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One of the best ways to improve digestion—from your stomach to your colon—is found in your kitchen.
Fermented foods belong to a food group that most of us have forgotten about.
In fact, the major food groups that your children learn in school do not include fermented foods. Both the food guide pyramid and the USDA MyPlate make no mention of fermented foods whatsoever.
If your diet is full of processed and packaged food, your gut is most likely in need of support.
Packaged, refined foods do little to contribute to a hearty and lively inner ecosystem. Unfortunately, many people go through life without ever enjoying truly fermented foods—like homemade sauerkraut and kefir.
Fermented foods are an essential key to overall health. (1) They support healthy digestion. They help balance your immune system. And they contribute to your mental wellbeing.
A well-rounded diet isn't complete without a daily dose of fermented foods. Fermenting raw food provides your body with pre-digested nutrients that are easier to break down and assimilate!
When you think about raw food, you may think about a salad, maybe a side of fresh vegetables, or a blended raw food smoothie. Rarely do raw fermented vegetables or raw fermented dairy foods come to mind.
The reality is that fermenting raw food is one of the best ways to optimize raw food nutrition.
The fermented foods that we at Body Ecology most often refer to are:
These fermented foods are pre-digested by bacteria and yeast, making their nutrients easier for the gut to break down and absorb. (2)(3)
As bacteria and yeast feed on the food found in their environment, they release enzymes to break down large food particles into usable pieces. These enzymes help friendly bacteria and also help you! Pre-digested foods mean less work for your stomach and your small intestine.
Because many people do not have enough gastric acid or are missing pancreatic enzymes, this is good news.
Those most at risk for low levels of pancreatic enzymes are children under 2 years old, who have an immature gut. (4) Research shows that as early as 30 years old, the secretion of pancreatic enzymes begins to decline. (5)
When irritating foods are pre-digested with enzymes, it turns out that the body may no longer have an inflammatory immune response to that food. (6)
This means that once the inner ecosystem is brought into balance and the lining of the gut is no longer leaky, many people find that they can once again enjoy a fermented version of foods that were previously irritating.
As fermented food ages, beneficial bacteria and yeast feed on the food. The food itself does not lose its life force. In fact, friendly bacteria and beneficial yeast enhance the life force of fermented foods.
For example, compare a raw carrot that is a week old to a raw carrot that has been fermenting for a week. A week-old carrot will grow limp and gray, even when stored in the refrigerator. A fermented carrot stays crisp, crunchy, and bright orange.
Fermented foods taste tart.
This is because friendly bacteria consume the naturally occurring sugar. Beneficial bacteria produce lactic acid, which contributes to the sour taste of fermented foods.
Lactic acid released in the gut can also control intestinal Candida overgrowth—a major factor that contributes to leaky gut. (7) Still other research shows that the lactic acid bacteria in fermented foods stop intestinal inflammation and heal a permeable gut lining. (8)
Fermented foods give friendly bacteria and yeast a matrix to live in while they move through your digestive tract.
As a result, they are more likely to survive and colonize your gut.
In fact, one study that was published in 2012 in the Journal of Dairy Science shows that you are more likely to receive probiotic benefits from fermented foods, rather than from a probiotic pill. (9)
In the study, researchers found that the bacteria in fermented milk had the best chance of surviving the harsh environment of the digestive system—this means your highly acidic stomach acid and an onslaught of pancreatic enzymes. A concentrated culture of probiotic bacteria (what you would find in a probiotic capsule) was less likely to tolerate the environment of the digestive tract.
Fermented foods protect and nourish the probiotic bacteria and yeast that they deliver to your inner ecosystem. When you eat fermented foods, beneficial microbes are well equipped to immediately set up residence in your digestive tract.
Remember, fermented foods are the forgotten food group. They have been an essential aspect of the human diet for centuries—only recently have they fallen out of favor and been replaced by quick vinegar pickles and processed, overly sweetened yogurts.
Fermented foods can be considered the forgotten food group left out of the food pyramid and USDA MyPlate. Fermented foods like kefir will support digestive, immune, and mental health in a way that processed foods simply cannot.
In fact, fermenting raw foods is one of the most effective ways to enhance raw food nutrition. Fermented foods are pre-digested by bacteria and yeast so that the gut can easily break down and absorb nutrients. Fermented foods also present the opportunity to enjoy previously irritating foods in the pre-digested form without causing an inflammatory immune response.
Compared to probiotic pills, fermented foods are more likely to survive the digestive process and colonize the gut because they house friendly bacteria and yeast in a protective matrix. It's no wonder that fermented foods have been essential to the human diet for centuries to improve health and overall wellbeing!
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