Healthy Bugs, Healthy People: Fermented Foods for Gut Health

Photo credit: Jules Clancy www.thestonesoup.com

Photo credit: Jules Clancy www.thestonesoup.com

Gastrointestinal health is one of the foundations of peak health and wellness. Each of us has a unique population of bacteria living within us, referred to as our "microbiome". When the gut is compromised and the composition of these trillions of bacteria change or are disrupted, significant health issues may result, including food allergies or intolerances, asthma, anxiety and depression, inflammatory bowel conditions like Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn's, and a number of other serious autoimmune conditions.

So, how can we help support healthy digestion by protecting this environment, preventing this disruption and encouraging healing when compromise has occurred? Start by using food first. For centuries, it has been known in many cultures that eating fermented or cultured foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir has medicinal effects and can benefit gastrointestinal health in a number of fantastic ways. 

1. Healthy bugs, Healthy people. Fermented foods are full of good, living bacteria that normally populate a healthy gastrointestinal tract. There is some evidence that suggests the more diverse this "microbiome" is, the greater the potential for optimal health and wellness.

2. Easy digestion. Fermented foods contain enzymes that support healthy digestion. These enzymes break down the foods we eat in a healthy way, thus making the nutrients in those foods more readily available for absorption and assimilation in our bodies.

3. Pucker up. Fermented foods have a sour quality, which in Ayurvedic tradition is a part of optimal digestion and a well-rounded health diet including each of the 6 Tastes (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, pungent, and astringent). In this tradition, sour foods stimulate digestion, increase circulation, aid in elimination and energize the body.

Cost-Effectiveness. All of these things can be made inexpensively and with just a little effort right in your own kitchen. For a great comprehensive guide to do-it-yourself fermentation, check out "The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from around the World" by Sandor Elle Katz. 

I've included a simple recipe for sauerkraut below to help get you started.

Not quite ready to dedicate time to fermenting? No problem! You can experience similar benefits by taking probiotic supplements available at our online dispensary. Check out Vital-10, HMF Capsules, HMF Powder, or HMF Natogen (for kids) and schedule an appointment with me for further guidance!  

 


Easy Mason Jar Sauerkraut

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium head organic green or red cabbage (about 3 pounds)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher/non-iodized salt

Equipment Needed:

  • Cutting board
  • Large kitchen knife for chopping
  • Mixing bowl
  • 2-quart wide-mouth canning jar
  • Smaller jelly jar (to fit inside the larger mason jar)
  • Clean stones, marbles, or other weights for weighing the jelly jar
  • Cloth for covering the jar
  • Rubber band, twine, or string for securing the cloth

Instructions:

1. Wash your hands and start with clean equipment. You will be using your hands to massage salt into the cabbage. Also, make sure your mason jar and jelly jar are washed and rinsed well, leaving no soap residue.

2. Chop the cabbage: Discard the limp outer leaves. Cut the cabbage into quarters and trim out the core. Chop the remaining cabbage into very thin ribbons.

3. Combine the cabbage and salt: In a large mixing bowl, sprinkle the cabbage with salt. Work the salt into the cabbage by massaging and squeezing the cabbage with your hands. As you continue, the cabbage will become watery and limp. This will take several minutes.

4. Pack the cabbage into the jar: Pack cabbage and salt mixture into the canning jar while periodically pressing down the mixture with your fist. Pour any liquid released by the cabbage in the mixing bowl into the jar.

5. Weigh the cabbage mixture down: Once all the cabbage is packed into the mason jar, slip the smaller jelly jar into the mouth of the jar and weigh it down with clean stones or marbles. This will keep the cabbage weighed down and eventually, submerged beneath its liquid.

6. Cover the jar: Cover the mouth of the jar with a cloth. You can hold the cloth in place with a large rubber band or piece of twine or string, thus allowing air to flow into and out of the jar, but preventing dust or insects from getting into the jar.

7. Press the cabbage every few hours: Over the next 24 hours, press down on the weighted jelly jar periodically to further compress the cabbage. As the cabbage releases liquid, it will become more limp and compact. Over time, the liquid should rise over the top of the cabbage.

8. Add extra liquid, if needed: If after 24 hours, the liquid has not risen above the cabbage, dissolve 1 teaspoon of salt in 1 cup of water and add enough to submerge the cabbage.

9. Start fermenting: As it's fermenting, keep the sauerkraut at a cooler room temperature and away from direct sunlight. Check sauerkraut daily and press it down when the cabbage is floating above the liquid.

10. Taste: Begin tasting after 3 days. You can continue fermenting the sauerkraut for up to 20 days. Because this is a small batch, it will likely ferment more quickly. When the sauerkraut tastes good to you, remove the weighted jelly jar, screw on the cap, and refrigerate. Your sauerkraut will keep for two months or longer if kept refrigerated.