Fermented food is a lost art, however, it is experiencing a resurgence in popularity among certain groups. One of the most important steps to good health is making sure we have healthy bacteria in our intestines.
Beneficial bacteria help food digest, produce nutrients and prevent harmful bacteria from wreaking havoc. We are host to about 100 trillion microorganisms, weighing between 3 to 5 lbs that live inside our digestive tract. When approximately 85% of the microorganisms in our gut are the friendly variety then we enjoy good overall health.
A probiotic is a live microbial feed supplement which beneficially affects the host animal by improving its intestinal microbial balance.
Our digestive tract is one long tube from start to finish. It protects us from potentially harmful materials from entering our tissues, organs and blood in the same way as our skin protects us. Food inside the digestive tract is not technically inside the body, since it is not inside the cells. Food goes through an involved process of being broken down into elements that the blood and cells can use. Food and lifestyle affect the ratio of beneficial to harmful microorganisms. From the moment we are born we live in a symbiotic relationship with bacteria.
In order to support a large population of friendly or pro-biotic bacteria in our digestive passage, we need to consume lacto-fermented foods. These include yogurt, fermented vegetables, fruit chutneys and non-vinegar pickles. These cultured foods are raw so they have abundant enzymes and their vitamins and minerals are easily digested and absorbed. Beneficial bacteria also produce essential nutrients such as vitamin B12 and Vitamin K.
Friendly bacteria stimulate antibody production in the blood and increase the strength of the immune system. They decrease allergic reactions from incompletely digested proteins, toxins and outside allergens. Good bacteria prevent harmful substances from entering the bloodstream and causing organ damage. A healthy system produces natural antibiotics, hydrogen peroxide and acid compounds that protect us against infection.
Having a large healthy bacterial population in the digestive tract does the following:
- Strengthens the immune system
- Eliminates hives, allergic rashes, acne and other skin conditions
- Reduces the effects of seasonal allergies
- Improves digestion and maintains healthy bowel movements
- Reduces or eliminates a large range of symptoms including asthma, joint pain, ear and throat infections
- Maintains healthy cholesterol levels
- Breaks down and rebuilds hormones
Sugar feeds bad bacteria that consume good bacteria. Good bacteria take up space in the gut. This prevents organisms that are harmful to health from taking up residence. Fungi, parasites and bacteria that cause food poisoning have little chance when the gut is healthy.
Dysbiosis, a bacterial imbalance, is common in Western society thanks to diets high in sugar and meat, but low in pro-biotics. This imbalance encourages yeasts and putrefactive bacteria to flourish, instead of beneficial bacteria. In turn, toxins build up and damage the sensitive microvilli brush border that lines our intestinal wall. When this area is healthy we assimilate nutrients and toxins cannot pass through the gut wall into the bloodstream.
Some substances that kill off friendly bacteria are:
- Prescription antibiotics and medicines
- Mercury from dental fillings
- Poor diet containing processed foods
- Herbicides and pesticides
The modern diet also causes inflammation of the gut and excessive intestinal permeability (leaky gut syndrome), leading to conditions such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome. Allergies, systemic candida, eczema, autoimmune disease, arthritis, and even mental illness have all been linked to dysbiosis.
The best way to insure a large population of beneficial organisms in the gut is to consume fermented foods. Most cultures use some type of fermentation to preserve their food. Every country has their specialty.
- Sauerkraut from Europe
- Yogurt from the Balkans
- Kefir from Caucausus
- Kim chee from Korea
- Kvass from Russia
- Kombucha from China
- Miso from Japan
Fermented foods are good for us because of all of the good bacteria (lactobacilli) that proliferate when they are fermented. Lactobacilli are found on the surface of all living things but they are especially prolific on the leaves and roots of plants growing in or near the ground. The byproduct of these lactobacilli is lactic acid that not only preserves vegetables and fruit perfectly, but also promotes the growth of healthy flora in the intestines. We can consume pro-biotics in capsule form but why not eat delicious fermented foods that our bodies were designed to have?
Any food today that is pickled used to be a fermented item before mass production. Once industrialization took place and fermentation started to happen on a grand scale, results varied so vinegar was used instead of letting the fermentation happen naturally. The product was then pasteurized killing all of the beneficial lactic-acid producing bacteria. Milk suffered the same fate. This is too bad since lactic acid not only preserves vegetables and fruit perfectly, but also promotes the growth of healthy flora in the intestines.
Another good source of friendly bacteria is healthy soil. We are exposed to many species of friendly bacteria when we are outdoors, playing and working in relatively unpolluted areas. Gardening and hiking in the woods are two of the best ways of exposing ourselves to friendly bacteria on a regular basis. Make walking outside and eating pro-biotic fermented foods a part of your daily life.
Thank you for your interest in the article Fermented Foods – How important are they?
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