Friday night I put on a workshop on “Eating for Energy & Vitality” as part of NSH Lady Project’s first Active Night at the Strength in Balance Studio in Nashua. It was really fun and a great way to network, get some exercise and teach others a little about what I’ve learned about the connection between food, lifestyle and our energy levels.
The women had a lot of questions for me and one of the things that they were interested in learning about was fermented foods. It’s something that seems to be coming up a lot lately in the media so I thought I should spend a little time on it in this week’s email in case you had questions about it too. I’m not going to go heavily into detail but I want you to know what fermented foods are, what the benefits of eating them are and how to get them into your diet.
Consider this the “cliff notes” version on fermented foods – it’s a huge subject and I’m only going to glaze the surface here! But before we get into fermented foods, I want to invite you to something I’m doing next week.
Free Invitation to LIVE VIDEO CALL
If you are interested in learning about how you can live and eat for better energy, I’m holding a live google hangout call on October 29th at 7pm EST. It will be a web version of the talk I did Friday night. You can join it by viewing it directly at this link on October 29th or you can sign up here to receive email reminders of the video chat and receive an email link to the recording after the fact (in case you miss it live!). Come check it out! Barring any technical glitches, I promise it will be very informative – we’ll talk about why women are struggling with their energy levels, why that is important and ultimately what we can do about it! Good stuff!
What are fermented foods?
Refrigeration and freezing food is a relatively new thing in terms of human’s ability to preserve and store foods. Long before we had electricity or ice boxes, people had to find ways to make food last longer to get them through months of the year where food was scarce (think winter!). One method of preserving food was through fermentation.
In fermentation, the carbohydrates in fruits and vegetables are converted into lactic acid (which is a natural preservative), by a rich bacteria that naturally lives on them. In the right controlled conditions (such as temperature, moisture and lack of exposure to oxygen), this bacteria will multiply and grow. As the bacteria multiplies, it continues to feed on the starch in the food, which preserves the food but also breaks it down some, making it easier for us to digest. One side benefit to fermenting foods was that people noticed it completely changed the taste of some foods, in many cases the chemical changes happening actually completely transformed the taste and texture of the food that was preserved (like as in the case of beer or wine).
Why should we eat them?
Did you know that there is more bacterial cells in our bodies than actual human cells? I know, that’s disgusting to think about. Most of the bacteria that makes it’s home in our bodies is beneficial to us and plays a large role in proper digestion and in keeping our immune systems strong. Lifestyle factors can affect whether we have a lot of good bacteria or too much bad bacteria in our guts. The good bacteria can be damaged or even wiped out by poor diets, the use of antibiotics and from exposure to glyphosate (a pesticide sprayed on gmo crops). Without a healthy amount of good bacteria in our gut, bad bacteria can run rampant, and is often made worse by our diets, like those high in sugar (the bad stuff feeds off of sugar). This can lead to skin problems like eczema, acne or psoriasis , digestive issues (constipation, diarrhea, gas – you name it!), and increased frequency of colds and allergies.
Adding fermented foods to your diet can replace good bacteria that has been wiped out by these lifestyle factors. Healing our gut issues is a complicated subject (far bigger than I can address in an email) and requires dedication but regularly eating fermented foods is a start! They are easy to digest and will increase the amount of good bacteria living in your gut.
How and where can I find them?
You can make them yourself – which a couple of google searches will direct you to. Or you can buy them at many grocery stores today. There is a whole range of fermented food available today. Sauerkraut, pickles, kvass, miso paste, tempeh, natto, kefir, raw dairy, kimchi, sourdough bread are just a few that you might be able to find in your local store.
Most fermented foods will be in the refrigerated section of the store as they are living foods and the bacteria count can be affected by improper storage. In choosing fermented foods at the store, the ingredient list is important. Most will have very few ingredients on the label (in the case of naturally fermented sauerkraut, water, cabbage and salt is usually all!). When you start seeing preservatives and words you don’t recognize, it is likely not a true fermented product. One other way of knowing if you have a high quality product is that naturally fermented foods are usually unpasteurized.
Are fermented foods safe?
Some people have safety concerns about eating food that has not been pasteurized and it’s a valid one. I think it is a personal decision and an especially careful one for those who are pregnant, elderly or have compromised immune systems. My feelings on it, is that while pasteurization kills harmful bacteria, it also kills beneficial bacteria (so your pasteurized yogurt probably doesn’t have nearly as much acidophilus that you think it does) and humans ate food for centuries long before pasteurization even existed. Honestly, there is just as much risk of sickness from bacteria from eating raw vegetables (remember all those e. coli scares from tomatoes and spinach a few years back?) than there is from eating naturally fermented foods but we never question if salad is safe.
Again, it’s a personal choice and I urge you to do your own research. If you do choose to eat fermented, unpasteurized foods, the quality you choose matters, especially important when choosing raw animal foods, such as in the case of raw dairy. Know your farmer and their practices. Anyone who is running safe practices is going to be more than willing to give you a tour of the facilities.
Well, that’s a lot to digest (digest! get it? haha!)! If you have any questions about fermented foods, feel free to send them my way! I’m happy to discuss anything that I believe can lead to happier and healthier lives for all of us!
Wishing you happy gut flora and hope to see you join us on Oct 29th to learn about eating for energy!
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