Over the past year, as I've been gaining knowledge about the benefits of eating clean, nourishing foods (such as grass-fed meats/dairy and organic produce), I also stumbled upon the world of fermented foods. And when I say world, I really mean it! There are so many different types of fermented foods out there! It's amazing, and a bit overwhelming all at the same time.
Before I learned about this so-called world, I had very little knowledge or awareness of its presence and its many benefits. So, after I learned a little, I found myself wanting to know a ton more! It all started when I realized that fermented foods, such as sauerkraut and kimchi, are packed full of probiotics (aka, good bacteria) and that they've been around for thousands of years! Now, I've read plenty of yogurt containers over lunch breaks to know that yogurt has good bacteria in it in the form of live cultures, but I was completely unaware of all of the other fermented foods that also contain those wonderful little bacteria.
Now, in our society of anti-germ everything, many people have come to disgust, hate, and even fear the word bacteria. We're told that it's bad, that we should avoid it, and that if we come in contact with it, we should kill it and get rid of it completely. This information comes to us in the form of antibiotics, antibacterial soap, antibacterial hand-sanitizer, antibacterial cleaning products, the list goes on and on. Don't get me wrong, there a lot of bad types of bacteria out there and they can be rather dangerous. However, at the same time, there are also a lot of good types of bacteria out there, and all of our killing of the bad, often times also kills the good.
This killing of good bacteria ends up being very harmful for our guts (stomach/intestinal/digestive systems). We need all of those good little bacteria to keep us healthy. Not only do they fight off the bad guys, but they also help us to better digest food and absorb nutrients. So, when you don't have a balanced gut (full of good bacteria), it's actually possible to eat really healthily, but not really benefit from it because your body may not be absorbing all of the nutrients from that food if it doesn't have the help of that good bacteria.
Yikes! So, you may be wondering....what do I do about this?!?!
Well, there are a couple options. An easy one is that you can start taking probiotic (good bacteria) supplements. You can get them at health food stores and they often pack thousands of helpful bacteria into a little capsule. When we are away from home or out of our normal routine, we take Melaleuca's Florify Probiotic supplement. (Contact me for more info about this.) For those who are looking for an easy and quick way to build up your good bacteria defenses, a supplement may be a good option. The other option, and this is the one that I prefer, is to incorporate probiotic-rich foods into your diet.
This is where fermented foods come in. As I mentioned before, fermented foods are packed full of probiotics. Not only that, but when foods are fermented, their nutrients actually become more readily available and more easily digestible for us. They are also rather yummy! If you are at all interested in diving in or even just getting your feet wet in the world of fermented foods and probiotics, I highly recommend the book Fermented Food for Health by Deirdre Rawlings. She not only explains the benefits, traditions, and reasons behind fermented foods, but half of the book is filled with recipes and tips for how to incorporate fermented foods into your life. It's highly educational, interesting, and mouth-watering!
There are several fermented foods that I've started incorporating into our diets over the past few months. The first is kombucha, a fermented tea drink. It's bubbly and refreshing, and we absolutely love it, especially when it's infused with strawberries and rhubarb!
The second is sourdough bread. Now, I do believe that most of the good bacteria in sourdough are killed in the baking process, but you still get the nutritional benefits from the fermentation process, which helps to break down difficult to digest nutrients that are typically found in grains. So, sourdough bread, made from a fermented sourdough starter, is easier to digest and more nutritious than other types of bread.
Fermented carrots have become another favorite of mine. I tried making sauerkraut last fall, but I don't think it really turned out. While waiting for it to ferment, I also realized that I wasn't really a fan of sauerkraut or even cabbage, so the idea of tasting my creation was never really appealing. However, when I found a recipe for fermented ginger-carrots, I decided to take another shot at fermenting vegetables. I figured that starting with favors that I already enjoy, was probably a good idea. The result was great! I love adding fermented carrots to salads! They are ready to use, packed full of nutrients, and add a ton of flavor.
The most recent fermented food that I've added to my list is milk kefir. It's similar to plain yogurt in taste, but a mix between milk, sour cream, and yogurt for texture and consistency. I use it in smoothies, over granola, in place of buttermilk, in place of sour cream (I mix it with a bit of yogurt to thicken it), and to make kefir cheese (which is very similar to cream cheese in texture and flavor). It lasts far longer than milk and buttermilk and is a great way to keep dairy on hand! I've become quite the fan!
After the past ten months of this fermented journey, I must say that I will never turn back. We are healthier than we've probably ever been and feel great. I know there are a lot of factors that have made us healthier, but I know that the fermented foods that we regularly eat are definitely one of those factors.
So, if you take anything away from my ramblings today, please take a little (or much) interest and curiosity in the world of fermented foods. I think you'll enjoy the journey!
Here are a few resources for further reading: