We’ve heard about probiotics and how they are beneficial to our digestive system.
Yogurt brands fall all over themselves with labelling, letting you know they’ve got ’em. (All yogurt, because it is fermented, contains billions of probiotics–whether it says so in big letters or not.)
But those tiny bacteria do much more for us, as we are discovering.
Probiotic means “for life”
“Probiotic” is the name given to microorganisms that live in our bodies—primarily in the intestines—keeping balance, cleaning the liver, and fighting infection. Some of those we get from food are created as the result of fermentation.
Food has been fermented across different cultures for millennia. In ancient times, it was probably initially employed to keep food from spoiling. As time went on, people noticed other health benefits to eating these foods.
Fermentation is the slow process of allowing natural microorganisms (yeast, molds, and bacteria) to break down carbohydrates (glucose) without oxygen into either ethanol (a kind of alcohol) or lactic acid. The alcohol has one effect (think beer and wine), lactic acid quite another.
Our bodies are constantly full of bacteria, some hazardous, some benign, but mostly they are good for us. It’s bacteria in our digestive systems that help break down food so we can use it for energy. What’s come to light in a recent study is that fermented foods not only help our digestion but they support our immune systems as well.
The fermentation process creates more beneficial products than wine and beer.
Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder that very often can be prevented, treated, and reversed by foods we eat and engaging an active lifestyle. Researchers at Cambridge University found that eating fermented low-fat dairy foods–primarily yogurt–can reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by up to twenty-five percent. This is a new insight into how probiotics created as the result of fermentation can support the immune system.
Most of our immune cells live in the gut–the stomach, intestines, and abdominal organs. It makes sense that if the immune cells are numerous, healthy, and active, we’re less likely to get sick. Probiotics create more beneficial gut bacteria.
Variety is not just the spice–but a probiotic mechanism–of life.
Eating a wide variety of fermented foods not only adds zip to your diet but promotes general health. Lactic acid, one of the products of fermentation, prevents “leaky gut” syndrome–what happens when the mucous membranes that line the walls of your intestines are weakened and holes form, allowing undigested food into the bloodstream. Additionally, lactic acid protects the brain and nervous system by promoting blood flow to white matter. A comprehensive study published in Critical Reviews in Microbiology found the implications of lactic acid on human health quite remarkable:
“Lactic acid bacteria…produce myriad beneficial effects for human beings include, alleviation of lactose intolerance, diarrhea, peptic ulcer, stimulation of immune system, antiallergic effects, antifungal actions, preservation of food, and prevention of colon cancer…It has been concluded that lactic acid bacteria are highly beneficial microorganisms for human beings and are present abundantly in dairy products so their use should be promoted for good human health.”
Many delicious choices
So how do we get more fermented foods into our diet? Pretty easy–and delicious. Pickles, miso, kimchi, tempeh, kefir, cured meats, Spanish olives, kombucha, cheese, and yogurt are all fermented foods that are easy to find.
Fermented dairy is easier to digest than regular milk, however, if you are lactose intolerant, there are plenty of other fermented foods that you can enjoy to do the same thing. Sauerkraut has vastly more probiotics than fermented dairy and can be made easily at home.
Make sure that any pickled/fermented food you buy wasn’t made with vinegar–the acid kills the beneficial bacteria! Pickling and fermenting aren’t necessarily the same thing. Cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and kale aren’t fermented but are also a good way to promote healthy gut bacteria.
We should be diligent when it comes to our digestive flora; our typical diet contains chemicals that kill them. Without them–or not having enough–can cause sickness and disease. Science is providing new evidence that a natural process of fermentation can help fortify and maintain a healthy body.
Simple Pickled Cabbage Recipe Without Vinegar
1. Shred 1-2 heads of green cabbage using a knife or a shredder/chopper.
2. Coarsely shred 2-4 large carrots using a shredder.
3. Mix the shredded cabbage and carrots.
4. Fill up a one gallon glass jar (an empty pickle jar may be used) with the cabbage/carrots mix, packing in the mixture in as tightly as possible.
5. Fill up the jar with non-heated filtered water and let it stay there for about 20 minutes, as the water absorbs some of the mixtures flavor.
6. Pour the water out into a pan, add 2-2.5 tablespoons of salt, mix until the salt is completely dissolved and pour this brine back into the jar.
7. Cover the jar with a tea saucer. On one hand, the plate will protect the contents from any flies, etc. However, it is also light enough to allow air to escape, which is instrumental in the fermentation process.
8. Put the jar into a wider pan or bowl (to catch any excess liquid), and let it stand at room temperature for 3 days.
9. Throughout these 3 days, periodically poke the cabbage with a pointed wooden stick (make sure you reach the bottom of the jar) at least 2-4 times daily to release gases produced during fermentation.
10. In 3 days, pour out the brine from the jar into a pan, add 2 tablespoons of sugar, mix until the sugar is completely dissolved and pour the brine back into the jar.
11. Its ready. Store the jar in a refrigerator.
Naturally Fermented Cabbage Heads