Jump on the Bandwagon: Fermented Foods, Immunity, and Gut Health

 

Whether you like it or not you are filled with bacteria...up to 3kg!  In fact, the bacteria in your body outnumber the cells in your body by at least 10 to 1. If this creeps you out, have peace in knowing that these bacteria are critical to your overall health and wellbeing.

Your gut is where most of your bacteria hang out – both good and bad.  The challenge is optimizing the bacterial population in your gut by striving for an ideal good to bad bacteria ratio.  When your bacteria are in balance they can live in a beneficial, symbiotic relationship to help nourish your body and fight disease.  When they are out of balance we call this dysbiosis.  Dysbiosis can lead to a plethora of health problems.

The good news is that there is plenty you can do now to encourage the growth of the good bacteria! The most effective way is by eating foods packed with probiotics (the good guys that live in our gut) such as fermented foods! FYI -fermentation is an enzyme-controlled chemical breakdown of an organic substance.  Think of sugar turning into alcohol or the souring of milk. 

Some healthful fermented foods include kombucha (fermented tea), kimchi (Korean fermented cabbage), sauerkraut (German fermented cabbage), kefir and yogurt (fermented milk products), and pickled fruits and vegetables.

 

Why Consume Fermented Foods?

Fermentation imbues our foods with probiotics – that is the beneficial bacteria.  These bacteria, when ingested, populate the intestinal tract and begin to interact with the body in a positive way by training the immune system, manufacturing vitamins and keeping opportunistic bacteria at bay.  This is why fermented foods are an essential aspect of many healing protocols (ex. GAPS diet) as well as cuturally in many traditional dietsIn a nut shell, fermented or cultured foods can "heal and seal" your gut to optimize health and even reverse disease!

Although there are a plethora of health benefits to eating fermented foods, one KEY benefit is the optimization of your immune system.  This is because an estimated 80 percent of your immune system is actually located in your gut. Probiotics play a crucial role in the development and operation of the mucosal immune system in your digestive tract, and aid in the production of antibodies to pathogens. A healthy gut is a major factor in maintaining optimal health because a strong immune system is your top defense system against any disease.

 

What do fermented foods offer over a probiotic supplements?

Mainly fermented foods provide a natural variety of microflora.  As long as you vary the fermented and cultured foods you eat, you'll get a much wider variety of beneficial bacteria than you could ever get from a supplement.  Not only do fermented foods contain more LAB’s (lactic acid bacteria) and different strains,  but they also are full of nutrients.  Moreover, the fermentation process actually predigests the foods making the food more digestible and the nutrients in the food more bioavailable.  Some vitamins are actually created in the fermentation process like B vitamins.  Did you know the vitamin C in sauerkraut is 20 times higher than in fresh cabbage?!

So, if you are suffering from less them optimal health, you can heal with nutrition by increasing your sources of fermented foods.  And with a little knowledge you can even make your own fermented foods at home.  Your gut and your wallet will thank you!

Andrea Hauser, Homeopath (novice kombucha fermenter!)