Fermented Foods

“Do you like spicy foods? Okay, try this. Just DON'T SMELL IT before you taste it!” “What do you mean you don’t like the taste of vinegar?” “No, it isn’t rotten, that’s how it’s supposed to taste silly!” Have you had a similar experience? You may know that fermented foods can be a hard sell—especially to people who are used to the refined, processed, made-to-taste-good-in-a-lab type foods we’re bombarded with every day. There is a good reason though, why these traditional foods have clung on for thousands of years and are still considered an important part of the diet today. You may be seeing more and more news headlines and research being published about how important the bacteria in your gut is to your overall health. It’s funny because less than a century ago in the United States, we were desperately trying to get rid of all of the bacteria in our foods…and now we’re seeing a resurgence of cultured foods and seeking the bacteria out!

What are fermented foods and why are they so important?

Fermented foods have gone through the process of fermentation which occurs when bacteria turns carbohydrates into lactic acid. This is a centuries old technique that traditional cultures all over the world have practiced to increase the nutritive properties of a particular food, enhance flavors, and preserve their favorite produce and meat with the changing seasons. When we eat fermented foods, they replenish and diversify the bacteria in our gut which can greatly improve overall health (immune health, brain health, digestive health, and much more). It’s vital to have a healthy balance of good and bad bacteria in our gut to ensure overall well-being.

Common types of fermented foods, their origin, and how they’re eaten:

1. Sauerkraut (German for “sour cabbage”): Just cabbage and salt (although other spices and things may be added). Mostly eaten with pork, on Reubens (although we don’t recommend those ;)), or as a side. It’s a wonderful C as part of your PFC balanced eating. 2. Kimchi (Korea): Super spicy ferment made up of mostly cabbage along with any variety of veggies (bok choy, carrots, green onions, daikon, etc.), garlic, ginger, salt & pepper…the sky is the limit as far as what is added. If buying at a store, be weary of MSG (or labeled monosodium glutamate). Kimchi can be used as a condiment, or eaten out of the jar with a fork because it’s that tasty. Fermented Food nutrition dietitian natural consultation minnesota Display 23. Yogurt: Can be found in almost every culture (...get it? Culture? :) ). It is made when live yogurt cultures are added to milk, and the milk is heated to between 110 and 115 degrees and kept there for a few hours in order for the live cultures to grow. Straining the yogurt yields a higher protein content (a la Greek yogurt). Homemade plain is best—no fillers or extras —like carrageenan or added sugars! Kefir is another similar “drinkable yogurt”. 4. Kombucha (China) is relatively new to this country (only since the 1990s has it been on store shelves), and is considered to be beneficial because it’s good for everything! It gives your body what it needs to heal itself—it detoxifies and contains beneficial cultures, acids, and enzymes. It's made from black or green tea, water, sugar, and the SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast). It can be upwards of $3 a bottle in a store, so try making it at home! 5. Miso (Japan) is commonly eaten before meals, even for breakfast, to aid in digestion (people in the United States are probably most familiar with miso soup, which is made from fermented soybean paste and sipped). It’s available at every Japanese restaurant, or the soup is super easy to make at home! It can also be made into dressings and used to add live cultures to your PFC salad. (Make sure you’re buying organic soybean paste, as soy beans are one of the most common genetically modified foods, and the most sprayed with pesticides. Also, it’s not super processed, but if you’re sensitive to soy, you may not want to consume it.) 6. Wine! Wine has been around forever, and is, in fact, a fermented drink! And so is hard cider! Now, we’re not saying that wine or cider are essential for life (in fact, they may even be interfering with reaching your health goals). That said, here at Healthy Simple Life we are all about balance and for lots of people, wine and/or hard cider can be part of a balanced life, so long as it doesn’t interfere with your goals. Check out this article for more detail on where we stand on alcohol.

So, I am eating bacteria?

You got it! No need to be afraid of these little bugs because they are probiotics, which are little microorganisms responsible for a ton of metabolic and immune benefits. Probiotic literally means “for (pro) life (biotic)”. These microbes are created during the fermentation process, and when you get your probiotics through fermented real food, the microbes are alive. Research has shown countless health benefits associated with probiotics and there seems to be many un-researched benefits as well.

The following are a few examples of what probiotics do for you:

  • Simultaneously unlock micronutrients from foods and improve your gut health for optimal absorption of the macronutrients (P, F and C!).
  • Help produce folate, B12, and Vitamin K and Vitamin K2.
  • Improve neurotransmitter (brain chemical) production.
  • Improve your ability to fight disease by strengthening your immune system.

Why do we seem to need probiotics now more than ever?

  • Overuse of antibiotics for sickness, constant use of antibacterial soaps, and antibiotics in our conventional meats that kill both the bad bacteria and the good.
  • Food sensitivities and other digestive issues (gas, bloating, diarrhea, etc.).
  • Highly inflammatory diets of processed carbohydrates, as they wear down the lining of the gut. (The SAD [Standard American Diet] fits into this category).
  • An existing relationship between obesity and imbalanced gut flora.
  • Chronic stress.

Can I just buy sauerkraut or pickles at the local grocery store?

Typically, the sauerkraut and pickles that are in the store aisles are made with a lot of highly acidic vinegar that actually kills a lot of the good bacteria, defeating one of the main purposes of eating them in the first place! Your best bet is to seek them out in the refrigerated section of your local co-op or other natural foods store (get one like this) or make them in your home (if you're a member, check out our demo video on how to make sauerkraut!).As you can see, fermented foods are not something to be feared but are to be embraced! Because your gut is quite literally your “second brain” (where your neurotransmitters are produced), everyone can benefit from improved gut health, not just those with digestive issues. Have you ever tried making any fermented foods (or beverages) at home? What did you make? What did you learn? And, for your listening pleasure, here is an awesome NPR interview with author Sandor Katz, the fermented foods revivalist!

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