Helen Padarin

Fermentation – Why we need it

Fermentation – Why we need it

You will have heard us banging the drum about fermented – or cultured –veggies since starting The Paleo Way. This is not some new fad band-wagon to jump on. Cultured, or fermented foods have been part of most ancient cultures for many centuries.

You will have heard us banging the drum about fermented – or cultured –veggies since starting The Paleo Way. This is not some new fad band-wagon to jump on. Cultured, […]

In times gone by, fermenting foods was a way to preserve them, so that one would have supplies of food during the sparse cold months. Fermented foods were revered as having healing properties. The word “kefir” for example, Turkish in origin, actually translates to “feel good”. We now have science to help us understand why these foods make us feel good.

Throughout the fermentation process, an abundance of enzymes are produced. These enzymes then assist in a number of functions, from improving digestion and liver function to having cancer preventative effects (this depends somewhat on what veggie/ herb / spice has been fermented).

Not only do fermented foods improve digestion on the enzyme front, they also improve digestion on the acid front. Sour or tart foods (which ferments are), stimulate receptors on your taste buds, which send messages to your brain and then back down to your stomach to produce more hydrochloric acid (HCl). The more HCl you produce, the better you break down your proteins and absorb your minerals and vitamin B12. Good amounts of stomach acid also has a cascade effect which results in the pancreas producing more of its digestive enzymes, further improving the digestive procession! For these 2 reasons – the enzymes and the improved acid production – fermented foods for many people can be a really simple way to reduce bloating and improve bowel habits.

The next boon for fermented foods is their nutrient content. Because the friendly bacteria – predominantly lactobacilli – actually partially digest the food, the nutrients in it are easier for our body to absorb. Not only that but microbes are actually vitamin producers – especially of things like B vitamins, Biotin and vitamin K. They also produce a number of amino acids like tyrosine and even more nutrients like Co-enzyme Q-10 which is essential for energy production. As a result we get much more vitamins and minerals from fermented foods than we do from raw or cooked foods. For example, you will absorb from 100 to 300 more vitamin C from fermented cabbage than you will from raw or cooked cabbage! From what we can tell, this increased absorption occurs with many of the nutrients in the food.

If your gut was unfolded and laid out flat, it would span the width of two football fields. It is actually your largest interface between you and the outside world.

Because the gut is the largest barrier between you and the outside world (much more so than your skin!) more than 80% of your immune system is located in the lining of the gut wall. A large proportion of how your immune system reacts is dependant on the kind of microbes – bacteria, fungi, viruses etc – that are in our digestive tracts. You have almost 100 trillion bugs in your gut. In fact there are ten times as many bugs living in you and on you as there are human cells, and more than 100x their genetic material than your own. That’s right. You are more bug than you are human. We are learning more and more about the hundreds of functions thee gut bugs carry out for us. We now recognize them as being so important that they are now often referred to as another organ of the human body. So having the right kind of beneficial bugs is essential for both healthy immune function, and healthy gut function as well as cholesterol metabolism, hormone metabolism, detoxification processes, neurotransmitter production and much more. They protect us from allergies, asthma, eczema, autoimmune disorders, stomach, duodenal and mouth ulcers, digestive disorders, some cancers, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome to name but a few.

Unfortunately with the advent of refrigeration came the end of an era for regularly consumed fermented foods in most western cultures. Our bodies no longer get this daily intake of protective nutrients, enzymes and beneficial bacteria. This is potentially one contributing factor to the massive rise in chronic digestive and immune disorders in the last few decades.

And all of this is why we here at The Paleo Way LOVE our ferments, and why we are passionate about teaching you how to create your own. One of the most beneficial food groups to include as part of your daily diet to regain and maintain optimal health is fermented foods. They are beneficial for pregnant and breastfeeding women (start low, go slow) and, due to their anti-aging effect, anyone interested in longevity!

Introducing Fermented Foods into Your Diet

Now after reading this you may be so excited you want to eat a bucket full of fermented veggies and get that good-gut, youthful glow happening – but wait! These are really powerful foods!   You’re sending in troops of beneficial bugs, ready to fight off opportunistic bugs in your gut, a load of enzymes and a tonne of active nutrients!

It’s important to start with small amounts. A teaspoon for adults, quarter to half a teaspoon of the juice of veggies for babies over 6 months, and a tspn of the juice for toddlers. If you’re feeling fine on that for a couple days, then gradually increase. If you increase and you feel a bit bloated or like you have a little hangover, then just drop the amount back down again.

For adults you could have up to a cup per day, for kids around a 1/3 cup (you’d be surprised, babies and toddlers in particular tend to LOVE them!). It is said, the rate at which you react to a fermented food is often an indication of the degree to which you need them! That means, the better health you’re in the faster you’ll be able to increase the amount of fermented veg you can have. The more inflammation and toxicity you have from chronic ill health or long term unhealthy lifestyle practices, the more slowly you may need to go with increasing the amount you have. So it could take you anywhere from a week to a couple of months or more to get to a cup per day.

By Helen Padarin

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