Fermented Foods for a Healthy Gut
Gettin’ Funky in the Kitchen
I had the pleasure of hosting a podcast with Sarica Cernohous, where we talked about the power of fermented foods to improve health. With the help of fermented foods, we are able to introduce unique bacteria to diversify our microbiome. Poor diet and stressful lifestyles are wreaking havoc on many people’s guts, causing ailments such as leaky gut and irritable bowel syndrome. By better understanding how the gut functions, though, we can support its healing. One of the easiest ways to do this is by strategically consuming fermented foods.
The Gut Microbiome
The gut, aka microbiome, is made up of a complex ecosystem of bacteria. The organisms living in our bodies play a major role in virtually everything we do, from gene expression to immune system function. When our microbiome is imbalanced disease and illness can start to settle in.
The importance of our gut health cannot be stressed enough. The bacteria in our gut help us better extract nutrients from the foods that we eat, produce hormones for body regulation, and even maintain mental health. Much of our immune system also relies on our gut health. When either is compromised, inflammation sets into the body, causing a whole host of health problems.
The difficulty in maintaining a healthy gut for many is that it encompasses so much more than just the foods that you eat. Disrupted guts don’t happen overnight. A stressful job, a sedentary lifestyle, medication, and even living in enclosed spaces can disrupt gut health. The gut relies on a constant intake of bacteria from virtually everything around us. So when we interfere with this healthy intake of bacteria, by way of antibiotics or hyper-sanitization, our guts begin to falter.
How Fermented Foods Can Help
Though a healthy microbiome encompasses a total wellness approach, diet plays a major role. Fermented foods provide a way to introduce new organisms and cultures into your digestive system. Originally, fermentation was a preservation technique that helped humans survive through scarcity of food. In fact, fermentation is a part of the evolution of our bodies.
The process of fermentation changes the vitamin and mineral structure of the original food. The bacteria that lives in fermented foods serves as a protective factor in the intestines. The microflora lines the intestinal wall in order to safeguard against pathogens that may enter the body.
In fact, sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) plays an important role in the story of Captain Cook and his seamen. During a time when entire ships of men were dying due to scurvy, his men miraculously survived the illness. After closer inspection, it was realized that sauerkraut was regularly consumed by Captain Cook’s men. The bacteria in the fermented cabbage, it is said, is what saved them from this dark fate. To make your own kraut, check out the recipe at the end of the article.
Consuming fermented foods brings in a host of healthy, protective bacteria that can virtually set the entire health of your body. Though fermented foods are certainly powerful, they work best when combined with healthy pre-digestion methods. Soaking legumes and ancient grains (if you choose to eat them), for example, is an excellent way to break down tough-to-digest proteins that would otherwise impede digestion. A low-stress lifestyle, plenty of water, a fiber-rich diet, and fermented foods can all help support the health of the microbiome.
How to Use Fermented Foods to Fix the Gut
The public hype over fermented foods has led to a “more is better” mentality. As a result, probiotics are sold in supplement form and consumed like candy. Though this is a tempting habit to begin, it is not necessary nor ideal.
Raw, fermented foods are ideal for obtaining the healthy bacteria that your body requires. The raw nature of fermented foods provides living bacteria in appropriate doses. The way in which we consume fermented foods is perhaps the most important aspect of all. For optimal health, I generally recommend incorporating fermented foods alongside periods of fasting and with a varied diet.
I always recommend fasting as a way to allow the body to heal a multitude of ailments, particularly gut issues. Periods of fasting throughout the day (intermittent), or for blocks of time, force our bodies to turn to our fat stores for energy instead of the carbs that we consume. Fasting can be done in a number of ways, for example:
Intermittent Fasting (IF) is perhaps the most popular fasting method today. There are several methods of IF, for example:
- 16/8 Method: 16 hours of fasting and an 8-hour period of eating
- My 5-1-1 Rule: eat a ketogenic/low-carb diet 5 days a week, 1 day of fasting to support detoxification (24 hours or more, dinner to dinner), and 1 day of either “carb loading” or “protein loading”
- 5:2 Diet: fast for two 24 hour periods a week and eat a normal, healthy diet the rest of the days of the week (the two days need to be consecutive)
A fasting regimen such as this allows our bodies to break into the fat stores that we have in our bodies. It builds leaner muscles and conditions the body to use energy more efficiently.
The key I’ve found to fixing the gut is to use ancient healing strategies, within my multi therapeutic approach. We must do this by adjusting our diets based on our bodily needs during each particular point in our lives. The best way to do this is to imitate our ancestors. For example,some periods of time they had more access to animal fats and proteins (i.e. the cold season), while during other periods they had to rely on fruits and vegetables (i.e. summer). This was an involuntary lifestyle on their parts but served them well by naturally boosting their gut health and immune system.
What is particularly crucial here is incorporating a wide variety of fermented foods into your diet on a regular basis. Just a tablespoon or two a day of a raw fermented food, such as kefir or sauerkraut, will line your gut with bacteria that will help your entire body communicate more efficiently.
By incorporating different fermented foods into a healthy, varied diet you are not only supporting digestion but also almost every other aspect of your health. Your microbiome is a foundational part of your overall well-being. The more that we understand about gut health, the better we can help our bodies heal themselves of illness.