The Incredible Health Benefits to You of Traditionally Fermented Foods
January 03, 2004
By Nancy Lee Bentley
Self-serve olive bars are becoming so popular in many Washington supermarkets that storeowners are now offering expanded "antipasto" bars, heaped high with pickles, pickled peppers, mushrooms, artichokes and other tangy pickled and marinated foods, according to The Seattle Times.
This growing trend in both health/natural and regular commercial supermarkets across the country is theoretically good news for health-conscious consumers looking to increase their digestive, cardiovascular and immune health, since these traditionally lacto-fermented foods are some of the oldest and healthiest on the planet. Yet, the key phrase you absolutely must watch for if you want to achieve the amazing health benefits is traditionally lacto-fermented, as not all of these tasty condiments are created equal.
The Wonderful Health Benefits of Traditionally Lacto-Fermented Foods
Olives, pickles, grass-fed cheese, wine, yogurt, sauerkraut and the seasoned, aged sausages the French call "charcuterie" are some of this category's most popular delicacies.
Though the term "fermented" sounds vaguely distasteful, the results of this ancient preparation and preservation technique -- produced through the breakdown of carbohydrates and proteins by microorganisms such as bacteria, yeasts and molds -- are actually delicious. Even more so, they are so beneficial to overall health that some of these "functional foods" are now considered to be "probiotics," increasing your overall nutrition, promoting the growth of friendly intestinal bacteria, and aiding digestion and supporting immune function, including an increase in B vitamins (even Vitamin B12), omega-3 fatty acids, digestive enzymes, lactase and lactic acid, and other immune chemicals that fight off harmful bacteria and even cancer cells.
Beware the BIG Difference Between Healthy Fermented Foods Versus Commercially Processed
Fermentation is an inconsistent process --almost more of an art than a science -- so commercial food processors developed techniques to help standardize more consistent yields. Technically, anything that is "brined" in a salt stock is fermented, but that's where the similarity ends, as each type of fermented food has specific, unique requirements and production methods.
Refrigeration, high-heat pasteurization and vinegar's acidic pH all slow or halt the fermentation and enzymatic processes. "If you leave a jar of pickles that is still fermenting at room temperature on the kitchen counter, they will continue to ferment and produce CO2, possibly blowing off the lid or exploding the jar," explains Richard Henschel of Pickle Packers International, which is why, of course, all "shelf-stable" pickles are pasteurized.
It's probably not surprising that our culture has traded many of the benefits of these healthy foods for the convenience of mass-produced pickles and other cultured foods. Some olives, such as most canned California-style black olives, for instance, are not generally fermented, but are simply treated with lye to remove the bitterness, packed in salt and canned. Olive producers can now hold olives in salt-free brines by using an acidic solution of lactic acid, acetic acid, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate, a long way off from the old time natural lactic-acid fermenting method of salt alone.
Some pickles are simply packed in salt, vinegar and pasteurized. Many yogurts are so laden with sugar that they are little more than puddings. Unfortunately, these modern techniques effectively kill off all the lactic acid producing bacteria and short-circuit their important and traditional contribution to intestinal and overall health.
How to Make Sure You are Getting the Incredible Health Benefits of Lacto-Fermented Foods
As fermented foods expert Sally Fallon asks in Nourishing Traditions, with the proliferation of all these new mysterious viruses, intestinal parasites and chronic health problems, despite ubiquitous sanitation, "Could it be that by abandoning the ancient practice of lacto-fermentation, and insisting on a diet in which everything has been pasteurized, we have compromised the health of our intestinal flora and made ourselves vulnerable to legions of pathogenic microorganisims?" Like the $2.97 gallon jars of dill pickles Vlasic sells at a loss at Walmart, are we undermining our health and even economic well-being by our insistence on "more, faster and cheaper?"
You can still find some healthy traditional varieties. The stronger-flavored, traditional Greek olives you are most likely to find on olive bars are not lye-treated and are still alive with active cultures. So are "overnights," the locally-crocked fresh pickling cukes made in local delis every few days, as well as the pickles, sauerkraut and other fermented foods you make yourself at home. Generally, the more tangy and stronger the flavor (not counting any added jalapeño or other hot pepper flavorings), the more likely that the food will still have active and beneficial lactobacteria.
So how can you be sure if you are getting the benefits of these active, fermentation cultures? For one thing, you can make your own. Olives, sauerkraut, miso, crèmefraîche -- these are some of the recipes and ingredients I created to be right in line with Dr. Mercola's dietary program that you will find in his book, "Dr. Mercola's Total Health Program."
In addition to being good for individual metabolic types, reducing carbohydrates and cholesterol, strengthening digestion and immune systems, and even proactively helping us fight off and prevent disease, these foods are a lot simpler, easier to prepare and enjoy than you might think.
So in "Dr. Mercola's TOTAL HEALTH Program," we've demystified the process for you, providing an entire chapter, in fact, devoted to simple, health-enhancing "Raw, Sprouted and Fermented Foods." This means double dividends for you: foods that taste good and are actually incredibly good for you, as well.
Check out "Dr. Mercola's TOTAL HEALTH Program," including the Table of Contents and List of Recipes, as it is a sure way to make your New Year a happy and healthy one. Dr. Mercola guarantees the book or your money back for the rest of your life for a reason -- it WILL improve your health while pleasing your taste buds. Now, please pass that relish tray!
By Dr. Mercola
The preceding article on the very important topic of the benefits of traditionally fermented foods is by Nancy Lee Bentley. The more I study health, the more I have come to appreciate how crucially important the bacteria in your gut are. The website Green Med Info1 has assembled an amazing list of more than 200 studies, which together explore more than 170 diseases which can be helped or treated with probiotics. The conditions include:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Atopic dermatitis
- Allergic rhinitis
- And even the common cold!
Eating sugar nourishes pathogenic bacteria, yeast and fungi in your gut. One of the major results of eating a healthy diet, low in sugar, is that you cause your beneficial gut bacteria to flourish, and they secondarily perform the real "magic" of restoring your health. You may have noticed that probiotics are now featured in articles about all sorts of health problems, including obesity, diabetes, depression and heart disease.
As explained by Russian neurologist Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, a woman's gut flora can also influence the health of her child. If your child's gut flora is compromised from birth, he may have an increased risk for adverse vaccine reactions.
Fortunately, you can easily screen for this imbalance, and if it is found, all immunizations should be avoided until it is corrected with strategies that are comprehensively described in Dr. McBride's book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome. This bookshould be, in my opinion, required reading for ALL parents and parents-to-be. The simple and inexpensive screening she suggests could prevent a lifetime of suffering for you and your child. All in all, the research into probiotics indicates that probiotic supplementation is probably more important than taking a multi-vitamin; in fact, its true importance for your health is likely right up there with vitamin D.
Fermented foods are the most potent source of beneficial bacteria, and these probiotics are some of the best chelators available, capable of drawing out a wide range of toxins and heavy metals. According to Dr. McBride, the GAPS Nutritional Protocol restores your own detoxification system in about 90 percent of people, and the fermented/cultured foods are instrumental in this self-healing process. Making your own fermented vegetables is inexpensive and less complicated than you might think. To learn how, please review the following interview with Caroline Barringer.
Download Interview Transcript