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Growing up, I was skeptical of fermented foods, mostly because of the sauerkraut my dad smothered on his hot dogs. First of all, it smelled funny. Secondly, that one time I tasted it…yuck! To be fair, it was cheap/crappy sauerkraut from a hot dog stand, not the good stuff. Still, until a few years ago that traumatizing hot dog memory had me saying, “No thanks! I’ll pass!” to any fermented food that came my way, regardless of how delectable and nutritious it promised to be.
Then, one unsuspecting day, I tried a side dish my husband had ordered at our local Korean restaurant. It was perfectly spiced, delicious, and, unbeknownst to me…a fermented food called kimchi!
Our subsequent conversation about fermented foods (my husband knows much more about all things food-related than I do, thanks to his youthful “Iron Chef” obsession) made me realize I’d been eating them all along in the form of pickles and yogurt. I also recalled a tidbit claiming that fermented foods possess “good” bacteria, so I was ready to explore the health and flavor possibilities that foods like kimchi (and even sauerkraut!) could bring to my life!
In this post, you’ll learn why the bacteria found in fermented foods are so awesome for your gut/overall health and how to easily incorporate the most delicious varieties into your daily routine. Let’s get started…
Fermented Foods Contain “Good” Bacteria
Adding bacteria to your plate may sound like a frightening recommendation, but consider this fact: The human body is equal parts human cells and bacteria. Since your human body is already filled with bacteria, your goal should be to make sure the “good” outnumber the “bad.”
Bad bacteria, also known as pathogenic bacteria, cause infection, inflammation, and sickness. Good bacteria aid with digestion and fight invading microbes. Thus, an overabundance of bad bacteria will inevitably lead to problems like…
The imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut has a fancy name: “dysbacteriosis” (or “dysbiosis”). Symptoms include the following:
- Excess intestinal gas
- Too little or no intestinal gas
- Chronic diarrhea
- Chronic bad breath
- Hormonal problems
- Menstrual complaints
- Prostate trouble
- Breast enlargement in men
- Need for sexual hormone medication
- Candida infection (“candidiasis”)
- Chronic anemia
- Chronic respiratory problems
- Dairy product allergies and intolerances
- Vitamin B deficiencies
- High cholesterol levels
- Neurological problems
- Severe bruising problems
- Chronic vaginal infections
- Chronic bladder infections
- Osteoporosis (loss of bone mass)
- Sarcopenia (loss of muscle tissue)
Causes of Dysbacteriosis
Some common causes of dysbacteriosis are:
- Antibiotic usage
- Poor dietary habits (namely consuming refined sugars, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods)
- Excessive cleanliness.
Since it’s so easy to disrupt the ratio of good to bad gut bacteria, it’s extremely important to take steps towards optimal gut health.
If I have slight dysbacteriosis, is it really that big of a deal?
YES. Yes, it truly is. Hippocrates once said “all disease begins in the gut,” and thousands of peer-reviewed studies now support this ancient wisdom. In fact, I just performed what I thought was a little search for “gut microbiota” on PubMed.gov, and I uncovered a whopping 16,437 results!
For example, the health of the gut microbiome is now inextricably linked to brain health. Further, researchers continue to study the ties between gut health and ADHD, infection risk, irritable bowel syndrome, kidney disease, hypertension, and more!
Thus, even slight dysbacteriosis may not only cause the symptoms listed above but may also lead to life-altering—or even life-threatening—illnesses and ailments.
Say goodbye to dysbacteriosis once and for all by…
- Cleaning up your diet. (A great first step is to stop eating refined sugars and carbohydrates!)
- Avoiding antibiotics. (Hint: Amoxicillan doesn’t cure the common cold, so don’t be one of the millions of Americans who barges into the doctor’s office demanding it! You can fight off the majority of sicknesses on your own.)
- Taking a probiotic supplement. When choosing a probiotic, make sure it’s high-quality. (See this article by Dr. David Williams for some tips. I don’t take probiotics all the time, but when I do I take these.)
- Eliminating antibacterial soaps from your home. It’s actually good to be a bit dirty! I use Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Liquid Castile Soap to stay clean…but not too clean.
- EATING PROBIOTICS. This is my favorite one—and the topic of this post!—so let’s chat more about it…
Eating probiotics (aka fermented foods)!
Instead of just popping a probiotic supplement, get into the habit of eating probiotics each day. Do so by consuming these common fermented foods:
- *Kombucha (fermented tea)
- Kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage; eat it plain, on salad, or as a side dish with any meal)
- Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage; make sure it’s the real, alive kind, which you’ll only find in the refrigerated section of a health food store; eat it plain, on salad, or as a side dish with any meal)
- *Kefir (fermented milk)
- *Yogurt (fermented milk)
- Raw cheese (“raw cheeses are probiotic powerhouses that offer increased digestibility, as well as better flavor”)
- Dill pickles (fermented cucumbers)
*As always, be mindful of the sugar content of the foods you eat and the beverages you drink. I love kombucha, but I only drink it if it has 4g (or fewer!) of sugar per bottle. If you consume too much sugar while attempting to eat/drink good bacteria, you’ll negate any positive effects.
Think fermented foods are too pricey?
They certainly can be! Today, I bought a $5 kombucha for a treat, which cost more than my morning coffee. Last month, I purchased a jar of sauerkraut at Whole Foods that cost $8.99. Kimchi can also be quite pricey! However, I’ve bought some delicious jars of sauerkraut and kimchi from Trader Joe’s for much cheaper. It really just depends.
Can’t find the cheaper-yet-still-high-quality stuff in your local grocery store?
You can easily make fermented foods yourself!
I regularly make my own sauerkraut using two tools: a 64-oz mason jar and a silicon fermentation lid. Aside from those, all you need is a head of cabbage and salt. (I use Redmond Real Salt for everything because it contains trace minerals and is unrefined, unprocessed, and additive-free.)
See this simple recipe and instructional video for all of the deets.
Making sauerkraut yourself is definitely cost-effective, but it’s also very cool to watch a vegetable come to life!
Final note: Your good bacteria need to eat, too!
(Those needy little buggers…) Guess what their favorite food is? Raw vegetables!
Once you’ve increased your consumption of good bacteria through fermented foods (and possibly a high-quality probiotic supplement), you’ll only experience the full benefits if you feed those probiotics prebiotics. (These terms get confusing, I know!)
Some of the most common prebiotics are raw garlic, onions, asparagus, and jicama (my personal favorite), but there are others as well.
Really, this is just great health advice in general since doctors, vegans, vegetarians, paleo dieters, omnivories, nutritionists, and your great-great-grandparents all agree on one thing: Mo’ vegetables = mo’ health gains!
Bottom line: Happy gut, happy life! Boost your gut health by incorporating fermented foods into your diet and your body will thank you!
⇒ To optimize every aspect of your health, visit My Favorite Things! There, you’ll find links to healthy packaged foods, toxin-free products, and overall wellness boosters.
⇒ Like this post? Then you’ll LOVE these:
- “Improve Your Overall Health + Digestion By…Chewing Food!”
- “Hidden Sugar: You’re Probably Eating More Than You Think!”
- “Frozen Produce Is Just As Good (If Not Better!) As Fresh Produce”