Week 10: Eat Fermented Foods

Eat Fermented Foods


Up to this point, I’ve repeatedly said that you alone are responsible for walking of the path of this transformational journey.   

That isn’t totally accurate.  You’ve actually had the help of at least 7,000 tribes of friends every step of the way.  

These friends are strains of microbiota that we commonly refer to as bacteria and fungus that live in your digestive system.  In fact there is enough bacteria and fungus in your digestive system to outnumber your own cells 10 to 1!  And let’s be thankful for that fact because without this mircobiota we wouldn’t around, much less thriving.  

From this point forward let’s begin thinking of these microbes as a combination of the ultimate superfood, supplement and health elixir.  These helpful microbes that we label as probiotics wear many hats including freeing up nutrients that are otherwise locked in foods, preserving food, manufacturing vitamins and amino acids, disposing of toxic plant chemicals our bodies can’t handle, and fighting off the harmful microbes we call pathogens.

Bacteria are capable of transforming indigestible, bland, and even toxic compounds into nourishing and delicious foods.  But, the question remains: What delivery system we can utilize that will ensure we load up with helpful probiotics so we can take advantage of all of these amazing benefits?  

The answer is fermentation!

Webster’s dictionary defines fermentation as an “enzymatically controlled transformation of an organic product.”  With an arsenal of enzymes, microbes can break down toxins that might otherwise sicken or kill us, turn simple sugars with no nutritional benefit into complex nutrients, make vitamins our diets might otherwise lack (such as K2 and B12), and wage war on pathogens that enter our system through tainted food and other environmental means.  

Fermentation is one of the oldest food traditions.  In fact the oldest known recipe, written in cuneiform, is for a type of fermented beer bread.  Our ancestors, who were undoubtedly getting sick or dying from eating wild plants and foliage, were searching for ways to utilize more of the resources at their disposal.  They needed to find a way to make certain plants either edible or more nutritious.  

You see plants didn’t evolve with the idea that they should be good for humans to eat.  In fact, plants have spent a lot of evolutionary energy in an effort to thwart grazers and other creatures that would eat them into extinction.  Over the millennia plants have developed defensive weapon systems that take form as natural insecticides and bitter toxins that make some plants unsafe for human consumption.  Fermentation was the answer because the microbes could breakdown the toxic substances transforming the plants from harmful to nutritious.

Since we talked about going gluten free earlier, I’ll use wheat as an example of the nutrient unlocking power of fermentation.  Wheat, like all seeds, contains mineral-binding compounds called phytates, which hold minerals in stasis until conditions are right for germination.  Yeast and other microbes, like those in sourdough, contain enzymes, called phytase, that break down phytates, freeing the zinc, calcium, magnesium, and other minerals from their chemical shackles. This is why bread that’s unleavened (made without yeast) has incredibly poor nutritional content. The minerals literally pass through the digestive system bound in their cages going undigested.  

Another example: Soybeans contain chemicals called goitrogens and phytoestrogens, which disrupt thyroid and sex hormone function.  The Chinese and Japanese who traditionally ate soy would soak, rinse and then ferment the beans for extended periods of time, neutralizing the harmful compounds and using the fat and protein-rich beans as a substrate for microbial action.  

Traditional tofu, natto, miso, and cultured soy products are incredibly nutritious.  

IMPORTANT: Commercially made soy products, like soymilk and tofu are not.  These foods are loaded with goitrogens and phytoestrogens that are known to cause hypo- and hyper-thyroidism, thyroid cancer and male and female reproductive disorders.  

The benefits of fermentation don’t stop there.  Pound for pound, fermented foods have more nutritional content than the raw material it came from because microbes add nutrients to whatever they’re growing in.  Using enzymes, single-cell bacteria and fungi manufacture all the vitamins, amino acids, nucleic acids, fatty acids and so on that they need from simple ingredients like sugar, starch and cellulose.  They can thrive on food that would leave us horribly malnourished!  When we eat fermented food, like yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, and real pickles, our digestive juices attack and destroy many of the microbes, exploding their bodies, releasing all the vitamins, amino acids and nutrients they were producing for themselves for us to digest.  They can actually make all the vitamins we need (except D) and all the essential amino acids.  When they die they donate all their nutritious parts to us.  

The microbes that survive the attack from our digestive juices go on and live to fight another day on our behalf.  As I mentioned before, microbes are categorized into a simple dichotomy of good probiotics and bad pathogens.  These organisms show an incredible amount of social structure, forming into little army units to coordinate efforts to scheme against other groups of microbes fighting for real estate in your digestive system.  Probiotics work with your immune system.  Any pathogens that hope to gain a foothold have to get past the military formations of probiotics first.  The outcome of these battles determines, for example, whether or not the deadly strain of E. coli in your manure-tainted spinach (sorry) kills you.  Studies have shown that live-cultured foods containing probiotics help to prevent a whole range of allergic, autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.  

The best part of what I ask this week is that it’s so simple to begin putting the power of probiotics to use immediately.  It’s as simple as eating a daily dose of fermented food.  Whenever possible I eat a forkful or two of fermented food like sauerkraut or drink a glass of kombucha along with every meal to aid in digestion and to ensure that I’m safe from any potential pathogens that might be living in my food.  

If you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of fermented foods as well as being educated on which foods are fermented and which foods are false advertising read this article from Dr. Mercola.  Below is a brief list of the fermented foods I regularly eat.  

  • Sauerkraut - I get a variety so I get the nutritional benefit of lots of different foods. Farmhouse Culture brand is my absolute favorite.  The garlic dill and smoked jalapeno are my favorite, while my wife, Lo regularly dominates the wakame ginger.  

  • Kimchi - So delicious.  Mother in Laws Daikon Radish at Whole Foods is my favorite brand.  

  • Kombucha - Avoid the brands loaded in sugar.  There is a woman that sells an amazing variety of Kombucha at the Gretna Green Sunday farmer’s market in Brentwood.  Ryan goes back and forth between Turmeric Ginger, like daddy, and Pomegranate.  Ginger is bomb too.

  • Wine - Don’t go crazy in the name of health. ;)

  • Fermented miso soup - Most restaurants and commercially available miso are not fermented.

  • Real pickles - Not all pickles are fermented.  Check to see that the label says something about probiotics, fermentation or live cultures.  

I’m basically asking you to eat tasty things and let your new probiotic allies do all the work.  It doesn’t get much easier than that.

Who says personal transformation can’t be delicious?