The benefits of Fermented foods

These foods are just so good for our digestion, easy, cheap and quick to make that it makes no sense not to include them in your diet.

Before we started canning food our Foremothers were fermenting fruits and veggies in salt water and spices then leaving them to see out the winter in the cellar or a dark cupboard. What better way to ensure none of the abundance from spring and summer was wasted? It’s a frugal, sensible and extremely healthy way to use your produce.

Fermented foods have made a bit of a come back in recent times. For Macrobiotic (a Japanese diet) followers they never left. And the same goes in Europe where foods like sauerkraut and dill pickles are a staple and important part of their diets.

Why are these foods so fab’? Basically it’s because they are ‘pre digested’, a lot of the work has been done before they even get into your mouth. The process of fermentation creates good bacteria that make for a healthy intestinal tract, thus good digestion. Microorganisms such as lactobacillus perform this, and the science is known as ‘zymology’.

Often all that’s needed for this process to happen is good salt and water, and lovely organic veggies. Fermentation increases vitamin levels, and contains antibiotic and carcinogenic (anti-cancer) substances. If our guts are healthy, then our immunity will be stronger and our minds clearer. (We now know that we have brain cells in out gut. Phrases like – What’s your gut feeling? Have been around for ages.

The sugars – glucose, fructose and sucrose in the foods are converted to energy and lactic acid. The acid levels rise so harmful organisms are killed. The lactic acid produced prevents purification, feeds the veggies throughout winter and keeps them perfectly preserved.

Most of us are familiar with the symptoms of poor digestion. Bloating, indigestion, acid reflux, loose bowels or constipation, nausea, abdominal cramps and/or stabling pains, sugar cravings, fatigue, skin problems, Candida. Our digestive tracts have taken a battering from antibiotics, medication, stress, refined sugars, chemicals added to our food and those used to grow our produce, and overeating.

Some of the good flora simply must be replaced if we wish to have any chance at all at achieving good health.

The other benefits of including about a tablespoon of fermented foods each day are – 

  • a clearer mind
  • Improved immunity
  • for glowing skin and other problems like acne and psoriasis improved
  • they draw out heavy metals through your stools
  • repair connective tissue
  • provides hard to get vitamin B12 and K2 and plant based easy to digest protein
  • good source of essential fatty acids
  • they stabilise blood sugar so help with weight loss; decrease appetite; keep insulin release steady so your body doesn’t store fat
  • gets your pH back to somewhere closer to 7.4 – in other words alkalines your system.

And what about K2? It has recently been re-discovered and it looks like most scientists are surprised that we have forgotten about this very important vitamin for so long and its role in a healthy body. Vitamin K is made by the blood vessels that line your gut and it goes to your blood vessel walls, bones, liver and other tissues. It can be separated into 2 categories – K1 comes from green plants and maintains healthy blood clotting – it goes directly to your liver. K2 is really important to keep your bones strong and your blood vessels clear. It activates proteins that control cell growth, so clearly has a very important role is cancer prevention. K2 is found in fermented foods.

It’s easy to make your own fermented veggies at home. All you need are quality veggies – and the best ones to pickle or ferment are root veggies, daikon (Japanese radish), garlic, and ginger, cauliflower, cabbage, carrot, onions and white radish. The softer veggies go a bit mushy and yuck. You’ll also need the best quality salt you can afford like Himalayan or Murray River and clean water. You can add a capsule or two of a probiotic supplement to speed up the fermentation process. Whey powder is a popular addition here also, and for the same reason as you’d add the probiotic, but I’d rather avoid using processed and refined dairy. If you use the probiotic reduce the salt in any recipe by 1 tbls. Once you have your veggies prepared you bash (kindly) the veggies with a wooden mallet or pestle (from a mortar and pestle) until the veggies start to break down and release their juices. Store in a mason jar (one with a tight seal) and wait. Easy. Don’t panic when you start to notice bubbles and white foam appear. This is a good sign – it means the activation process is happening.

Adding different seaweeds, spices, ginger and turmeric just makes them so much healthier. Talk about food as medicine showing off.

Making your own fermented veggies is satisfying and cheap but if you’re a bit scared of this process (and that’s fair enough) in the beginning, or you’re short of time, then there are some great store bought ones available. As always be sure to read the ingredients carefully as you don’t want any sugar in them, and sometimes they are pasteurised which kills the lactic acid, defeating the whole purpose of having them.

Commercially available kits are available these days so will make the process of making your own a whole lot easier. Look on line or at good home ware and health food stores. Some Asian grocery stores should have them also.

Popular Fermented Foods:

  • Dairy – yoghurt, kefir, quark, cultured butter, buttermilk
  • Soy – tamari, miso, natto niso (not in from Japan), tempeh
  • Pickled Veggies like cucumber, daikon (with ume vinegar) and beets, and dill pickles, sauerkraut, kim chi
  • Sourdough Bread
  • Kombucha – Japanese seaweed tea
  • Fermented Papaya – this is a lovely drink I use in my clinic. It’s by ‘Superlife Foods.’ You drink about 10mls before meals fro improved digestion. It’s loaded with probiotics, and it is so yum.

How to use them in your daily life –

  • tempeh for breakfast with a tablespoon of fermented veggies
  • add quark – a bit like a mix between yoghurt, crème fraiche and sour cream. Available in lots of good stores these days – to your breakfast cereal or eggs. You can also stir it through soup.
  • add kefir – like sour yoghurt. I can get it at my Farmers Markets so keep your eyes peeled – to your smoothie
  • add a tablespoon of any of the veggies to your wraps, salads, or as a condiment to your stir-fry, curry’s or anything really.
  • Use tamari – wheat free soy – instead of commercially produced soy sauce

Cortido – traditional pickles from the Americas

1 carrot grated

½ cabbage shredded

1 onion quartered then sliced

1 tsp dried oregano

2 tbls good salt

1 tsp red pepper flakes

Note – I would  add 1 tbls powdered dulse or nor and 1 tbls grated fresh ginger and turmeric.

Method – Mix the ingredients together in a ceramic or glass bowl, then using a wooden mallet – pound for 10 mins. Push the veggies down firmly into your sterilised jar allowing their juices to be released. The mixture should be covered by at least 3 cms of liquid. If not then add a bit more water than has a ¼ teaspoon of salt dissolved in it. Seal the jar well then leave at room temperature for 3 days, then pop it in the fridge. Wait about a season, so 3 months (so make lots) then it’s ready to eat.

Most of us suffer with poor digestion and really, is it any wonder with what we give it to deal with? Fermented foods are a way of giving back to our guts; to help it get on with things, with what it does best. And that allows us to do the same.

Pretty exciting to have another healthy and yummy food in your life don’t you think?



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