Could there really be a food that can improve mental health, increase immunity, prevent dis-ease, enable weight loss and curb sugar cravings? Sauerkraut...lacto-fermented vegetables...cultured veggies, may be one of the greatest 'super food' rediscoveries of our time!
"What is lacto-fermentation", you ask? Lacto fermentation is the transformative action of microorganisms. "The main by-product, lactic acid, not only keeps vegetables and fruits in a state of perfect preservation but also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the
intestine." (Sally Fallon) The nutrients in our bodies are digested by living microorganisms. Toxic compounds in our bodies are also broken down and predigested by these organisms. Now, I know you may be thinking, "but I don't even want to think about organisms living inside my body." But, we must remember, we are living beings and the more we realize that everything within us is alive and must be fed in order for the healthy microorganisms to proliferate and the unhealthy ones to be kept at bay, the more we can create a healthy ecosystem within our bodies.
Ferments help the body create more B vitamins, increase mineral absorption and contain hundreds of times more nutrients than unfermented vegetables. The probiotic content is very high as well, improving immunity and digestion. Fermented vegetables contain high amounts of anti-thiosyanates which are anti-carcinogenic, cancer fighting!
Cultured vegetables are also known to help dissolve blood clots and accumulation inside blood vessels.
These live bacterial cultures are only beneficial when not subjected to heat. The whole idea of culturing vegetables on your counter or 'counter culturing' as I like to say:), is scary to many people. But Sandor Katz, author of The Art of Fermentation, there has never been a documented case of botulism from fermented vegetables in the US. So, you do not have any need to fear experimentation with 'counter cultured' veggies!
Now, my favorite part about these bacteria-rich counter cultures ... We have become so afraid of bacteria that we are literally killing ourselves along with all the bacteria we attempt to do away with. Bacteria has always existed and it is integral to understand how it pertains to our health if we want to remain dis-ease free. In order to experience health, we must consciously replenish and diversify the bacteria in our system.
The cells of our bodies are outnumbered 10 to 1 by the bacteria in our bodies. Our cellular function is mediated by our gut bacteria. There is a strong connection between serotonin and gut bacteria. In fact, the largest nerve in your body is called the vagus nerve and it is connected from the gut to the brain, constantly communicating with the brain and nervous system. 80% of the immune system also resides in the gut. Our gut bacteria strongly influence our psychological health and schizophrenia is 100x more common in people with a damaged gut.
In one study, it was found that people eating a probiotic-rich diet (meaning full of diverse, healthy and live bacteria) five times per week had increased immune markers when compared with those who didn't eat a diverse diet teaming with healthy bacteria. In fact, when these foods were removed from the diet, immune markers decreased across the board. The key is that the foods need to be diversified, so you will want to drink raw milk products such as yogurt and kefir, maybe some kombucha or any other foods rich in fermented, live bacteria. For more information, you can check out Cultures for Health for recipes and supplies.
"In another experiment with mice, 'The mice became less anxious, more gregarious when their gut bacteria was replaced with bacteria from fearless mice,' says Stephen Collins of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, who led a team that conducted the research.
It worked the other way around, too — bold mice became timid when they got the microbes of anxious ones. And aggressive mice calmed down when the scientists altered their microbes by changing their diet, feeding them probiotics." - Gut Bacteria Might Guide the Workings of Our Minds.
Furthermore, "two new studies show that obese people have different intestinal bacteria than slim people. What's more, the microbes in an overweight body are much more efficient at extracting calories from food.
One study looked at mice, the other looked at humans. In both, a family of bacteria known as firmicutes were more plentiful in the obese (20 percent more). Bacteria called bacteroidetes were also much more abundant in those of normal weight (the obese had almost 90 percent fewer bacteroidetes).
Most likely because of the firmicutes, the obese mice were more efficient at taking calories out of complex sugars and depositing those calories in fat. When these microbes were transplanted into the normal-weight mice, those mice started to gain twice as much fat.
As obese people lost weight, their bacteroidetes increased, while the numbers of firmicutes decreased." - Mercola.com
In my own experience, eating a diet rich in probiotic foods also helps curb sugar cravings, an added plus!
Now that you see the importance of building a healthy ecology of bacteria in your gut, you can begin making this very inexpensive culinary 'medicine'. On my site, you will find two recipes for delicious sauerkraut, Cortido (Mexican Sauerkraut) and Spicy Carrot Kraut. If you are interested in healing your gut, you might also like to make some bone broth or check out my very short instructional sauerkraut video below. Enjoy!