Fermenting Is The Easiest, Cheapest Way To Heal Your Gut Daily. Here's The Beginner's Guide
Fermentation used to be as common in cooking, as, say, sautéing or boiling food is now. In the United States, the fermentation flow stopped when the new wave of TV dinners and spreadable margarines surpassed recipes from the homeland. It's a shame, because our culturally connected ancestors were really onto something with the buckets of sauerkraut in the basement. The mind-body benefits of this ancient practice far surpass the judgy looks from your roommates when they smell your first successful batch.
In a perfect world, the helpful bacteria from local food and earthy surroundings would make their way into the optimum part of the digestive tract and help us live our best lives. Sadly, that isn’t the case for most of us. The common American lifestyle consisting of seasonal rounds of antibiotics, pasteurized dairy, and sanitized produce kills off all the good stuff we need for a thriving gut.
The health benefits of consuming fermented foods are somewhat endless and can improve the function of almost every system in the body. Here's a breakdown of the most essential benefits.
Fermented foods help gut flora.
Ingesting these happy microbes creates an ecosystem of supportive microbiota in your GI system. These friendly bacteria live primarily in our large intestine and help overpower illness-causing microbial invaders.
Fermented foods support the endocrine system.
The GI tract (mouth to, you know, end) is the largest endocrine organ in the body, controlling emotion, metabolism, and immune response. The thyroid has been the trendy endocrine star of 2017, but the GI system has more than triple the mood-stabilizing, weight-management, and cold-fighting control.
Fermented foods aid digestion.
The acidic by-products of live ferments assist in the breakdown of the micronutrients and macronutrients in our diets, especially the difficult-to-digest lactose. This happy digestive aid can drastically reduce belly bloat and other GI distress.
Fermented foods help with nutrient absorption.
With the help of ferments, your digested nutrients are transformed into their most bioavailable form. Bioavailable nutrients are quickly and easily used by the body for all of its many functions. Calcium bioavailability is greatly enhanced with the presence of acid from the lactobassilic bacteria found in ferments, a hugely important micronutrient for young women to maintain healthy bone density.
Fermented foods make your skin glow.
The process of fermentation also synthesizes beauty-boosting nutrients including vitamin B12, folic acid, and biotin for shiny hair and glowy skin.
Are you intrigued by the body benefits of ferments? Thinking that you might want to try out this practice for yourself? I’m going to give you the DL on the process. Home fermenting is super cheap and relatively easy with a touch of patience. The most trustworthy way to reap this laundry list of benefits is to simply make fermented foods and eat a little every day.
How to ferment just about anything:
1. The first step to making your own fermented foods at home is getting organic produce.
Non-organic produce is sprayed with pesticides, and the good bacteria is killed off before it even makes it onto the shelf. Bonus points for local, seasonal, farmers market produce with bacteria that are most complementary to your physical surroundings and can improve seasonal allergies and reduce the likelihood of getting the common cold. I love using heartier veggies like cabbage, carrots, beets, and celery that will maintain their crunch after the fermentation process.
2. After you get your veggies, you'll need a vessel.
I like to use Mason jars of varying sizes for my mad scientist veggie projects. In my opinion, specialized "fermentation jars" are overpriced and unnecessary. Wash your jars with water and soap and set them aside to air dry. If you're worried about the cleanliness of your jars, feel free to rinse them with an apple cider vinegar and water solution.
3. The next step is the most important: finding a trusty bacterial starter.
I have been using the same starter for almost four years now; I got it from an amazing fermentation workshop, and it’s been my ride-or-die ever since. Having a trusty starter is important because it needs to contain strong, good bacterial strains that will fight off dangerous bacteria like E. coli. If you can find a friend with a good starter, that's ideal, but you can also procure a powdered starter online or at a health food store. Another option is to sign up for a workshop (I often host these in LA) like I did to get a trusty starter from an expert.
4. The final step is to stuff the jars with veggies, seasoning, starter, and cover with filtered water to create the ideal environment for the bacteria to thrive.
The process of your bacterial starter fermenting the veggies takes about a week or two depending on how intense you want the flavor to be. I always suggest storing ferments in a dark, cool place to prevent the bacteria from working at hyperspeed and causing an effervescent explosion. Another important tip is to only open fresh jars of ferments carefully over the sink to prevent an unwanted bacterial shower. After you achieve your desired puckering taste, move your ferments into the fridge, where they will last about eight months.
But how much fermented foods should you actually eat?
Now that you’ve got kraut coming out of your ears, knowing how much to eat is quite essential. Starting out small is the best way to introduce fermented foods into your diet. Every human microbiome is different, and each person's reaction to ferments can vary. If you go ham and eat too much fermented food in one sitting, the likelihood of you making multiple trips to the toilet is probable. It's best to start with a tablespoon or two every day for about a week and slowly increase depending on your reaction. Eating a tablespoon a day is more than enough to reap all of the benefits, but they taste so good that you shouldn't be surprised if you start adding fermented veg to everything. Personally, I can eat about half a jar of fermented foods with no issues, but that’s after years of building up my tolerance.
When the majority of us think of probiotics, we think of dry capsules. Probiotics generally refer to live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your digestive system. If you're a busy bee and don't want to DIY your probiotics in the form of fermented foods, you can buy them, but choose wisely. If you're buying a supplement, make sure that the bottle says "survivability-certified," meaning that it'll survive harsh stomach conditions and make its way to where it will be most effective in the GI system. You also want to find a probiotic supplement that is transparent about what strains are included in the pill. You can also buy fermented veggies and kombucha (fermented tea)—just make sure the packaging says "Live," as dead bacteria are far less helpful.
This guy ate ONLY fermented food for a year. Here's what happened.