As we get deeper into the blustery days of fall, the diversity of fresh produce dwindles, but it is not too late to preserve the remaining fruits and veggies. One approach to preserving these nutritious foods may not have occurred to you: ferment them. It’s not as scary as it sounds – and the health benefits are worth the effort. A diet rich in fermented foods brings necessary heat to the body, helps strengthen the stomach, and bolsters the immune system in this time of seasonal change. So give fermentation a chance!
One caveat: Be rigorous with your own sanitation and do not eat fermented foods if you have a compromised immune system or if you are currently suffering from yeast infections.
Alcohol, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, yogurt, cheese – these are just a few products that would not be possible without fermentation. Fermentation is the chemical process by which sugars are converted to alcohols and carbon dioxide. Humans have been fermenting everything from grapes to grains to dairy for over four millennia. One practical reason for doing this was that fermentation allowed various foods to be stored for months or longer at room temperature – no refrigerator necessary. Another reason was health: fermented foods provide a host of beneficial bacteria in the stomach, helping to protect the body from harmful bacteria; various lab studies have shown that these probiotic – “for life” – bacteria have prevented animals from being infected with E. coli and salmonella.
These days, commercially fermented foods are lacking healthy bacterial benefits because they are made differently. Modern bread is usually made with commercial yeast instead of wild yeast, and pickles and sauerkraut are now made with vinegar instead of the traditional lacto-fermentation methods. You can tap into the real benefits of fermented food by choosing sourdough bread, kefir, and kombucha that can be found in many health food stores. Look for naturally fermented pickles, sauerkraut, soy sauce, salsa, and other naturally fermented versions of these foods. Or make your own!
By providing your gut with healthy bacteria or “cultures,” like L. acidophilus, L. bulgaricus, and Bifidobacterium bifidus, your whole digestive system may improve. Firstly, the fermentation process gives your gut more of the necessary bacteria to effectively digest foods, and certain strains of these bacteria – particularly those from kefir – continue protecting and reproducing in the intestinal walls long after the food is consumed. The probiotics naturally found in such fermented foods have been incredibly beneficial in multiple studies focused around treating a variety of conditions, including diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, and high cholesterol.
Relish The Nutrients
Secondly, eating fermented foods – which have effectively been predigested by helpful microorganisms – is easier on the stomach than eating the same foods raw, which contributes to better absorption of nutrients. Keep in mind: you can ingest plenty of nutrients, but unless your body actually absorbs them, they’re useless to you. For instance, cabbage is extremely rich in nutrients, but in raw form, it can be difficult to digest and often causes gas. When cabbage is fermented in the form of kimchi, however, it is much easier to digest and thus, we can more readily assimilate its high amounts of Vitamin K and C, as well as the polyphenols and antioxidants. Dairy and hearty vegetables are also made more nutritious and readily digestible by fermentation. Yogurt, kefir, cheese, and sour cream lose most of their lactose in the process of fermentation, contributing to easier digestion.
Bonus Tip: In addition to fermented foods, you can use the power of herbs to help support digestion. Abundant Energy: The Digestion Formula, helps stimulate digestion and improves nutrient absorption.
Last But Not Least…
Fermentation actively creates several highly energizing and detoxifying vitamins, such as anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, B complex vitamins, digestive enzymes, and immune system-enhancing beta glucans. Glutathione, one of the leading free radical scavengers in the brain, is also a byproduct of fermentation. So, yes, everything from your stomach to your immunity to your brain and teeth can be improved by eating fermented foods.
When foods are fermented correctly, with due consideration made for sanitation, fermented foods can be some of the most uniquely flavorful foods you can try, with health benefits ranging from improved digestion and nutrition, increased energy, and even better oral hygiene.
May you live long, live strong, and live happy!
Dr. Mao Shing Ni, best known as Dr. Mao is a bestselling author, doctor of Oriental Medicine and board certified anti-aging expert. He has appeared regularly on “Dr. Oz,” “The Doctors,” and “EXTRA.” Dr. Mao practices acupuncture, nutrition and Chinese medicine with his associates at the Tao of Wellness in Santa Monica and Newport Beach. Dr. Mao and his brother, Dr. Daoshing Ni founded Tao of Wellness more than 25 years ago in addition to also founding Yo San University in Marina del Rey. To make an appointment for evaluation and treatment please call 310.917.2200 or you can email Dr. Mao at [email protected] To subscribe to his tip-filled newsletter please visit www.taoofwellness.com