The connection between the mind and gut is finally getting more and more recognition as being a critical one, making what you put into your body so very important. There is on average 100 trillion bacteria that reside in your gut (both good and bad) and that number generally outnumbers the cells in your entire body by about 10 to 1. Maintaining the balance of good and bad bacteria provides the foundation for physical, mental and emotional health. 85% of your immunity processes originates in the gut, and it’s also the largest and most important immune organ in the entire body.
Once again, there is a resurgence to the “old” ways in food preparation occurring and for the sake of this article in the form of immune boosting fermented, or cultured foods. Before there was economical and efficient refrigeration, food products were canned for long term storage. Canning is also growing in popularity every year and is a great way to have summer peaches and your garden tomatoes in the wintertime; however most of the nutrients are killed by the heat process involved. Historically before refrigeration of any kind, meats were often kept in brine, or salted for long term storage, and the use of salt is one of the key methods of fermentation that I’ve incorporated into our every day diet.
We practice Lacto Fermentation of fresh vegetables in our home on a regular basis. The staples in our home include: Cucumbers to Pickles, cabbage to sauerkraut and carrots, well…to fermented carrots. I’ve also done zucchini, jalapenos, garlic, and green tomatoes as well and enjoyed them all. The very simple process is usually done only with sea salt, water and time. It creates a very unique flavor that even the kids love (especially the carrots). Using fresh, clean water and not your average/processed/iodized table salt is very important. We’re still using quality sea salt because it is pretty economical, but since even our oceans are not as clean today as we would hope, I’d like to evolve to a Himalayan Salt in the future.
Here are the basics of how this works. In Lacto Fermentation, it is the bacteria that are responsible for the fermentation process (as opposed to yeast when making beer for example). “Lacto” refers to Lactobacillus, the specific type of bacteria, of which is growing on the surface of most plants as well as in most GI tracts (The word Lacto does not necessarily mean this is a dairy based process, although whey can be used with or instead of salt). The Lactobacillus have the ability to convert sugars into lactic acid through the fermentation process, and this acid is a natural preservative that inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria and gives the unique flavor. This lactic acid also helps facilitate the growth of the good bacteria in the GI tract. It gets better though…aside from the simple preservation attributes of this process, vitamins, enzymes and even overall digestive levels are increased as a result of the natural fermentation. Fermented foods are also a natural detoxifier, and provide a much higher level of probiotics than most probiotic supplements.
There are several outstanding books on the subject….the two most well known are Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz and Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. I also liked the quick and easy to follow Fermenting for Dummies. The best online resource with recipes and special tools and information is www.culturesforhealth.com. Although there are some tools that make the job easier, to get started all you need are some mason jars and salt. The fancy crocks, lids and other knick-knacks can wait till later if you really want to delve in deeper.
Probiotic supplementation is still a part of our daily regimen, but I would encourage anyone to do your own research on the natural fermentation of fresh foods, and incorporate them into your diet. Later we’ll talk about the “soda” we drink in our house for dinner on most nights of the week….SODA?!! Yes, well sort of. Another product always in constant demand in our house is Water Kefir…another fermented product we make regularly in our house, and my kids call it “Dad’s soda” because it is naturally fermented, and quite bubbly. Two bottles were so bubbly they exploded across the kitchen. It is SOOOO good, cant wait to tell you more.
Bonus info on bacteria: I LOVE TED talks and will always be sharing my favorites in my blog. Want to more about bacteria (well beyond the kitchen)? Here is an exceptional TED talk.
Quote of the day: “It’s bizarre that the produce manager is more important to my children’s health than the pediatrician.” ~Meryl Streep