrapped in tough bran that hold onto those vitamins you need Fermenting and breaking these bonds frees a lot more nutrients and studies show increases in vitamins, minerals and enzymes in these foods.
Fermented foods are active and alive with bacteria
You are made of around 30 trillion cells. But in and on your body there are more than 100 trillion microbes. Your body has more non-human cells than human cells! Most of these bacteria and fungal cells live in the digestive tract.
In his book, Missing Microbes, Dr Martin Blaser lists some of the ways these bacteria help us. Some bacteria are linked with blood pressure and can lower your BP after meals. They break down medications and help bring it into the bloodstream. Some make a vital clotting factor, vitamin K, that you cannot make with your own cells. Dr Blaser’s research showed a significant connection between poor bacteria diversity (not having enough types) and asthma, food allergies, weight gain, depression and behavioral problems! Most importantly, your bacteria help to regulate your immune system and actively fight invading (bad) bacteria.
Pill probiotics are alright. They can be really helpful in specific situations, such as when you are taking antibiotics. But live bacteria bound in food have a much easier time passing through your system. Probiotics can die on store shelves or in hot cars on the way home – or can be killed by the acid in your stomach before making it where they are needed. Eating and drinking fermented foods regularly can help to maintain your microbiome and increase the variety of beneficial bacteria in your body. Each fermented product has different types and different amounts of bacteria. Even every batch is different!
Fermented Foods and Drinks You Need In Your Life
Fermented tea. This is my go to drink. It’s carbonated and usually slightly sweet, although I love a spicy ginger kombucha occasionally too! There are around a dozen versions from around the world. It’s especially high in B vitamins, C vitamins and bacteria.
Historical beliefs about the benefits of Kombucha
Reduces blood pressure
Reduces eczema and psoriasis
Reduces yeast in the body
Yep, fermented – if it’s done right. Look for a slow, dry aged salami.
Fermented cabbage available in dozens on flavors. It’s the most popular food in South Korea and you can get it from mild to horribly spicy.
Vinegar pickles are NOT fermented. There are only a few companies that make true fermented pickles. Bubbies are one of the few widely distributed brands.
Milk + bacteria = yogurt! Get one with an active culture and always get full fat milk products.
Yogurt + extra bacteria = kefir. The extra bacteria eat more of the milk protein which liquefies the yogurt into a tangy drink.
Beer and Wine
Both of these are fermented and active – as if we needed another reason to love a glass of wine.
Raw milk or aged cheese is the way to go! Avoid mass produced cheese since they use processed cultures and the cheese often is not active.
Cacao beans are actually gross looking. Seriously google it. They are slimily and white until they ferment for a week and turn dark brown.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Look for one that has “With the mother” on the label. This is the bacteria culture that is was made with. Drinking a small amount daily is said to do everything from reducing reflux to reducing blood sugar and even helping combat cancer.
Get good quality active miso paste in the refrigerated section. Sorry, the dry stuff doesn’t count.
This Russian drink is from fermented beets. Beets have one of the highest sugar contents of any veggie and this drink has been used for hundreds of years in Russia to treat all sorts of ailments.
How To Get REAL Fermented Foods
Many of these kinds of foods are available in stores, but without any active bacteria so check labels! Real ferments will typically be refrigerated. Kombucha, kefir, non-processed cheese, wine, beer and miso paste should be good to go! Veggies are harder to find.
Farmers markets, health food stores and Asian markets are a great place to look but the easiest way to know if you have real fermented food is to make it!
It may sound scary but you can make TONS of fermented foods at home! Chutney, ketchup, sauerkraut, yogurt, ginger carrots and dilled beans are all SUPER SIMPLE and quick!
Great Cookbooks to Get You Started