My entire life, I was told that bacteria were bad. The words just went hand in hand. Bacteria=Immediate illness or Death! Bacteria are EVIL!! Lets kill 99.9% of bacteria!!! Hoorah!!
I was gifted the book (Thanks Husband!) The Art of Fermentation and my life was forever changed. The author, Sandor Katz, gives an entirely different and optimistic outlook on why destroying bacteria isn't such a good idea. It isn't really possible either as we are outnumbered by bacteria anyway. Surrounding yourself with plenty of beneficial bacteria will protect you from the ones that make people sick. Better yet, through fermentation you get to cultivate these beneficial bacteria and ingest their goodness into your body:) Bacteria are friends, not foe!! Watch an awesome YOUTUBE presentation by Katz here.
Watch Bonnie Bassler on Ted Talks here!
As I fell in love with bacteria and fermentation, I became very interested in learning more about this subject. I came across Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) and after listening to a presentation by the creator Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride so many things clicked together. I struggled with various health issues growing up and in to college. Monthly sinus infections, bloating and constipation, stomach pains, fatigue, and severe anemia. The list goes on!
She listed off every ailment I had ever had and I finally had an answer to what was going on with me that no doctor I had seen was able to link together. Turns out my gut was not happy but could be helped:)
I started fermenting out of necessity. I knew that being on handfuls of OTC medications wasn't a life I wanted to live. But even more than that, I wanted to build a relationship with the food I was putting in to my body. I was tired of fearing food that I was consuming. I wanted to eat because I loved it. I didn't want to think "Is this going to make me fat?" or have any other negative thoughts that arose when food was around me. Would eating this meal really fulfill me or would I end up feeling bloated and unsatisfied ? I also had thoughts on how people preserved food before refrigeration. Could I keep food safe without electricity? How could I preserve food without destroying its nutritional value?
I found a way to heal my body and maintain good health by following a more traditional means of food preservation/preparation. By using fermentation, I am able to ingest beneficial bacteria as well as take in more nutrients that I may not be digesting on my own. Cultures around the world continue to preserve food this way and are healthier than people who eat a modern American diet. Every foreign country I lived in readily ate fermented foods. In France, we dined on stinky raw cheese (that had been sitting out UN-refrigerated gasp!), wine, bread (yep its fermented, but made fresh that day, unlike the store bought kind ), and "fermented" meats like saucisse and prosciutto. In the Philippines, we dined on fruit vinegars, fish sauce and fermented shrimp paste (bagoong) and dry salted fish. Divine! I also found raw meats hanging outside in the hot weather and leftovers set out on the counter, covered by fly nets. Makes me wonder what us Americanos are doing to our meat and foods that cause people to get sick if its left out. I practice this at home, but wouldn't recommended it if you are eating something that arrived in a box.
Hazda huntsman carrying his kill..no refrigeration required... more on this here!
Below are some of my findings on gut health, bacteria, and the importance of having a healthy gut and how to achieve it if you don't! You can heal yourself, be medication free, feel great, and have a healthy relationship with food!
GUT FLORA: What does it do for me?
Within our gut lives a diverse and sophisticated community of microorganisms and bacteria [GUT FLORA] that are crucial to our well being. Role of gut flora:
What happens in an unhealthy gut??
Because of how we eliminate toxins, an unhealthy gut can affect you mentally and physically. Ailments may be improved (at least mine were) by addressing gut health!
We eliminate toxins through several pathways:
THE LUNGS: Excess toxins can trigger asthma and other chronic lung conditions. Asthma, once a rare issue, now plagues many humans. Toxic gases escaping our lungs damage our bronchi. Its mechanism for protection is called a bronchospasm or wheeze aka ASTHMA! Growing up I had constant phlem and mucous build-up, maybe even asthma, I was just never diagnosed.
THE SKIN: Our largest organ isn't safe from toxins entering and exiting. Toxin elimination through the skin can result in eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, acne, rashes, and other skin issues.
URINE(kidneys) : Toxins escaping may result in chronic cystitis, bed wetting (adults and children), and thrush.
MUCOUS MEMBRANES: Elimination through this pathway may trigger sinusitis, chronic diarrhea or constipation (IBS),colitis, ulcers, colic, vaginitis, gingivitis, chronic allergies, and post nasal drip. Most of my symptoms were manifested through this elimination pathway.
Your gut health can also affect you mentally by triggering depression, anxiety, autism, ADD, ADHD, OCD, trouble learning, brain fog, substance abuse, and schizophrenia. An interesting side note: our gut holds the greatest number of neurotransmitters and produces 90% of our serotonin ( our feel good hormone!). Anti-depressant drugs increase serotonin receptors in the brain, but if we have an unhealthy gut and aren't producing enough serotonin as a baseline then how would only increasing receptors help with depression? Just a thought....
Your gut health is also intimately tied with autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes type 1, celiac disease, osteo and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as fibromyalgia, migraines and food intolerance. Dr. McBride also mentions epilepsy being caused by the brain spasming to eliminate toxins from itself!
What can damage Gut Flora?
Be aware of things you put in and on your body, you wouldn't want to harm your internal allies:
Antibiotics, alcohol, drugs, NSAIDS, sugar (artificial included),antibacterials, bottle feeding (formula), and even birth via cesarean can alter your ( or your childs) intestinal flora!
A poor diet can also damage your gut flora.The standard American diet (SAD) is filled with over processed, pasteurized, chemical laden and nutrient lacking "dead" foods that should be avoided.
Avoid products containing wheat, corn, and soy. Avoid processed dairy,hydrogenated oils, margarine, and spreads. Avoid shelf stable, low-fat, low-calorie, instant and fad foods.
Overwhelmed?! I was too. Keep reading; all is well!
Heal your gut, heal your life
Restore gut lining by avoiding SAD foods and by eating real, nourishing foods such as meats and eggs (wild caught/pasture raised when possible) from healthy animals and fats that have been eaten for millennia such as lard, butter, ghee, tallow, duck fat and fats from certain plants such as coconut oil and cold pressed olive oil.***
Reseed gut flora with beneficial bacteria by eating traditionally fermented and cultured foods such as kombucha, raw sauerkraut,raw vinegars, yoghurt, kimchi, kvass, raw milk cheese and other raw, unpasteurized foods. There are plenty of pro-biotic supplements out on the market, but can they really be trusted? That is your call. Dr. McBride recommends a supplement called BioKULT, but I have not tried it. I prefer to make my own pro-biotic rich food. Its cheap, easy, fun, and makes my meals extra amazing.
Detox by incorporating more raw/ fermented and cooked vegetables. Eating fermentable fibers such as root vegetables, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, leek, chicory root and sun chokes (Jerusalem artichoke) will give your gut bacteria plenty to munch on. Consume plenty of cruciferous vegetables which help detoxify your liver: cauliflower, kale, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.
Reduce toxic load by removing toxic household cleaning products, hair/ skin products, and soaps and seeking for "organic to this earth" products with ingredients you can pronounce. Check out my earlier post on this topic here!
[CHECK OUT MY NUTRITION JOURNEY FOR MORE DETAILED INSTRUCTIONS ON EATING FOR GUT HEALTH. See bottom of page for additional resources and help. ]
*** Now you may be thinking a few things. I cannot afford this high quality food. Maybe quality doesn't matter to you. Maybe you don't have this sort of food in your location. My experience has been that the better raised the animal is, the better it tastes. You may not agree. I can afford these foods because 1) I usually buy in bulk. A half cow usually ends up being around $3.50/lb while in store it can be double or more. I can also afford high quality animal products because I eat the cheaper cuts. I go for soup bones and organ meat, which are under $3 a pound or free because people gift me their leftovers (You know who you are. Thank you!). I have also found that the better quality I choose, the less I am actually eating. I remember being able to easily eat 6 eggs from the store, now that I get them from my in-laws farm, I can be stuffed on three. Peruse farmers markets near you, or check out Eat Wild, a website dedicated to helping people find good food in their area. Meet with local farmers/gardeners in your area; its more fun than shopping the aisles.
MAKE YOUR OWN PRO-BIOTIC RICH FOOD
You can do this same method with other vegetables:) If they don't create their own brine, then chop and cover them with a basic brine (3T salt dissolved in 4 cups of water).
CHOP cabbage or shred via food processor. Whatever works for you!
Salt! I added two palm fulls (2 T or 1T/cabbage) of sea salt. Taste the cabbage, it should be salty but not overly so. If its hot outside, add a bit more than normal to slow the process.
Mash and punch with your hands until liquid can be squeezed from the cabbage! TIP: Use room temperature cabbage to speed things up. Seriously.
Optional.... Share with pet family. My dogs love salted cabbage and the finished kraut:)
Pack tightly in wide mouth mason jar, pressing the top layer of kraut down under the liquid. You can save a leaf of cabbage to stuff over the top also. If some cabbage is peeking out, it will be okay!
Seal and store. Try to not have any stray cabbage chunks in the lid or seal. Clean up your temporarily stained counters:) Store in a cool, dry place away from sunlight...say a kitchen cabinet or closet for 7-30 days. I have done a quick ferment and a month long one. I prefer letting it go longer, but its so darn tempting!
Eat!! Think outside the bratwurst. I eat kraut with everything: scrambled eggs, on burgers, on salad, pates, and with soup. Pile it on and ENJOY!
Warning: contents under pressure and will sometimes be bubbly. Open over a sink. Don't wear white.
burger bowl with egg and kraut
Resources and Additional Information:
Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride
Mastering Fermentation by Mary Karlin
Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo
Preserving Everything: Can, Culture, Pickle, Freeze, Ferment, Dehydrate, Salt, Smoke, and Store Fruits, Vegetables, Meat, Milk, and More by Lena Meredith
The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz
Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz
Dr Natasha Campbell McBride
Human Food Project