By Dawna Matthews:
Pickled cucumbers, sauerkraut and kombucha are all staples in my kitchen, but this was not always the case. It took some time for me to reach beyond sweet or salty flavors towards these strong smelling sour foods. I discovered that the more I ate them the more I craved them. I even began to make my own cultured food and drink because I enjoy the flavor. As it turns out, eating cultured or fermented foods is beneficial to your health.
What Is Fermentation?
For thousands of years people have been preserving food through fermentation out of necessity because there was no refrigeration or preservatives. This process of preserving and enriching food by using beneficial bacteria is known as fermentation, or lacto-fermentation. By using the help of bacteria, civilizations were able to evolve and sustain life.
Bacteria feed on sugars and starches naturally present in the food, and create lactic acid. This lactic acid helps to preserve the food as well as enable it to break down and become more digestible while providing live enzymes and beneficial bacteria that help with the digestive process. Having a healthy digestive system and balance of bacteria helps us to reduce food sensitivities, build a strong immune system, and lower inflammation. In our present day, we have replaced fermentation with modern technology like refrigeration and canning. When you add daily stress, antibiotics, and pasteurized and processed foods, our health has suffered as a result. When you eat fermented foods, you are helping to restore the good bacteria, and create health and wellness.
Here are some reasons why cultured food and drink are good for you.
1- Absorb food easier: Eating cultured foods daily is one thing you can do to help maintain the digestive health and well-being of your body. According to food activist Sandor Katz, “Our bacteria perform all sorts of essential functions for us, and because we are continually attacking them effectively with all of these chemicals in our lives, simply replenishing and diversifying these populations has a benefit for us.” When you eat or drink the fermented products, you are in effect eating your medicine and enhancing the digestibility of food. Because the bacteria predigests the food, the resulting product is easier to digest. If you have trouble with indigestion, fermentation may be helpful for you.
2- Fermented foods have more nutrients: The bacteria found in fermented food and beverages such as kefir or kombucha produce more vitamins and nutrients, as they eat the sugars in starches. Cultured foods are considerably higher in vitamin B as well as K2. When you add these, along with a whole foods diet, you will absorb more nutrients from the other food you eat, as well as the vitamins in the cultured food and drink. We all tend to have low vitamin levels, so it’s really a no-brainer for me to add more vitamins through my food.
3- High in Probiotics: You can definitely take a probiotic supplement, but studies indicate supplements are not enough to create a healthy level of flora in your gut. By eating a small amount of fermented vegetables, you can receive more than a bottle’s worth of pro-biotics. According to Dr. Mercola, “It’s worth noting that each mouthful of fermented food can provide trillions of beneficial bacteria—far more than you can get from a probiotics supplement.” Just to put that in perspective, one forkful of sauerkraut can offer billions of beneficial bacteria equal to an entire bottle of a high potency probiotic supplement. It’s much easier for me to eat my vitamins and supplements as food than to take more pills.
4- Healthy Immune System: Eighty percent of our immune system lives in the gut. As stated earlier, healthy bacteria help to foster a friendly flora level in the intestines. When you eat fermented foods such as pickled cabbage, beets, carrots, etc., you increase the development of healthy bacteria to your digestive system. When your gut is healthy and happy, you don’t get sick as often; or if you do, the illness doesn’t last as long.
There are numerous benefits to adding more cultured foods to your diet. Fermented foods are simple to add to your daily eating habits. Start slowly with a spoonful added to one meal a day and then build on to that. Have fun and be open to experimenting with expanding your and your family’s palate. (Children often emulate what we do and my daughter is very willing to try new foods if she sees me eating them. She loves kombucha; in fact, she calls it juice!) Some options to start with are sourdough bread, raw cheeses, sour cream and plain yogurt. Work your way up to kefir and pickled vegetables such as kimchi or sauerkraut. Lastly, try again. If you don’t like something the first time, try it again in a few weeks because sometimes acquiring a new taste requires more than one trial. By adding more cultured foods to your life, you are increasing your health and well-being in an easy way.
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