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Fermented Foods: Nature’s Delicious Probiotics

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November 16, 2016 | Published by


Some people seem to think that the term “fermented” sounds vaguely distasteful, or downright inedible. However, research has found fermented foods to be extremely beneficial to your overall health. In fact, some of these functional foods are now even considered to be probiotics, which can help your health in the following ways:

  • Increase your overall health by optimizing your nutritional status
  • Promote the growth of friendly intestinal bacteria
  • Support digestion and immune function
  • Provide an increase in B vitamins (even Vitamin B12), omega-3 fatty acids, digestive enzymes, lactase and lactic acid, and other immune chemicals that fight off harmful bacteria

Fermented foods are produced or preserved by the action of microorganisms. They can come about either by fermenting sugar with yeast and producing alcohol, or by way of an other fermentation process involving the use of bacteria such as lactobacillus, which includes the making of foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut.

Probiotics have become quite popular these days. However, probiotics should not be viewed as a fad or gimmick item. Cultured foods have been consumed for many hundreds of years around the world, and those who have consumed these foods were most probably oblivious to the fact that these foods contained loads of probiotics. These beneficial live bacteria are found in abundance naturally in fermented foods, and through observation it has been found that those who regularly consume these foods are less likely to suffer from colds or other immune problems, amongst other numerous health benefits.

Kombucha, Kefir, and Cultured Vegetables

Kombucha

Kombucha is certainly no health fad; it has been used for thousands of years in China, having only recently become widely popular in the last twenty or thirty years. This drink is basically a fermented mixture made from the kombucha culture added to a black or green tea made with plenty of sugar. The end result is a kind of sweet, pancake-like structure that floats on top of the container where it is made and generally stored. Don’t worry about the sugar – it is all consumed (fermented) by bacteria and turned into a lactic acid ferment which is fantastic for the large and small intestine in particular. The fermentation floating on top of the mixture is often referred to as a “mushroom” or “mother,” which can be used to make other batches.

Kefir

Kefir is a specially prepared, delicious fermented drink. There are 2 types of kefir: water and milk kefir. The latter can be made with sheep, goat or cow’s milk. The liquid is fermented with kefir “grains” (colonies of yeast and healthy bacteria), and the resulting drink is an excellent source of healthy intestinal micro flora, B vitamins, Vitamin E, and for milk kefirs complete proteins. Both water and milk kefir are also usually easily digested by those who are lactose intolerant.

Cultured Vegetables

Cultured vegetables are raw vegetables that are allowed to ferment for about a week at room temperature. This allows the beneficial bacteria lactobacilli to grow. The vegetables are then refrigerated until eaten. Vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, green beans, okra, beetroot and even garlic can be fermented into delicious cultured foods that maintain their lactobacillus count for as long as 6 months after preparation.

Vegetables can be cultured with whey or Celtic sea salt, and taste like pickles or sauerkraut. Some of the health benefits associated with cultured vegetables include reducing symptoms of conditions such as colic, peptic ulcers, food allergies, constipation and many other digestive tract disorders. Those with candida yeast infections can safely eat cultured vegetables without fear of eating any of the “bad” yeasts commonly associated with commercial bread and alcoholic beverages.

Sauerkraut

If you have only ever tried store-bought (canned) sauerkraut, then you definitely owe it to yourself to try some homemade sauerkraut. Many people in Germany, Holland and many other European countries will be very familiar with sauerkraut, as it is a food that they have consumed for many generations. There are as many ways to make sauerkraut as there are sauerkraut recipes, but here’s how I do it.

Kimchi

Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish made with fermented vegetables and a variety of seasonings. Of the countless varieties of kimchi that are made in Korea, by far the most common version is the one made with Chinese cabbage. Kimchi made with cabbage is loaded with indole-3-carbinol (I3C), a compound that is well recognized as a powerful cancer-fighting compound.

Cultured Dairy Products

Fermented milks had been made since early times, when warm raw milk from cows, sheep, goats, and even camels or horses was naturally preserved by using common strains of streptococcus and lactobacillus bacteria.With the development of microbiological and nutritional sciences in the late 19th century came the technology necessary to produce cultured dairy products on a much larger scale. These “cultures” were generally obtained by including a small portion (seeding) from the previous batch. These harmless lactic acid producers were effective in suppressing spoilage and pathogenic organisms, making it possible to preserve fresh milk for several days or weeks without refrigeration.

Central to the production of cultured milk is the initial fermentation process, which involves the partial conversion of lactose (milk sugar) to lactic acid. Lactose conversion is accomplished by lactic acid-producing streptococcus and lactobacillus bacteria. At temperatures of approximately 32° C (90° F), these bacteria reproduce very rapidly, perhaps doubling their population every 20 minutes. Many by-products that result from their metabolic processes assist in the further ripening and flavoring of the cultured product.

Subsequent or secondary fermentations can result in the production of other compounds, such as diacetyl (a flavor compound found in buttermilk) and alcohol (from yeasts in kefir), as well as butyric acid (which causes bitter or rancid flavors). Cultured buttermilk, sour cream, and yogurt are among the most common fermented dairy products in the Western world. Other lesser-known products include kefir, koumiss, acidophilus milk, and yogurts containing bifidobacteria. Cultured dairy foods provide numerous potential health benefits to the human diet. These foods are excellent sources of calcium and protein. In addition, they may help to establish and maintain beneficial intestinal bacterial flora and reduce lactose intolerance.

Be Aware of Budget Fermented Products

Fermentation is an inconsistent process and more of an art than a science, so commercial food processors developed techniques to help standardize more consistent yields. Many cultured foods today are produced on a large commercial scale. For example, some pickles are simply packed in salt, vinegar and pasteurized. Many yogurts are so laden with sugar that they are little more than junk foods.

Many pickled or soured foods are fermented as part of the pickling or souring process, but are processed very quickly and cheaply with brine, white sugar, white vinegar, or another cheap acids such as citric acid. Unfortunately, these modern techniques effectively kill off all the lactic acid producing bacteria and short-circuit their important and traditional contribution to intestinal and overall health.

dr-eric-bakker-150x150About the Author: Eric Bakker B.H.Sc. (Comp.Med), N.D, R.Hom. is a highly experienced naturopathic physician who has been in clinical practice for 27 years. Eric is passionate about improving people’s lives through proven wellness and lifestyle principles, natural medicine practice as well as public and professional practitioner education. Eric specializes in candida, psoriasis, as well as adrenal fatigue, thyroid and digestive disorders. Dr. Bakker has written one of the most comprehensive books on yeast infections called Candida Crusher. He has also written what may well be the most comprehensive Natural Psoriasis Treatment Program available. You can find more articles by Dr. Bakker on his blog at www.ericbakker.com.


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