By Rachel Thoo
Fermented foods are Mother Nature’s probiotics. They contain many live bacteria along with many other crucial nutrients.
Fermentation helps to increase the micronutrients of food, such as vitamin K2 (potassium), which help prevent arterial plaque buildup and heart disease. Fermented foods also create beneficial enzymes like vitamin Bs, vitamin A, vitamin C, Omega-3 fatty acids, and various other probiotics.
Fermentation also eliminates anti-nutrients that interfere with absorption of nutrients. Phytic acid found in legumes and seeds can be broken down via fermentation so the minerals become available.
Strengthened Immune System
Your gut is your largest immune organ in your body. A proper balance of gut bacteria with digestive enzymes helps to absorb nutrients in the food, which in turn, strengthens you with natural supplements and vitamins. It is your top defense system against all disease.
The beneficial bacteria in fermented foods are highly potent detoxifiers, capable of drawing out a wide range of pesticides, toxins and heavy metals. Fermentation breaks down the nutrients in foods by the action of beneficial microorganisms and creates natural chelators that are available to bind toxins and remove them from the body. Kimchi is known to be a powerhouse detoxifier.
Fermenting is an ideal way of preserving your summer harvest as well as maintaining your overall health, from making vinegars, yogurt, kefir, kombucha and preserves to making your own fermented sauces. It is also low tech and low energy consumption to boot. All you need is a knife, a chopping board, some earthernware or glassware, and food from nature!
Incorporating a variety of fermented and cultured foods into your diet will ensure you’ll get a much wider variety of beneficial bacteria than you could ever get from a supplement.
Healthy Gut Flora
You cannot reap the benefits of raw vegetables if your gut flora is imbalanced due to the fact that you can’t absorb the nutrients. Fermentation pre-digests food, making certain nutrients more available for absorption. The lactic acid produced during fermentation promotes the growth of healthy flora in the intestine.
This would ensure you get the most nutrients out of all foods you ingest. Fermentation also reduces anti-nutrients. Phytates, present in grains, nuts, seeds and legumes, bind to minerals, making those nutrients unavailable for absorption. Fermentation breaks these molecular bonds so the body can absorb them easily. Common fermented foods
- Sauerkraut: Sailors, including the crew of Captain Cook ate sauerkraut as a way to get enough Vitamin C and prevent scurvy. Sauerkraut consists of mainly cabbage and salt, with variants of carrots, horseradish, caraway, corn, and other herbs and spices. It is full of dietary fibre, as well as vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K and B vitamins, not to mention manganese, copper, magnesium, iron and calcium. Naturally fermented sauerkraut can be purchased in the refrigerated section of a grocer, labeled “unpasteurized” or with “live cultures.”
- Yoghurt or yogurt: There are almost as many different strains of yogurt culture (starter) as there are different cultures in the world, as well as different methods to culture them. When you combine that with its versatile ability to take on flavours and uses, yogurt is one of the greatest food trends of the 21st century!
Filled with protein, packed with probiotics, and loaded calcium, yogurt is one of the most nutritious foods to help aid digestion. Yogurt labeled with the “Live & Active Cultures” seal, according to the Canadian Dairy Commission, must have the Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus bacterial strains to bear the name “yogurt.”
- Milk Kefir: Kefir is a slightly creamy, naturally effervescent fermented milk drink, like drinkable yogurt. Kefir is a living culture of complex symbiosis to which many microflora form from a culture called kefir “grains” added to milk and left to ferment for a period of 24 hours or more. The lactic acid bacteria turn the lactose in the milk into lactic acid giving it a delicious effervescent tart taste. Kefir contains numerous strains of bacteria and yeasts, making it a very rich and diverse probiotic drink, while other fermented dairy products have few strains of bacteria, and do not contain any good yeasts.
- Kombucha: Called Hong Cha Jun in Cantonese, it is better known in North America as Kombucha. This ancient traditional Chinese form of fermented tea is a tangy, slightly sweet, effervescent drink usually flavoured with fruits or herbs.
Kombucha is typically brewed with black or green tea, but can be made with anything high in tannins such as hibiscus, nettle, butterfly pea flower or rooibos. Kombucha brew involves tea, sugar and a symbiotic process of yeast and bacteria culture called SCOBY, an acronym for Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast.
The yeast contributed is the microbe saccharomyces, while the bacteria gluconacetobacter xylinus helps oxidize alcohols produced by the yeast, and convert them to various acids, such as glucuron acid, acetic acid, lactic acid, vitamins, amino acids, antibiotic substances, and other products. Russian studies have proven kombucha to be an effective overall detoxifier through the binding of the organic acids to toxins present in the body. Once tightly bound to the organic acids, the toxins are then rushed to the kidneys for excretion.
The yeasts in kombucha are beneficial yeasts, and not pathogenic ones like candida. A Jarisch–Herxheimer reaction or healing crisis may confuse someone with candida who drinks kombucha for the first time when there is a flare up of symptoms, due to the fact that beneficial yeasts are rebalancing the gut environment.
Many commercial kombucha products have an unhealthy amount of added sugars to please the masses, which may add a candida overproduction or diabetic risk.
- Kimchi: Also spelled kimchee or gimchi, kimchi is any Korean pickled or fermented vegetable eaten in every meal in South Korea. Chinese cabbage Kimchi, similar to sauerkraut, but spicy, is the best known kimchi in North America. Consisting of various pickled vegetables and other foodstuff preserved in earthenware pots, kimchi is a delicious powerhouse detoxifier that will go a long way towards re-establishing your gut health. Korean kimchi can be radishes, cucumber, turnip, eggplant, (and) flavoured with spices, herbs, shellfish, fish and fruits. Kimchi made of Chinese cabbage
is prepared at the end of autumn.In winter, daikon kimchi is used to make “white kimchi.” In the summer heat, short-term cucumber kimchi with garlic chives, and spices is a refreshing addition. Kimchi is rich in vitamins A and C, and is loaded with very beneficial bacteria called lactobacilli.
The health benefits of kimchi are numerous, from helping digestion, lowering cholesterol, reduce inflammation, aiding in weight management, controlling diabetes, protecting against colds and flu, and antioxidants to help shield the body to name a few.
- Miso Miso is a flavouring agent, fermented with soybean, sea salt, koji (a culture starter inoculated with rice mould spores), and can be blended with barley, brown rice, buckwheat, or white rice. It is traditionally aged in cedar kegs for six months to three years. Miso soup is often consumed for breakfast in Japan. It is a complete food with all the essential amino acids, beneficial bacteria, enzymes, protein, vitamin B2, vitamin B12, vitamin K, vitamin E, tryptophan, choline, lecithin, and linoleic acid. It alkalizes the body and helps lower LDL cholesterol, not to mention stimulating the digestive system. It is said that Japanese women’s skin is flawless due to the linoleic acid in miso soup.
This humble soup is credited with saving the lives of Japanese victims when the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on August, 9, 1945. Dr. Tatsuichiro Akizuki is credited for saving the lives of these patients, 1.4 kilometres away from ground zero by feeding them wakame seaweed miso soup daily. Studies also show that, according to different fermentation stages (early, medium, and long-term), the long-term fermented miso had “significantly increased” the rate of survival.
To retain all the nutrients in miso and preserve living microorganisms, do not subject to high heat.
Rachel Thoo studies plant-based medicine. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for details about her fermenting workshops.