When I learned that the human body has ten times more bacterial cells than human cells – we’re talking 100 trillion – I felt like a big blob of walking microbes.
Would I check the mirror one morning and find I was slowing morphing into a 5’10” representation of a lactobacillus (think Jeff Goldblum in The Fly)?
After shaking off that visual, I was comforted to learn that these bacteria are vital for human existence, perform thousands of critical functions, and that gut bacteria is the cornerstone of the immune system.
While not all bacteria are beneficial, a proper microbial balance provides a strong immune system able to fight off the harmful bacteria and viruses it encounters. Unfortunately, many of our current food and lifestyle choices, overuse of antibiotics, and other environmental factors cause serious microbial imbalances which impact our physical, mental, and emotional health. Restoring bacterial balance is crucial for optimal wellness and fermented foods play a key role in this process.
Fermented foods are teeming with beneficial bacteria and have been used worldwide for thousands of years. They are “live” foods, in contrast to most of today’s food which has had the very life processed out of it. Rich in enzymes, they help restore microbial balance as well as aid in digestion and nutrient absorption. Perfect!
There are several ways to incorporate fermented foods into your diet, and here are a few suggestions. All can be found in your local health food store or on line if your regular grocery store does not carry them.
Sauerkraut is shredded cabbage fermented by several lactic acid producing bacteria. It is most notably served as a side with many meat dishes. Purchase sauerkraut in its raw unpasteurized form in order to ensure it contains the beneficial bacteria you are seeking. Most sauerkraut sold in cans is not appropriate. It is perhaps the easiest fermented food to make at home if you’re feeling adventurous!
Kefir and Yogurt
Both Kefir and Yogurt are fermented milk products which contain several varieties of probiotics. They can also be made from coconut milk for those who are lactose intolerant or simply prefer not to eat dairy products. Purchase organic products without additional sugars or other artificial ingredients. Fresh fruit can always be mixed or blended in for a little extra flavor or sweetness.
Kimchi is a traditional fermented Korean side dish made with vegetables and a variety of seasonings. It is typically sold in glass jars and comes in a variety of flavors and heat intensity. It can be eaten alone or with rice and is included in many other Korean recipes. A little goes a long way!
Miso is a traditional Asian fermented food. Often made of soybeans, it can be made from other legumes as well. Mashed cooked beans are fermented with salt and a culture starter called “koji”. Miso soup is made by diluting miso in hot water heated below the boiling point to preserve it nutritional properties. There are many miso soup recipes, often including a variety of vegetables, so I encourage you to do some exploring!
Pickled Fruits and Vegetables
These products should be purchased in their raw form and pickled in brine not vinegar. Food pickled in vinegar is not fermented and will not provide probiotic and enzymatic value. A jar of pickles soaking in high fructose corn syrup is not going to do the trick!
It is important to introduce fermented foods slowly into your diet. A teaspoon or two once or twice a day is a great start; an ounce or two for liquids like Kefir.
It may also take time for your taste buds to adjust to these new flavors. Give it time.
Fermented foods do not have to be eaten in large quantities to have an impact on your health, so I hope you will experiment and begin adding small amounts of these foods each day. It just might help get you out of your current health pickle.
You can find more from Nicolette at takenotehc.com