We all have good and bad bacteria within our body and we need to remember the importance of how it works within the body. Fermented foods are a nutritious, simple way of promoting healthy bacteria.
Our current “food system,” which includes big box, processed, and pharmaceutical-grade synthetics, has gotten our country and people away from the foods that nourish us and make us healthy.
We all have good and bad bacteria within our body and we need to remember the importance of how it works within the body. Fermented foods are a nutritious, simple way of promoting healthy bacteria. There is something to be said about making homemade fermented foods. You get to see the bubbly process of the food fermenting, all while releasing its potent smell, as you wait to taste its deliciousness.
Sadly, the art of fermenting foods at home is becoming a lost skill.
The History of Fermented Foods
Fermented foods have been a part of cultures for thousands of years. Many cultures used fermenting as a way of preserving foods that would decompose quickly without this method. The earliest fermented food (alcohol) dates back to 7000–6600 B.C.E. in the Neolithic Chinese village of Jiahu. It was recorded as early as 200 B.C. that Chinese cooks were pickling cabbage. The Korean culture fermented Kimchi, West Africans fermented garri, and there is also history that shows ancient Rome and China had fermented foods on their plates.
How Fermentation Works
When you ferment foods, you are creating foods that are preserved with limited ingredients using their own juices by the action of microorganisms. This can be by bacteria, yeast, or mold. “Mainstream” fermented foods like breads and beers are fermented with sugar, which turns to alcohol and then yeast. Foods that are more unfamiliar use bacteria from the airborne particles such as lactobacillus, which are important for the makings of sauerkraut, yogurt, and kimchi. One last fermenting process is with vinegar, which makes a pickled food. Fermented foods take minimal effort, but pack a big punch for our gut flora.
The Nutritional Benefits of Fermented Foods
Fermented foods are known for replenishing our gut with beneficial bacteria, enzymes, vitamins, and minerals. They also create new nutrients from B vitamins such as folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, and biotin, which is made from lactic acids. Some fermented foods have been shown to act as antioxidants and the Lactobacilli creates Omega-3 fatty acids, essential for cell membrane and immune system function as well as vitamin C and lactic acid. Countries that consume more fermented foods have a lower cancer rate than those who purchase more pasteurized foods.
The lactic acid from the fermented foods allows us to eat fresh, locally grown vegetables while providing foods rich in enzymes and vitamin C even in the middle of cold winter months. Lactic acid is also necessary for creation of energy in muscles, liver and red blood cells. It is a key nutrient for helping break down foods to make them more easily digestible. Lactic acid also encourages function of the pancreas and then stimulates secretion of all digestive organs. Reports also show that consumption of lactic acid from fermented foods is beneficial for those with cancer.
The amino acid acetylcholine is also produced during the fermentation process, helping stimulate the peristaltic movement of the intestines and facilitating blood circulation. Acetylcholine has a calming effect on the nervous system, which helps to improve sleep patterns, lowers blood pressure, and strengthens the heart.
Fermentation is also known to remove toxins from foods and sometimes makes grains more nutritious by removing phytic acid. For example, our large intestine is home of Bacteroides fraglis, Escherichia coli, Proteus mirabilis, Klebsiella species, Lactobacillus species, Steptococcus species, Candida albicans, Clostridium species, Pseudomonas species, and Enterococcus species. Frequent use of antibiotics or steroids destroys the good bacteria that keeps other bacteria in check and in the correct quantity. Beneficial bacteria include Bifidobacteria, Lactobacteria, Propionobacteria, physiological strains of E. coli, Peptostrpococci, and Enterococci. In addition diet and stress can also damage the gut flora.
When the digestive system is out of balance, it is not uncommon that the immune system is also out of balance. When the intestinal walls and bacteria are not in order, it is unable to produce lymphocytes, immune cells that should be in abundance in the digestive walls. When this happens, additional groups of neutrophils and macrophages cannot do their job properly, which will eventually make a pet or person immunocompromised.
It is estimated that 80 to 85 percent of our immunity is located in the gut wall. Many times when the gut is out of order we see symptoms of diarrhea and/or constipation. Probiotics are often used as treatment for these gastrointestinal disorders and also for allergies, autism, chronic viral infection, urogenital infection, tuberculosis, meningitis, arthritis, diabetes, clinical infections, and autoimmune disorders.
The Lactobacilli species, which is most commonly found in fermented foods, is a normal and essential inhabitant of the gut, mucous membranes of the mouth, throat, nose and upper respiratory tract and vagina. It is also found in large numbers in breast milk. In addition to the production of lactic acid, lactobacilli also produces hydrogen peroxide, which acts as an antiseptic, antibacterial, and antifungal in the body, engages the immune system, and orchestrates the cell renewal process in the gut. Other probiotics found within the gut have their own unique jobs to ensure our gut gets repaired and maintained on a cellular level on a daily basis.
The GAPS Diet
Although allopathic medicine has divided the body into different “systems,” it has been discovered that the gut and brain work together, especially when the gut is malnourished and full of toxins. This has some similarities to the five element system of Traditional Chinese Medicine where organ systems work together and support one another and functions as a whole. In order to reduce toxicity and heal the gut, many have turned to the GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) diet. This diet focuses on re-establishing these good bacteria and repairing the intestinal lining with long-term benefits.
How it Works
When repairing the gut, the GAPS diet focuses largely on an introduction of bone broths and fermented foods in the first step. To begin, many add a mere teaspoon daily of sauerkraut juice to restore normal stomach acid production and probiotics for gut repair. This helps to rebuild the beneficial gut bacterium that establishes an environment to keep bad bacteria in balance. To have a healthy gut, we need both good and bad bacteria, but without overgrowth of one or the other.
Some of the most basic recipes for making fermented foods include sauerkraut, sourdough bread, and kimchi. But you can also ferment dairy products to make sour cream, yogurt, cheese, kefir, and buttermilk. Grains can be fermented to make porridge, kvass, and rejuvelac. You can make fermented beverages such as wines, kombucha, water kefir, beer, cider, and mead. In some cultures they also ferment proteins such as fish. The list of options is quite large when it comes to fermentation.
Incorporating Fermented Foods into Your Diet
In order to incorporate these foods into your diet, they must be made at home. If you do not have the means to make fermented foods yourself, often times you can purchase these types of foods at your local farmers market or any Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) in your community. Foods coming from the grocery store must go through a pasteurization process approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Pasteurization heats the food and kills the natural enzymes, bacteria, or microorganisms that were made during fermentation. If you want real, nutritious whole food it simply cannot be bought from the store shelves.
If fermented foods aren’t to your liking, you can also use pickling as a way to preserve foods. However with pickling, you don’t get the same bacteria growth as with fermentation. Many of the same foods that are fermented you can also pickle.
Why Pets Need Fermented Foods
Many of these fermented foods can be used with our cats and dogs. Their gut ecology is just as important as ours. Before kibble, our grandparents fed our dogs and cats meat scraps and other inedibles from their farm, resulting in healthy pets that lived many more years than they do today. Kibble was just brought into mainstream after World War II out of convenience for caregivers. But the depletion of bacteria, minerals, and nutrients from the high heat and intense processing that dry pet food undergoes in manufacturing kibble caused an ill-effect on pets’ overall health. Many companies have to add vitamins and minerals back into pet food in order to curb deficiencies when our animals eat their foods.
Our cats and dogs have the digestive system to handle bacteria, just like humans. Dogs purposely bury marrow bones in soil so that microbes decompose them and make them more digestible. Many pet owners are in such a frenzy to keep their house clean and keep their dogs’ diets “clean” that they won’t allow a dog to eat this bacteria rich bone when it is “ready” and rediscovered.
Lately I have seen a large increase of digestive disorders in animals from severe allergies to small intestine bacterial overgrowth (also known as SIBO) and massive yeast overgrowth issues. Could these ailments be corrected with the added use of fermented foods along with a cleanup in the nutrition by feeding whole foods and raw meats? Many of our household pets have been exposed to antibiotics as well as steroids early on in life, while they are still young for many different ailments that are treated allopathically. It would make sense to build the gut and make improvements to their overall health. Bone broth and fermented cabbage juice should be an easy task for any dog (maybe not so much for a cat).
To sum it all up, here are our top reasons to incorporate fermented foods into your and your pet’s diets:
- Replenishes the gut with good bacteria.
- Keeps bad gut bacteria in check.
- Highly nutritious.
- Provides amino acids.
- High in natural enzymes and probiotics.
- Repairs and restores the gut (including leaky gut syndrome).
- Helps with severe food allergies.
- Inexpensive addition to any meal.
- Increases vitamin content.
- Improves digestion.
- Helpful for chronic conditions like allergies, diarrhea, atopic dermatitis, etc.
Pre-Made Fermented Pet Foods
If you don’t have time to make your own fermented foods, we have a solution for you! Answers Pet Foods recently launched their newest item of Fermented Fish Stock. This wonderful option contains an excellent source of iodine, glycine, omega fatty acids, and gelatin. This formula also contains the amino acid arginine which is required to metabolize protein waste, making it a useful condiment for animals with kidney disease since it reduces stress on the kidneys. Arginine is also known to stimulate immune response by enhancing producing of T cells, enhances fat metabolism, and acts as a neurotransmitter to learning and memory. Glycine (also an amino acid) helps with regulating the bile salts and secretion of gastric juices, helping the liver to detox as well as helping dogs with epilepsy. This fermented fish stock is great for cats and dogs!
Sources: Wild Fermenation, Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Live Foods Manual, Pickles & Relishes, Making Sauerkraut, Answers Raw Food