By Dr. Don Davis
There are so many ways to mess up your stomach and guts. Unfortunately, with all the Options-Of-Evil, like ice cream, French fries and breakfast cereal close within our grasp, it’s no wonder that our insides are having a rough time. But I’m here to say that there are also great options and the category I’d like to talk about here is Fermented Foods.
I’m sure you know a few of these like cheese and yogurt but it would do well to expand your horizons, branch out, and try some of the lesser known fermented alternatives.
First, a little about why you should do this in the first place.
Our ancestors intuitively knew that fermenting foods made them more digestible and nutritious, and eating them helped them stay healthy and strong. Fermented foods contain large numbers of healthy bacteria or probiotics (lactobacillis and bifidobacteria) that benefit you just by fermenting the food you can’t digest. The result of this human/bacteria interaction is less inflammation, less diarrhea/constipation, less anxiety/depression, better immune health and greater cognition and memory. That’s a pretty good list from just eating foods we were designed to eat in the first place before somebody figured that it would be better to eat the same 3 or 4 packaged foods all the time.
The microorganisms that ferment food preserve it by retaining nutrients and preventing spoilage by producing lactic acid, acetic acid and alcohol. The nutrients are not only preserved but are broken down into forms that are easier to digest.
A great example of this ability of microorganisms to enhance our food specifically for us are dairy products. Lactobacilli – the bacteria that are present in fermented dairy – converts lactose into lactic acid, which makes people more dairy “tolerant”.
The process of fermentation even creates “new” nutrients that weren’t in the food initially, like B vitamins, biotin, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin and folates. Other important nutrients like omega 3 fatty acids that are essential for cell membrane and immune function are produced as well.
One last thing.
I can’t write this article without saying a bit about the substantial and far-reaching effects of fermentation to our health. They are in fact crucial and without them we die. It’s that important. Researches now are suggesting that they are a new “organ”, and the microflora – the bacteria, fungi, viruses and other microbes that make up your inner ecosystem – impact far more than the digestive tract.
Areas that bacteria can play a key role.
The probiotics from fermentation help thousands of your genes switch positively, fighting disease. This “epigenetic” aspect of the GI tract is a powerful way to get the best out your genetics regardless of the cards you were dealt.
Your gut serves as your second brain producing more serotonin (95% more) than your brain. This hormone along with many others the microbiome create have a positive influence on your brain.
In a study published in the journal Neurogastroenterology and Motility, it showed that mice with low levels of beneficial bacteria had increased “high-risk behavior” and was associated with chemical changes in the brain.
In a study in Denmark, the gut bacteria of people with diabetes were different from non-diabetics. According to the authors gut bacterial changes were linked to diabetes.
In recent research (2016), it was found that one species of bacteria – Lactobacillus reuteri – was responsible for autism in mice. It was found that the areas of the brain that respond to social interaction were especially quiet, but when the bacteria were placed back in the diet of the mice, normal brain activity were restored.
Certain bacteria, and the ratios of others may be associated with weight gain. One study this year in the journal “Nature” proposes that the link to obesity is from the effect of the microbiome on the “metabolic status of the host.” In other words, the bacteria in our intestines can change how we digest our food and if it is stored as fat.
The Best Fermented Foods
Kefir is a fermented, drinkable milk product (cow, goat or sheep milk) that tastes like yogurt. It can reduce irritation in the intestines preventing toxins from getting into the blood. Make sure it’s organic and as no added sugar.
Natto is derived from soybeans and is fermented by the bacteria, Bacillus. It is an excellent source of iron, calcium, dietary fiber and vitamin K2-the vitamin that keeps the calcium in your bones and out of your arteries. It also contains nattokinase a powerful anti-clotting and blood pressure moderator to protect your heart and brain.
This is a fermented drink that is made from tea. It has a fizzy bite that can be refreshing and an easy transition for those used to drinking soda. Studies show that Kombucha can protect against E. coli and staff infection.
Raw unpasteurized yogurt is ideal if you can deal with dairy and if you can’t, it can be made from coconut and almond milk. Make sure it has active cultures and choose full-fat and plain versions to avoid the sugar.
Sauerkraut is prepared using water, salt, and cabbage. The sour taste comes from the lactobacillus fermentation in the cabbage. Studies have suggested that sauerkraut prevents cancer cells from forming. Make sure it is raw sauerkraut.
This is an interesting, spicy Asian fermented cabbage similar to sauerkraut. Like others here, it has tons of healthy bacteria. Research indicates that it helps colon health, lowers your cholesterol, improves the immune system and can help weight loss and aging.
Pickles make a great introduction to fermented foods. They are very high in lactobacillus bacteria and support a strong immune system.
This is an Indonesian “cake” that can serve as a replacement for meat because of its nutty flavor and chewy texture. It’s made from soybeans and can be a great source of calcium iron, and magnesium.
Miso is a soybean, barley or brown rice fermentation with koji, a fungus. It enhances the immune system, lowers cancer risk and has anti-aging properties.
Lassi is an Indian combination of yogurt and milk (or water) with occasional spices and fruit to create probiotic drink. Try to find a source that uses grass-fed free-range goat milk. It digests a bit easier and can help restore our friendly gut bacteria.
I hope this helps with your ventures into the world of fermented foods. Please let me know your favorite ways of eating them, or even recipes for fermented foods