Monday, April 9, 2012

Start Your Own Cultured Revolution . . . 7 Reasons to Eat More Fermented Foods

On February 22nd I posted some information on the benefits of, as well as one of my favorite recipes for sauerkraut.  It was one of those posts that took a bit of time before it gained much popularity, but now it seems many of you are interested in it as well as the post on "Your Second Brain" back on March 21st.  All good things take time . . . :)

Here's the great news about how those 2 posts relate to one another . . . it seems that one of the most healing things you can do for your "second brain" is to flood your intestinal tract with both pre-biotics and pro-biotics.  And one of the best sources for these little digestive miracle workers comes in the form of fermented foods.

Fermented foods and drinks are quite literally alive with flavor and tend to be strong and pronounced. Think of stinky aged cheeses, tangy sauerkraut, rich, earthy miso, smooth sublime wines. Humans have always appreciated the distinctive flavors resulting from the transformative power of microscopic bacteria and fungi.  

The idea of eating fermented foods has long been a part of many cultures around the world . . . Korea is the home of flavorful, spicy (and a little stinky) Kimchi,

Germany the birthplace of Saurkraut, 

Recipe and Step-by-Step Directions on February 22, 2012

the Middle East made Yogurt a staple.  Pickles originated in India but spread throughout Europe and Asia,

Quick Pickled Vegetables from OMG! That's Allergy Free?

Neolithic Europeans were fermenting herbs, veggies and even fruits and willow sprouts, 

Grilled Preserved Lemons from OMG! That's Allergy Free?

Cheese can trace its roots back to 8000 BC (when sheep began to be gathered into herds) in various parts of Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East and Rome.

Poi made from taro root is still popular in Hawaii, while the Japanese have been fermenting soybeans to create tamari, soy sauce, tempeh, natto and miso for centuries.  Fermented drinks like Kefir originated from Russia, while the now wildly popular Kombucha Tea hails from Japan, Wine dates back to ancient Mesopotamia and Beer may have preceded bread as a staple in daily diets as far back as 10,000 BC.   All demonstrating that fermentation has been recognized as a viable source of healthy dining for centuries!

But as pasteurization and irradiation became popular methods to destroy naturally occurring harmful forms of bacteria, both valuable beneficial bacteria and enzymes are destroyed as well.  The end result is insufficient amounts of both enzymes and beneficial bacteria.  

The resulting imbalance has been linked to obvious health issues like indigestion, constipation, diarrhea, IBS and yeast infections but it also may be dramatically effecting things like asthma, COPD, allergies (both food and seasonal), skin rashes, gluten intolerance and even depression, anxiety and dementia!  

With all this at stake it seems that making fermented foods a part of your regular meal is even more important!  Here are 7 very compelling reasons to start today . . .

7 Reasons to Add Fermented Foods to Your Dinner Plate
1.    Fermented raw foods are rich in enzymes
Enzymes are the “engines” of digestion that begin in the mouth and continue all the way through the digestive tract. During the whole digestive process the food on our plate is transformed into sugars that are used to make fuel (ATP) in the cells, fatty acids used to repair cell membranes and amino acids to produce proteins.  Without adequate enzymes there would be no raw materials for the body to use. 
The great news is that fermented foods add a wealth and a wide variety of enzymes to any meal.  In fact, many cultures (as well as macrobiotic cooking) rely on them heavily as digestive aides and as “pops” of flavor.  Think about the crucial role of pickled ginger on a sushi plate, or pickled capers with salmon, or pickled and marinated vegetables on an antipasto spread.
2.    Fermenting foods improves their digestibility
Fermenting our foods before we eat them is a bit like partially digesting them. An excellent example of this is soybeans.  While they are an extremely popular protein source in Asian and vegetarian diets, without fermentation soybeans are largely indigestible by humans, but during the fermentation process the complex proteins are broken down into individual amino acids – the building blocks of protein.
But dairy products also benefit from fermentation.  While about 90% of the population is allergic to both the protein and the lactose in cow’s milk, even sheep’s milk and goat’s milk can be difficult to digest.  During the fermentation process the lactose in these milks is transformed into lactic acid and acetaldehyde that lowers the pH of the milk and changes the casein proteins rendering them more digestible.

3.    Fermentation creates new nutrients
During fermentation the active microbes actually create a wide variety of B vitamins including folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, and biotin which are all essential to cell growth and division, nervous system function, metabolism and muscle toning. 

The amino acid lysine that plays an essential role in the production of carnitine, a nutrient responsible for converting fatty acids into energy and helping to lower cholesterol. It also assists in the absorption of calcium, and in the formation of collagen to keep your skin looking young, muscles appear toned and cartilage strong.

Lactobacilli bacteria create omega-3 fatty acids and phospholipids which are essential for cell membrane health and immune system function.

Several antioxidants are also produced including Vitamin C, super oxide dismutase and glutathione are all powerful protectors of the cell membrane.

4.    Fermented food increases our ability to absorb the nutrients in our food
Since fermented foods have that “pre-digested” quality, digestion is more complete and complete digestion leads to greater availability of the nutrients in the foods we eat.  This actually has the side benefit of lowering the appetite and may result in weight loss or normalization.  When you actually absorb nutrients your body becomes satiated more quickly and remains so longer. 
5.    Fermented foods restore the proper balance of bacteria in the gut
In a world where antibiotics are found in our food and water, where herbicides and pesticides are integrated into our foods, most people have an imbalance of good bacteria vs bad bacteria in the intestinal tract.  This imbalance contributes to common conditions like indigestion, constipation, IBS, allergies, COPD, asthma, chronic yeast infections and gluten intolerance.
Consuming fermented foods at least 4 times per week has been demonstrated to bring about a balance between the beneficial and harmful bacteria in the intestinal tract,
6.    Fermenting food can reduce certain toxins in your food
Phytic, nitrites, prussic acid, oxalic acid, nitrosamines, and glucosides are some of the potentially toxic chemicals found in foods that can be reduced or eliminated during the fermentation process.
7.    Fermenting food extends the “shelf life” of raw foods by acting as a preservative
I’m sure fermentation was a “happy accident” discovered by our ancestors.  Fresh foods like vegetables, fruits and milk are all highly perishable but the bacteria that causes fermentation also produce actic acid (dairy products), acetic acids (a type of vinegar produced from vegetables when exposed to oxygen) and alcohols (similar to vinegar but produced without oxygen) that act as preservatives as well as nutrient “savers”.
Sources for fermentation starters

I highly recommend both the kefir and the veggie starters listed above to maximize your fermentation projects.
You can find Step-by-Step directions and a recipe for raw sauerkraut in my post on February 22nd.

Start your own cultured revolution today . . . your second brain will thank you for it!

Dr. P

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