Benefits of Fermented Foods

The gut-to-brain connection isn’t discussed much in Western Medicine, or at dinner parties…Interestingly enough, we’ve all experienced butterflies in our stomach before a presentation or when we met our significant other. Similarly, most people know the churning of the stomach associated with great stress and worry. Sometimes it is the thought expressed physically that triggers these gut reactions. But for those with gut distress, the imbalance along the gastrointestinal tract can lead to mental anguish. This gut-brain connection is largely due to the fact that the GI tract is lined with more neurons than the spinal cord or the peripheral nervous system, creating a closely entwined communication and feedback between your gut and your brain.

Your digestive tract begins in your brain. The mere thought or smell of food can trigger your salivary glands. Along this twenty-five foot plus journey your GI tract houses some 9 billion living organisms that make up your gut flora and aid in digestion. The majority of this gut bacteria live in your large intestine and play a huge role in bowel function consistency. More importantly, an estimated 90% of your immune system lives in your large intestine. The very reason we take probiotics is to introduce and incorporate different strains of beneficial bacteria to this area of our body to help our digestion and regularity. We can choose to take probiotic supplements but until recent years probiotics were introduced to our systems through fermented foods.

Fermented foods include kimchi, kombucha, kevita, beet kvass and sauerkraut. These old world preparations of food are fantastic vehicles for getting good strains of probiotic microflora to the large intestine, boosting the immune system and keeping your transit time regular. The beauty of consuming fermented food for their probiotic quality is the fact that they are bioavailable once in the large intestine and they come packaged in the very thing your large intestine likes to work with: food! Fermented foods are incredibly simple to make at home and can be great gifts when packed in mason jars to show off their colors.

Taking the time to prepare a gut healthy food like sauerkraut is a great way to get probiotic foods back into the diet. Healing the gut is a topic not addressed by Western medicine and yet it’s an integral part of health. More and more people have found that the Standard American Diet of junk food and diet fads has failed them not only on the scale, but also throughout their digestive system. The population most likely to be affected by autoimmune disorders is women between the ages of 20-25. There’s a significant growing awareness around gluten sensitivity and other food allergies. These were topics we hardly spoke of twenty years ago. For as many people who remove, replace and reintroduce different foods to their bodies trying to find a new way of eating to prevent GI distress, many people are missing two key steps: repair and re-inoculate.

After removing problematic foods from the diet, the next step is to repair the damage to the GI tract that was done when those foods were a part of your life. Probiotic rich foods then become helpful in re-establishing good gut flora levels in the large intestine. To heal the gut is to heal the gut brain connection. As women, we often experience emotions of stress or anxiety and chalk it up to our gender. The reality is that digestive distress can very much affect your overall stress level and mood without you knowing it. Food allergies can absolutely make problem solving at work or in your relationships more challenging. Getting closer to a natural diet or way of eating cherished by our grandmothers and theirs can hold great wisdom and solutions for contemporary women of today. You can start by making your first jar of sauerkraut.

Do-it-Yourself Jalapeño Sauerkraut 

from Farmhouse Culture

1 Napa Cabbage

1 carrot

¼ yellow onion

1 daikon radish

1 jalapeño

2 tbsp. Maldon Sea Salt

Before You Begin: Don’t wash any of your organic produce for sauerkraut (as this will contribute to it’s probiotic density and variety). Slice or dice all ingredients to be like-sized (you can use a grater for the carrot and onion if it’s easier). You will need one jar or bowl for holding the sauerkraut as it ferments; one plate that fits tightly inside of the jar or bowl to press down on the fermenting sauerkraut; and one Mason jar filled and sealed with water to serve as a weight to be set on the plate inside of the jar or bowl that contains the sauerkraut.

Place all sliced/diced vegetables and shredded cabbage into the bowl and season with 2 tbsp. of Maldon Sea Salt. Work the salt into the mixture. Place the plate inside of the bowl, on top of the cabbage and vegetables, with the weight (mason jar filled with water) on top of that. For the next 24 hours, periodically check the mixture, pushing on the mixture with your hand and the plate to cause the cabbage to give up as much water as possible. By the next day, if the cabbage is not fully submerged in it’s own water, add salt water to fully submerge. Then cover with the plate and weight again.

Leave the kraut alone, checking on it every couple of days. It’s possible that a mold will develop on the top layer that is exposed to air. Just skim what you can off and don’t stress what’s underneath; the brine it is submerged in protects the kraut. Taste it periodically for the distinct tanginess you desire. It should be ready anywhere from 3-7 days.

Jalapeño Sauerkraut is great on fried eggs in the morning or toss it into your favorite salad to liven it up!

2 COMMENTS
  • Ken January 16, 2014

    Thanks for some nice comments and recipes for fermented food.

    This recipe looks fine, the only thing I would be careful with is the jalapeño because the tend to dominate the taste, especially the hotter ones. But if you like it hot, then its fine.

  • Alec October 7, 2013

    Kombucha is probably my favorite beverage hands-down.

    Kimchi, sauerkraut and fermented sea veggies are also some of my absolute favorite foods. Just be very careful with these if you have thyroid issues though. Fermented veggies have some of the most goitrogenic foods on earth and goitrogens can greatly inhibit thyroid function. The key, like with so many things, is temperance.

    Once, after having some work done on my digestive track, I had a holistic health practitioner say to me “here replenish your gut flora” and she proceeded to hand me about a half tablespoon of sea veggies. I’ve always taken that as a lesson that even just a little bit of live food can go a long way. The great thing though, as you pointed out in the article, is how well, even in small portions, fermented foods like these can compliment other foods…salads, sandwiches, and breakfast foods especially.

    BTW, thanks for talking about the brain-gut connection. You are right. Most people look at gut and brain as somehow two separate or remotely connected things. The gut is your second brain. If it’s not happy you are not happy, and vice versa 🙂

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