On the Ferment – the amazing health benefits of fermented foods
“Monastic cookery, as it has been practiced through the centuries, is cherished for its emphasis on simplicity, wholesome frugality, basic good taste, and the seasonal rhythms of the ingredients used.
Monastic kitchens always strive for a healthy and balanced diet, fully aware from past experience that the monk and the nun must be properly nourished to serve God well.
The human body is the temple of God, and its dietary needs must be respected.” Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette
Ferments, in all their glory and wonder, are an amazingly simple way to boost the nourishment of vegetables, boost immune function and honor our body’s dietary needs. They are a staple in the pantry stocked for ease of meals and vibrant health. It seems strange to us that people from earlier generations knew how to extend the edible life of their vegetables without the use of freezers or pasteurization. But, throughout the ages, people around the world, without any awareness of the scientific principles involved, utilized and prized fermented foods.
One of the benefits of fermentation are the formation of probiotics. These are friendly tiny little micro-organisms that promote digestive wellness. These healthy communities of beneficial microflora and bacteria in our gut have an intensely positive impact on our overall health.
Most people these days are aware that 80% of our immune system resides in the gut BUT did you know that the vast majority of the DNA in you does not even belong to you! It’s a pretty amazing fact that
You have ten times more bacteria in your gut than you have cells in your body. And those bacteria comprise 99 percent of the DNA in your body. If only 1 percent of our DNA is human, and 99 percent is alien, you have to ask the question, who hosts whom?? These bacteria are called your microbiota… The microbiota function much like an organ, and they act as a major part of the immune system. They protect us from microbial and parasitic diseases… and contribute to our rate of aging. (Lipski, 2012)
In that light, it’s clear that we were designed to live in symbiotic harmony with these bacteria. Yet, modern advances – while wonderful in many respects – have led to an age where antibiotics, stress, over consumption of refined processed foods, alcohol, and over the counter prescriptions easily disrupt the delicate balance of of our digestive biome. As a result, we are the first generation needing to consider how to refortify our diets with these helpful organisms!
There is still so much to be known about this remarkable ecosystem within us – but, thus far, we have learned a lot! Did you know that:
Probiotics maintain the integrity of the intestinal tract. Each different probiotic has specific effects on the human digestive system and is able to compete with disease causing bacteria. Thriving microflora in your gut actually fights for your very health and survival!! Think about that for a minute!
Certain probiotics secrete large amounts of acetic, formic and lactic acid, which makes the intestinal environment inhospitable to invading microbes and helps prevent or lessen the severity of food poisoning.
Probiotics manufacture vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12 and K
Probiotics aid in the digestion of lactose and dairy products and digest proteins.
Probiotics increase the absorption of minerals.
Probiotics reduce intestinal inflammation.
Probiotics balance intestinal pH.
Probiotics improve or prevent irritable bowel syndrome.
Probiotics prevent and treat diarrhea from antibiotics and traveling.
Probiotics manufacture essential fatty acids and short chain fatty acids. These fatty acids actually feed the cells of the colon and optimize the colon’s pH for improved or optimal colon health!
Probiotics prevent and control vaginal yeast infection, thrush and bladder infection.
The list above is just a partial highlight of the amazing things that go on inside you when you eat simply and well! It’s clear that intestinal microbes play a vital and front line role in our immune defenses. Because they only reproduce in our digestive system for a few weeks before being eliminated – probiotic rich foods are a staple of a well balanced diet.
Properly prepared ferments add probiotics in the trillions per spoonful, with an efficacy far superior (and cost effective) to probiotics in tablet form.
When selecting your foods, keep in mind, variety is the spice of life. If the only fermented food you eat is yogurt, you are missing out on all of the anti-inflammatory benefits of foods like sauerkraut, kimchee, kefir, brined pickles & olives, and various slaws.
Each different ferment provides a variety of bacteria and the different vegetables all bring their unique health properties to the table.
New to ferments? Wondering how to introduce them to your family?
Okay, I totally understand that! If you have infants and toddlers, you are in the best situation. Little ones tend to accept new flavors readily. We started later on the journey, with some pretty opinionated tastebuds and peer pressures. So what was helpful was to keep in mind that a little goes a long way. It’s really not necessary to eat a lot. Just a tablespoon as part of each meal yields wonderful health benefits! Build up from there if you wish.
Taste buds vary among our kids and some enjoy ferments more than others. Our oldest loves the sauerkraut and salsa. She usually takes more than a spoonful at each meal. The youngest isn’t the biggest fan and she gravitates toward gingered carrots, beets and pickles. Any vegetable can be fermented – even green beens and asparagus.
A great friend of mine from Bulgaria, actually remembers her parents and grandparents fermenting all their summer vegetables because, during communism, there was not a year round supply to be found in stores during the winter.
I was in awe!
Ferments have a self sufficient versatility – but at the same time, pair well with a variety of dishes. Fermenting your own vegetables is an artisanal delight that is flavorful, healthy and when made with your local harvest good for the planet too!