By: Mau – Northampton MA
I mentioned fermented foods in my last post (and likely in other posts). This is probably one of the most significant omissions of the modern convenience food diet. Fermented foods have been a part of virtually every culture throughout time. Most often fermentation was used as a manner of preserving food – it was allowed to rot in a controlled way. Fermented foods include pickled vegetables, kimchee, sauerkraut, vinegar, wines, beer, shoyo (soy sauce), tofu, tempeh, yogurt, cheese, leavened breads (especially sourdough), and others. In sourdough breads the active bacteria are killed by baking but the predigestion is still a benefit.
Most fermentation occurs by molds, yeasts, or bacteria, working on their own or in collaboration. Bacteria, molds, and yeasts predigest foods for us. More complex organic compounds, like fiber, that we would otherwise flush down the toilet are broken down by fermentation into more assimilable compounds – simple carbohydrates, vitamins, active minerals, proteins, etc. It makes the food we eat fundamentally more nourishing because it makes more of the nutrients available to be absorbed. Furthermore, when we eat fermented foods that are still living (not pasteurized) we ingest these bacteria and yeasts and, the ones that make it through the stomach’s acid bath, continue their beautiful “predigesting” work in our bellies making other the foods we eat more nourishing. They help us digest food!
A large part of the “predigesting” done by these microbes is facilitated by enzymes. Enzymes are like little alchemists. In the same way that an alchemist would purportedly change a base metal into gold, enzymes change biological compounds (substrates) into other, often more useful compounds to be utilized in the process of life. They are catalytic proteins that do the “chemical labor” for living things. Our bodies produce a great deal of enzymes to support the myriad metabolic processes of daily life – from breaking down proteins (proteases) to breaking down fats (lipases) to carbohydrate enzymes in your saliva (amylases). It is important to regularly eat foods that are packed with enzymes so that we lighten the burden on our bodies in producing these substances. Eating raw and fermented foods replenishes our systems with enzymes and makes digestion and assimilation far more effective. It’s critical to note though; enzymes are destroyed by heat. Cooked food is generally devoid of enzymes. By no means am I advising that you eat only raw, I’m just inviting you to consider eating more raw foods and especially fermented foods.
A few recommendations:
Buy some UNPASTEURIZED, living sauerkraut or kimchee, maybe some miso paste, have a little bit with your breakfast or lunch. Sauerkraut and kimchee go really well with eggs or as an addition to a salad for extra punch. Make your own kimchee! You can spread miso on your morning toast or mix it with some with olive oil and lemon for a delicious miso salad dressing.
If you are ok with dairy add a little yogurt to your day. Make sure the yogurt is just yogurt and FULL FAT – no sugar, pectin, stevia, splenda, gelatin, blah blah. You can make your own yogurt! I’ll be posting the process here soon. If lactose makes you queasy try goat yogurt. Cheeses contain some level of probiotic bacteria but usually the older (harder) the cheese the less probiotic it is. Cheese should be a garnish – small amounts here and there.
Drink vinegar! Get some unpasteurized apple cider vinegar – the stuff with the stuff on the bottom. Put a teaspoon or a capful in some water in the morning and sip it. This has amazing detoxifying properties and charges you up with beneficial enzymes that’ll help with your digestion throughout the day.
As you start including more fermented foods in your daily meals you’ll notice your digestion improving over the next month or so – sometimes dramatically.
There are a lot of kimchees, sauerkrauts, pickles, etc. that are NOT fermented. Most of the stuff you find at your average supermarket is NOT fermented. It is cooked and pasteurized and “pickled” in denatured white vinegar. This is not the stuff you’re looking for.