Fermenting foods is an age-old process of preservation, protecting one’s health, and increasing the nutritional value in food. Recently, these prized foods are gaining fame because of their immense health benefits. Lacto fermentation is a process of transformation and preservation that occurs when yeasts and bacteria such as lactobacilli convert starches and sugars in foods into lactic acid. This is accomplished utilizing time, salt and sometimes a starter culture. When fresh vegetables are combined with salt and placed in an anaerobic environment, the naturally occurring lactobacilli are able to proliferate and thrive. The salt holds back the harmful microbes, ensuring there is no decay in the vegetables and the beneficial microbes can prosper. These excellent microbes are responsible for transforming the vegetables into delightfully sour and nourishing foods.
When consumed, these beneficial bacteria help support proper gut flora balance and the immune system. Unfortunately, thanks to our modern environment and diet in the last century, the health of our population has been rapidly declining. In part this is because the human microbiome has been majorly compromised. In fact, there are approximately 1,000 different species of bacteria living in the human body and these cells outnumber human cells by about a 10 to 1 ratio. Due of highly processed diets, over use of antibiotics, birth control pills and other drugs, increased stress, and toxicity, the balance of beneficial and harmful bacteria have been altered so that negative microbes in our bodies flourish. This brings on a chance for a host of ailments such as digestive disorders, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. The health of the gut is also directly linked with the health of the brain; therefore a microbiome imbalance can cause ADD/ADHD, OCD, autism, depression, anxiety, and other neuropsychological disorders. Maintaining proper gut flora is vital for a strong immune system and optimal physical and mental health.
Lacto fermentation not only aids in balancing gut flora, but also adds a wealth of nutrition to foods. While lacto fermentation adds a multitude of beneficial bacteria and enzymes in foods, it also increases the nutrient profile within them and makes those nutrients more bioavailable. These beneficial bacteria not only help balance gut flora, but also help you digest the food you eat. Fermented fruits and vegetables have increased vitamin levels, most notably vitamins A and C. The Lactobacilli present in ferments also produce lysine and methionine that are anticarcinogenic in nature. Antimicrobial substances, such as hydrogen peroxide can be found in ferments as well. Fermented foods also help with immune system modulation, increase antioxidants, and are anti inflammatory in nature.
Historically, small amounts of fermented foods were eaten with every meal. These traditional people groups were largely free of modern disease and lived strong, healthy lives. We can follow their example. In fact, lactic-acid fermented vegetables are supposed to be eaten in small quantities.
If you are not currently consuming fermented foods, it is wise to ease into it by eating a small portion and working your way up. The beneficial microbes in the fermented foods will begin to shift gut flora into a more balanced state. The beneficial organisms essentially crowd out the pathogenic ones. As this happens, pathogens begin to die and release more toxins into the body. This can cause a die-off or detox reaction called a Herxheimer reaction. This could make you feel tired, sick, or even have skin rashes and headaches. If this happens, your body is telling you to slow down in your introduction of fermented foods and know that the detox symptoms will be temporary. Do not stop eating these wonderful foods; just reduce how much you are eating. It should also be noted that because fermented foods are full of living, thriving microbes, it is imperative that they are eaten raw to receive their full spectrum of health benefits.
Campbell-McBride, Natasha. Gut and Psycology Syndrome: Natural Treatment for Autism, Dyspraxia, A.D.D, Depression, Schizophrenia. Cambridge, UK: Medinform Publishing, 2010.
Fallon, Sally, and Mary G. Enig. Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook That Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats. Washington, D.C: New Trends Publishing, 2001.