Digestive health is a foundation of overall health and vitality. I invariably recommend probiotics and fermented foods to my clients. After implementing them, my clients often experience better digestion, diminished gas and bloating, and improved immunity.
I am German-born and lived most of my life in Germany, so fermented foods have always been a regular part of my diet. Sauerkraut is probably the most well known German food and a staple of German cuisine. Meaning “sour cabbage” in German, traditionally, sauerkraut is sliced green cabbage that has been fermented by lactic acid bacteria, giving it a pronounced sour flavor. It is most often used as a condiment. The bacteria and yeast needed for lacto-fermentation are naturally in the cabbage, so all that’s needed to make sauerkraut is cabbage, spring or non-chlorinated water, and high quality sea salt, like Celtic Sea Salt or Himalayan Salt. As the cabbage sits in the brine, over a 3-6 week process, the bacteria are activated and the natural sugars in the cabbage are transformed into lactic acid.
The Benefits of Fermented Food
Coming from Germany, I’m used eating Sauerkraut all winter and I believe this is one of the main reasons why I don’t get the flu. Sauerkraut, along with all traditionally fermented or cultured food, contains high quantities of healthy bacteria, enzymes, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins, like Vitamin C and B-vitamins.
Fermented foods help to improve digestion because they are enzyme-rich. The body needs enzymes to digest, process, and absorb food. If you add fermented foods to a healthy diet, you will receive more nutrients from the foods you eat. Fermented foods help the body produce acetylcholine, which is a neurotransmitter that helps to strengthen the colon and improve bowel elimination. Fermented foods also help to create an ideal balance of hydrochloric acid in the stomach – whether it’s too low or too high – helping to protect the stomach lining and produce enough gastric juices needed for proper digestion.
Fermented foods restore the proper balance of bacteria in the gut by introducing probiotics or healthy bacteria. Healthy bacteria are essential for a healthy body and digestive system, so probiotics are a primary treatment for any digestive concerns or inflammatory bowel disease. Yeast infections, Candida overgrowth, allergies, and asthma can also be caused by lack of healthy bacteria in the GI Tract. Probiotics are also crucial for immunity, as 80% of the immune system resides in the gut. Beyond probiotics, fermented foods also support immunity because they contain other compounds that kill pathogens as well.
The Practical Benefits of Fermented Foods
In addition to its wonderful health benefits, fermented foods have many practical benefits. Making fermented foods and drinks is inexpensive and easy to do. It adds lots of flavor to usually bland foods, making for tastier snacks and meals. Fermentation is also an ideal way of preserving foods from the garden, like cabbage, cucumbers, beets, carrots, and greens. Fermented foods keep for months when stored in an airtight container and refrigerated or kept cool and are nutrient-rich – as opposed to canned foods which lose much of their nutrients from the canning process.
The Tradition of Fermented Foods
Fermentation has been practiced for thousands of years. The earliest evidence of fermented beverage making dates back 8,000 years ago. Although sauerkraut is thought to be a German invention, it was discovered in China in 221 BC as a way to feed the laborers of the Great Wall of China through the winter by a process of soaking cabbage in rice wine. Fermented cabbage likely spread to Europe after Gengis Kahn plundered China in the 13th century.
Humans diets used to naturally have far larger amounts of probiotics and enzymes.
With the advent of antibiotics and pasteurization, many of us have a bacteria imbalance and some of the various health conditions that come with it. So, in today’s world we are more in need of probiotics in our diets and through supplementation. Now pasteurized, dairy no longer contains its natural probiotics. Most pickles and sauerkraut found in stores is also now quick “pickled” with vinegar, rather than lacto-fermented and contains no beneficial bacteria or enzymes.
It’s easy to implement fermented foods into your daily diet. In order to truly benefit from them long-term, it’s ideal to eat fermented foods (or drink fermented drinks) regularly one or two times per day. Make fermented foods and drinks at home. There are many easy recipes to follow online.
Here are some of the most common fermented foods and drinks:
Kombucha (store bought Kombucha should not be a daily drink since it often contains sugar still because it hasn’t fermented for long enough)
Lacto Fermented Ketchup or Salsa
There’s good reason why fermented foods have been enjoyed since ancient times and in Germany since the 13th century. They are not only practical for food preservation, but they are tasty, add a flair to any meal, and may just transform your health. I say it’s time to honor the tradition and make fermented food an essential part of eating again.