Fermented foods are hugely important for reestablishing healthy bacteria in the intestines, and are required for healing leaky gut. The reason why fermented foods are suggested in addition to supplementation form, is due to the quality and quantity of probiotics present in cultured foods. You can also make fermented foods at home (which will help you save money in the long run). Making your own fermented foods ensures a high quality product, as well as ensures that the healthy bacteria are living and thriving (versus supplemented probiotics, which you can never totally be sure as to the quality of cultures in the product).
Why Are Fermented Foods So Important?
This information is repeated from the “Healing Leaky Gut,” page in case you missed it, but mainly because it is so important that it is worth repeating. 80% of the body’s total serotonin production occurs in the gut, so when intestinal flora is not in proper balance, it can cause mood swings, irritability, depression, anxiety, and fatigue. In addition, roughly 60-70% of your immune system exists in your gut. This takes the form of a vast network of lymph tissue known as GALT (gut associated lymph tissue). So when gut flora is imbalanced, it can be detrimental to the health and functioning of the immune system.
The following video by Dr. Mercola describes the importance of probiotics and fermented foods.
Moving Forward With Fermented Foods
I highly recommend making your own fermented foods, rather than spending a lot of money on store bought probiotic supplements. The main reason is that fermented foods are a superior source of beneficial bacteria, as compared to probiotic supplements. One serving of sauerkraut, for instance, has upwards of 1 trillion healthy organisms, while most probiotic supplements have an organism count in the billions.
In Addition, you can make fermented foods for much less money than store bought probiotics, and when you do so, you can ensure the quality, as well as ensure that the healthy bacteria are living and thriving (versus supplemented probiotics, which you can never be sure as to the quality of cultures in the product). My basic approach is to trust mother nature whenever possible, and go with the most natural route available. People have been consuming fermented foods for ages, and the incredible health benefits are well documented. There are a few things to consider when making your own fermented foods:
-The first thing you want to be sure of is that all of your equipment is properly sterilized with boiling water, to ensure no unhealthy bacteria contaminate your fermentation process.
-Be sure to keep fermented foods in the proper temperature range during the fermentation (65-80 degrees Fahrenheit), as well as properly covered (allowing for some air flow, which helps release gasses during the ferment).
-Be sure to adequately ferment your product in order to reduce the sugar content as much as possible. Beneficial bacteria consume sugars, and so the longer you ferment, the more sugar gets consumed. In general, the more sour or vinegary the taste is, the more beneficial bacteria it contains. If the product still tastes sweet, it needs to ferment longer. The reason this is important is that the unhealthy bacteria in your gut also feed on sugar, and by consuming sugar with probiotics, you are potentially negating their efficacy.
-Variety is key. Ideally, you want to get the greatest spectrum of beneficial bacteria into your diet through a variety of different fermented foods. There are hundreds of strains of healthy flora, and the more variety you consume, the heartier your health will be.
My favorite types of fermented foods are homemade sauerkraut, kombucha, and water kefir. You don’t need a starter for sauerkraut, while for kombucha and water kefir, you will need to start with a colony of bacteria. Starters for kombucha and water kefir can be bought online for relatively inexpensive. If fermenting seems intimidating, there are numerous resources online which can walk you through the process step-by-step. If there is only one change you make in your life for better health, make it learning to ferment your own foods and liquids. There is a small learning curve with the process, however, and it did take me a few tries to get a final product that was uncontaminated and palatable.
If you choose to buy fermented foods, be sure that the product actually says “raw” on the label. If it does not, it means there is a good chance the product has been pasteurized, which will have partially or completely destroyed the beneficial bacteria in the product. I recommend consuming 1-2 cups of solid cultured foods, or one 8-ounce glass of liquid cultured drinks each day. Although, the more the better, and it is best to listen to the needs of your body. Research indicates that it is best to take probiotics at the same time as consuming food or liquid with some quantity of healthy fats. This helps to ensure the survival of the probiotics as they travel to your intestines.
Although I strongly recommend fermented foods over supplements, in some cases store bought probiotic supplements are more tolerable for some people. When buying probiotics, try out a variety of brands to see which ones your body reacts better to. Opt for a refrigerated variety of probiotics when possible, with an organism count between 50 and 100 billion. I suggest taking up to 100 billion organisms a day, divided into two servings.