Due to a fast-paced lifestyle, Western culture as become more and more saturated with processed and packaged foods. With an ever-growing population, even our grown and raised foods (corn, wheat, vegetables, beef, pork, chicken, etc.) are no longer what they used to be. The addition of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers in crops and the use of growth hormones and antibiotics in livestock has greatly compromised the actual nutritional value of groceries. With this knowledge, people wanting to eat healthier must consider where they're purchasing their groceries and how they're being prepared.
What are fermented foods?
Fermentation is a food preservation method that changes the taste of food, but also enhances nutrient content. Healthy bacteria work in the minerals in cultured foods to make them easier to digest, transform them into a beneficial probiotic and increase their nutritional value. The beneficial bacteria are imperative to good health and can be found in most fermented foods. These foods include sauerkraut, kombucha, water kefir, ginger beer, horseradish, yogurt and sour pickles, to name a few.
How are foods fermented?
Almost any vegetable (and many other foods) can be fermented. From sauerkraut in Germany to kimchi in Korea, fermented foods have been consumed around the globe for years. The process of lacto-fermentation is one in which natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in foods, creating lactic acid. The process not only preserves the food, but creates beneficial enzymes, B-vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids and various strains of probiotics. This will always result in a sour taste since the sugars and carbohydrates have been consumed by the bacteria, resulting in lactic acid and taking away anything that may provided the food with a naturally sweet flavor.
What are the health benefits?
First and foremost, fermented foods are an excellent, and natural source of probiotics. Due to the over-processing of foods, our gut health has suffered from the Western Diet. Probiotics, good or beneficial bacteria, are the healthiest and most natural way to replace missing healthy gut or intestinal flora. With healthy gut flora protecting us from the invasion of bad bacteria, it is extremely important to our health and wellness! Our body maintains a healthy balance between good and bad bacteria during food digestion. Probiotics help support that balance and improve digestion. In fact, many people have reported back that increasing their fermented food intake has helped with digestive issues such as indigestion, slow digestion, bloating, constipation and diarrhea.
Fermented foods are easier to digest and have an increased nutritional value. Because of new methods in growth and packaging, typical foods available at most grocery stores are not even remotely close to the quality foods that our ancestors were eating. With this being said, it only makes sense to take advantage of any opportunity to increase nutrients available in our foods and make them easier to absorb by our bodies.
Can I ferment foods?
Sandor Katz, author of "Wild Fermentation" and the "Art of Fermentation", states that recently there has been a fermentation revival due to an increase in popularity of the process. Fermentation has always been a part of human history, making it possible to preserve and store foods before the invention of stoves and refrigerators; it's just becoming popular again. If deciding to ferment your own foods at home, start out with something simple, like sauerkraut and then move on to items that are more complicated.
Are they safe?
There are no known case of people getting ill from properly fermented products, according to USDA microbiologist, Fred Breidt, Jr.. In fact, if following a recipe and monitoring the process, eating fermented foods at home can actually be less risky to your health than eating raw vegetables. Lactic acid bacteria are highly efficient killers of other bad bacteria and that is why vegetable fermentation is so effective. It's a process that has been working for thousands of years.
So, how do I do it?
Fermenting foods is a simple process. Basically, most fermented foods are nothing more than vegetables placed in a brine of salt and water then stored at room temperature for a specific period of time to allow for the development of beneficial bacteria. The vegetables can be whole, sliced, chopped, or grated and certain herbs and spices can be added to create various tastes. It is important to make sure that the pieces of vegetables are separated after being placed in the brine to avoid pockets of air. Additionally, they should be completely submerged in order to avoid the risk of mold forming and to ensure that all of the vegetable's flesh is being acted upon by the bacteria. There are a variety of sources and recipes available online.
While most people consider fermented foods to be an "acquired taste", it is one that is well worth it! The health benefits make it more than worth it to introduce a few of these options into the family diet. For more information on ways to naturally keep your family healthy, visit Dr. Nikki Porteus at APEX Wellness Center.