This article on the very important topic of the benefit of traditionally fermented foods to your diet was written by Nancy Lee Bentley. Nancy is the co-author of my book, Dr. Mercola's TOTAL HEALTH Program and created the more than 150 delicious and nutritious, grain-free, low-carb recipes that you'll find there.
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 and 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, sauekraut, 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, crème fraîche -- 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!