Feb 112014

Fermented FoodsFermented foods, and their probiotic properties, have been making their way slowly in to the mainstream as the health of our guts is taking center stage in staying healthy. Some experts believe that 70 percent of our immune system lies in our gut, its ability to digest foods properly and maintain a healthy balance of bacteria.

For thousands of years fermenting has been a traditional food practice for a variety of cultures. They did this not only to preserve food, but also to make it more digestible and nutritious since there was no refrigeration. While fermentation might sound like something is going bad or rotting, it’s quite the opposite. When properly done with raw foods, the process–called lacto fermentation–makes food more vital, nutritious and beneficial to our health in many ways–by keeping the good bacteria on them. This means that ingredients like cabbage and cucumbers have been left to sit and steep until their sugars and carbs become bacteria-boosting agents. Stick with me!

French chemist Louis Pasteur was the first known zymologist, a fermentation scientist, when in 1856 he connected yeast to fermentation. Pasteur originally defined fermentation as “respiration without air”. Read more on how fermented foods can lead to a healthier you, and how to get them in your diet.

What are the health benefits of fermented foods?

Studies suggest these probiotic powerhouses can help treat everything from diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome and leaky gut, to more serious conditions such as heart attack and hypertension. Though more research is needed, current evidence still gives clients good reasons to consider getting a daily dose of probiotics from a fermented food source.

Wellness experts are convinced that probiotics can lead to weight loss and better skin.
Like bloating, skin reactions are often a sign of an unhappy gut. Food allergies and food intolerances can lead to dark circles under your eyes, blemishes, rashes and a puffy, swollen appearance. Studies have found that more than half of all acne sufferers have alterations in gut bacteria, and societies that eat a more indigenous diet with little or no processed or sugary foods have virtually no acne and very few gastrointestinal problems. So, improved digestion can improve the look of your skin. You can’t beat that.

What kind of products do I look for?

Always look for products labeled raw, live, lacto fermented, not pasteurized, and buy them from the refrigerator section.

Fermented-foodsDairy Products — For those who eat dairy, fermented or cultured dairy products improve the nutritional value of the milk and make it much more digestible. When raw milk is allowed to naturally sour, or bacteria is added to it, the good bacteria flourish. This pushes some of the bad bacteria out, thereby preserving the milk as well as releasing many vitamins, such as B and C and minerals like calcium, magnesium and phosphorus. Another benefit is that the lactobacillus (good bacteria) in the fermented milk helps breakdown the protein and casein so humans can digest it, even if they are lactose intolerant. Kefir is by far the most effective dairy product to digest.

Greek yogurt* has recently enjoyed a burst of popularity. It’s full of protein, calcium and healthy bacteria that are good for your digestion and immune system. It’s a great snack, especially if you’re looking to slim down. Not only does this yogurt make you feel full, some studies have shown that diets that include several servings of Greek yogurt a day may aid weight loss and trim waistlines.

*Be aware that not all yogurts are created equal, and some can have a higher sugar content than donuts. Look for yogurts that bear a Live & Active Culture (LAC) seal which means they contain at least 100 million bacterial cultures per gram at the time of manufacture, and always look for L. Acidophilus and Bifidus on the label.

Sauerkraut — Researchers say that this fermented food has a powerful impact on brain health, including depression and anxiety, and add that there’s a tremendous connection between gut and brain health. If you’re the DIY type, try making our spicy garlic kraut recipe below. If you’re planning on purchasing sauerkraut, you have to buy the refrigerated type, not canned, and think of using it on sandwiches and in salads, besides on that dog!

Pickles — Not only do they provide a healthy dose of probiotics, they’re a familiar food item and have a taste that many people already love—including those who may hold their nose at the idea of eating fermented foods.

Kim Chi — Koreans eat so much of this super-spicy condiment (40 pounds of it per person each year) that it’s considered a staple. It’s made with Napa cabbage and if you’re a DIY person, you can find many recipes online. I look for this product to being readily available in health food stores.

Kombucha tea — This tea is a fermented black tea that’s no stranger to New Yorkers. Kombucha gives you a bang for your bacterial buck because of the variety of microorganisms it contains. “When you drink a bottle of kombucha, you’re drinking four to seven microorganisms all at once, building a really strong gut.

Miso —  The paste made from fermented soybeans and grains is full of essential minerals, like potassium, and consists of millions of microorganisms giving us strength and stamina. To make miso soup, just add a dollop to boiling water, along with some favorite vegetables, like onions, bok choy, or mushrooms. I’ve also found it available in powder form online in 8-16 ounce packages.

Tempeh —  Tempeh (fermented soybeans) is a complete protein with all of the amino acids. Many people use it as a yummy substitute for bacon in BLTs. Try flavoring organic tempeh with some tamari (also fermented), then add it to a sandwich with tomato, lettuce, and toast. Or eat it tossed in a bowl of steamed veggies. Tempeh is available in all natural food stores, and possibly in your grocery store. Make a request, and you may be surprised how local grocers would like to help.

So, as you can see, there are many options to get started on including fermented foods in your diet. Do it today and your gut will thank you. To get started, try this recipe for Hot Pepper Garlic Kraut.

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