Fermented foods have long been a staple among some of the healthiest societies in the world. Nutrition pioneer, Dr. Weston A. Price, studied 12 traditional diets of indigenous communities. These communities were spread around the world yet had two things in common. (1) they were nearly disease free, and (2) they all consumed fermented foods on a daily basis.
The base of the fermented foods varied greatly. Some were dairy based (kefir), some vegetable based (kimchee and sauerkraut), some fish based (fish sauce), some soy based (natto, tempeh) however each had a similar effect, supporting healthy bacteria in the gut. The healthy bacteria or “bugs” that these fermented foods promote and contain are more commonly known as probiotics in the United States.
Many of us only know of probiotics as a pill that we might take after a round of antibiotics. Symptoms such as diarrhea, poor digestion, or yeast infections (FYI-even guys can get yeast infections) are often experienced after antibiotics (has cured whatever else ailed you). This is because antibiotics wipe out all of the bacteria in the gut- both the good and the bad. And when all of the good bacteria gets plowed away, the bad gets a little randy and multiplies exponentially.
To get rid of all of those nefarious offspring you have to do what all good epic battles require. You have to introduce a hero, and not just one, but many. Because the Justice League can get a lot more accomplished than Superman alone.
Eat Your Probiotics
Instead of paying a whole lot of money for a bottle of quality probiotics you can choose to consume foods that have been fermented. And, just to give you fair warning, they can become addicting. Our bodies often crave what we need. They also crave chocolate, beer, and hot dogs, but if given the opportunity, your gut will take over your brain and whisper sweet nothings (with a charming Southern accent) like “How about a little Kimchee?” or “Kefir, sounds mighty fine right about now.” And pretty soon, your kids will be looking at you like you’ve got four eyeballs because you’re eating sauerkraut for breakfast.
Don’t wait for your next round of antibiotics to start eating fermented products. Tim Ferriss of The Four-Hour Body eats a “few forkfuls of sauerkraut each morning before breakfast” to “cultivate healthy and fat-reducing gut flora.” Researchers believe that “two primary strains of bacteria have been found to influence fat absorption: Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes. Lean people have more Bacteroidetes and fewer Firmicutes,” obese people have just the opposite. The good news is that if you are on the obese side of the gut story, you can change this. Losing weight, aided by a few forkfuls of sauerkraut, can swing that ratio back around to a balanced state.
A Personal Plug for Sauerkraut
I haven’t always liked sauerkraut. However, I am a recent convert, going so far as to learn how to spell it since it frequents my grocery list. The fermentation of cabbage produces sauerkraut and in the same way that not all coleslaw is good, neither is sauerkraut. Buy small jars and don’t let yourself get discouraged if you don’t like it. Try another couple of brands and you may be surprised to find one that you like. My favorite, which is raw, vegan, contains no sugar, vinegar or preservatives and is excellent in flavor is Bubbies. It can be found at Whole Foods and your local co-op (PCC if you’re in the Seattle area). They also have pickles of varying types (my family LOVES Bubbies dill pickles!), pickled herring, pickled tomatoes, mustard, relish, etc.
Alternatives to Sauerkraut
If sauerkraut isn’t your thing there are lots of other choices. Unsweetened kefir, plain yogurt, kim chee, and kombucha tea are all popular choices that have unique flavors and contain beneficial bacteria for your gut.
Cultivate Your Own
If you’re interested in fermenting your own sauerkraut, kim chee, beet kvass, and so much more, check out Real Food Fermentation, a fabulous new book by Alex Lewin from Feed Me Like You Mean It. Full of great pictures, and tons of information on preserving whole fresh food with live cultures in your home kitchen.
To Your Health!
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