Monday, October 31, 2011

Educating the Gut via Fermented Foods

Humans carry between two and four pounds of bacteria in the intestinal tract.  These bacteria live on the intestinal walls among the thousands of protruding fingers or villi.  Bacteria such as acidophilus and bifidus gather food from between the villi, helping to maintain the harmony of the intestine’s delicate ecology.

The healthy lower intestine (colon) should contain at least 85% friendly bacteria.  These friendly bacteria prevent the over-growth of pathogenic organisms such as Salmonella and E. coli.  The putrefaction of these bacteria releases a variety of toxins that affect overall health.

The ratio of bacteria with low toxin to bacteria with high toxin is often reversed, so that the friendly organisms are outweighed by pathogenic organisms.  This gives rise to problems such as excessive gas, bloating, intestinal toxicity, constipation and poor absorption of nutrients.

Some factors responsible for the imbalance of intestinal flora are:  weak digestion, stress, disease, an overabundance of undigested food proteins, foods contaminated with bacteria, yeasts and pesticides and antibiotic use.  Repeated courses of antibiotics kill of large numbers of friendly bacteria as well as pathogenic bacteria.

Lactic acid bacteria, or ‘probiotics’ as they are sometimes called, are friendly bacteria that help to maintain the health of the intestinal tract.

Some people prefer to take capsules of probiotics.  The one I most frequently recommend is HMF (Human Micro Flora) as it is human specific bacteria derived from human origin.  Another way to increase the friendly bacteria in the gut is by using fermented food products. 

Fermented foods such as yogurt, buttermilk and kefir improve digestion by introducing more of these lactic acids bacterial strains.  These fermented foods educate the gut to digest milk products.

Naturally fermented Sauerkraut also contains lactic acidophilus bacteria.  This form of bacteria educates the gut to digest vegetable matter more effectively.  Many commercial types of sauerkraut are made using vinegar, but they don’t have the same benefit.

Many vegetables can be used in a fermented food.  Cabbage for sure, but I have made a batch of sauerkraut by mixing finely chopped cabbage with caraway seed, and onions.  I made another batch using cabbage and onions and dill.  Japanese ‘kimchi’ is a combination of cabbage, Daikon radish, onion, carrots, ginger, garlic and leeks. Fennel seed can also be used not only to flavour but to help reduce bloating and gas in the gut.  I searched on line and found on You Tube some great tutorials about making sauerkraut.

Sourdough is another form of bacterial starter using air-born bacteria that naturally digests grains to help educate our digestion to break down the grains we eat.

Lactobacillus has been shown to inhibit the overgrowth of fungus and yeast in the human body. This infectious condition of overgrowths of yeast is called Candida Albicans.

Fermenting Foods in the Kitchen
This harvest season has been bumper crop for cabbages.  I have to admit, I haven’t been a huge lover of these in the past.  I have a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) garden share, and at least 10 cabbages had my name on them.

What I did was research out the making of sauerkraut.  I was amazed at how easy it is.
I am not a purist, or a lover of labour, so I do use a food processor.  Some people like the ceremony of using a cabbage shredder.  Whatever works. Onion, dulse and caraway seed is my favourite taste combo so far.

Basic Sauerkraut
1 cabbage
1 onion
Optional: caraway seeds, fresh dill weed, dulse, sea salt, fennel seeds, Daikon radish, garlic, leeks, carrots 
  • First, shred cabbage and onion and any other vegetables.
I layered the vegetables in a clean food-grade pail.  I then whumped them with a pestle that looks like a small baseball bat until the mixture was bruised enough to release their juices.

  • I add any other 'flavour' bits and give them a good whump as well.

  • I transfer this to a clean old fashioned crock pot.  You can use a slow cooker as your crock pot but keep it unplugged.

  • Invert a small plate or saucer on top, pressing it down.  Assess how juicy it is and if it needs more water.  I top up with a little salt water until the water level is just sitting above the vegetables but not covering the top of the plate.  I add a weight on top to keep the water level consistent. A boiled-clean stone will work here.

  • Cover with a clean tea towel and let rest for 2 to 3 weeks.  The ultimate test is to have a German friend taste test.  My friend said my sauerkraut was 9 out of 10.
  • You can add some sauerkraut from an old batch to your new batch to hasten the ferment.  Keep checking it to see how it is doing.  Any moldy looking stuff can be scooped off.  Don’t be too upset about this ‘bloom’, as any sign of life other than black stuff is your assurance that your acidophilus culture is alive and well.
 When it has fermented to your satisfaction, store in mason jars in the fridge.  It basically lasts an age.  I started out by taking a teaspoon every day.  I now use a heaping table spoon full.

Home made fermented foods are economical in both time and money. 

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