Are you being good to your gut? Poor digestion is your gut’s way of telling you something’s wrong. But many people have symptoms of digestive discomfort and brush them off without realizing there’s a problem. Gut troubles aren’t normal, and they could indicate signs of a bigger health concern.
Giving your gut more attention and replenishing it with beneficial bacteria can relieve symptoms of gut discomfort. It could even stop serious health problems before they start.
Why does your body need fermented foods to improve digestion?
Fermented foods are foods that have been colonized by bacteria beneficial to the human body. These bacteria, cultivated using the Body Ecology Vegetable Starter Culture to ferment at home, nourish the inner ecology of the gut and influence the health of the entire body.
The good bacteria in fermented foods produce lactic acid. This helps maintain a healthy pH in the gut. The right balance of acid and alkaline is critical — it can inhibit the growth of unfriendly bacteria or yeast like candida, which can irritate the gut lining and trigger inflammatory signaling.1
Good bacteria also metabolize certain parts of food, especially the fibrous parts of food the body can’t digest.2,3 As they metabolize food in the gut, helping to break it down, they also synthesize their own food molecules — for example, short chain fatty acids. Surrounding cells can use these short chain fatty acids as a source of nutrition and energy.
Fermented foods contain beneficial bacteria, and those bacteria are actually enzymes too.
They act upon the food, breaking it down so that it’s useable in small amounts. They also break down and extract the nutrients so they can be absorbed into the body; when you eat foods, they’re meant to be broken down.4 Otherwise, they can't be absorbed. The enzymes and the bacteria play a critical role in making this happen.
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6 big benefits of fermented foods for your healthiest gut
You can think of the good bacteria in fermented foods as “old friends” to your digestive tract. They work closely with the immune system and can actually protect the gut in times of stress, when it’s inflamed or when harmful bacteria and yeast begin to grow in numbers.
Eating fermented foods daily can keep your gut healthy, happy, and strong, with research-backed benefits like:
- Balanced digestion. As microbes in fermented foods introduce beneficial bacteria to the gut, enzymes are released to support the bacteria, providing relief for irregularities like constipation and diarrhea. Good gut health also makes it easier to maintain a healthy weight.5
- Better immune function. Restoring immune function impacts all aspects of health, and it’s no coincidence that up to 80 percent of the immune system is found in the gut. Eating cultured vegetables delivers good bacteria to the gut wrapped in a protective matrix, ready to colonize and communicate with the immune system.6
- Enhanced detoxification. The bacteria in fermented foods are natural detoxifiers and heavy metal chelators. The good bacteria in cultured vegetables may prove especially valuable for cleansing the body of toxic heavy metals like cadmium and lead.7,8
- Higher energy levels. As the microbes in fermented food make their home in the gut and take over, they will begin to create and magnify the vitamins and minerals the body needs -- producing a natural source of internal energy.9
- Improved mental health. Inoculating the gut with beneficial bacteria in cultured vegetables can help to relieve brain fog, mood swings, depression, and anxiety.10 Improving intestinal barrier function and the gut’s nutrient breakdown may also indirectly influence neuropeptide and neurotransmitter production.
- Stronger systemic health. The good bacteria in fermented foods are known to reduce harmful levels of candida yeast in the gut. Eating fermented foods regularly can help to overcome systemic infection, like fungal and candida overgrowth, addressing even more candida-related symptoms like bad breath, muscle aches, joint swelling, fatigue, insomnia, infertility, and bloating.11
With proven health benefits this impressive, it’s easy to overlook one of the biggest advantages of eating fermented foods.
They’re convenient. Also called “nature’s fast food,” batches of cultured vegetables are easy to make and store at home to have on hand to eat as a tangy side with every meal.
Donna Gates is the international best-selling author and fermented foods pioneer behind The Body Ecology Diet. Find out more about Donna's mission to change the way the world eats.
What happens when you can’t eat fermented foods?
Today, 15 percent of the world’s population has IBS.12 And according to Dr. Allison Siebecker, a pioneer in SIBO awareness and treatment, SIBO makes up 60 percent of those numbers.13 Stress, eating out, increased traveling, and a disturbed microbiome from diseases, drugs, gallbladder removal, and food poisoning are often the culprits. These factors can all impact the migrating motor complex in the body, responsible for flushing out material from the small intestine that shouldn't be there.
While antimicrobials are often used for treatment, diet can help manage the symptoms of SIBO. Symptoms may include bloating, constipation/diarrhea, discomfort, regurgitation, nausea, acid reflux, and more. In these cases, it helps to consider the Principle of Uniqueness to determine which foods are the best fit for your unique body. The foods you choose will vary based on the type of microbes in your gut, among other factors.
Changing diet and taking a prokinetic are the first steps when using the Principle of Step-by-Step. If you are still experiencing symptoms, fermented foods may need to be avoided as many people with SIBO don’t respond well to D-lactate produced by probiotic bacteria. For these people, bifidobacteria may be a more soothing option to the gut.
Eating for optimal gut health can be nutritious and delicious. Check out our full collection of Body Ecology recipes here.
Do you still need to eat fermented foods when taking a probiotic capsule?
Taking a probiotic capsule is convenient and beneficial, but remember, eating fermented foods is convenient too. Even more importantly, fermented foods provide an actual food source for the good guys in your gut. The microbiota and inner ecosystem become a line of defense so that if you do eat something bad in the future (even after the gut is healed), you won’t be at risk for issues like SIBO or food poisoning. The majority of SIBO comes from contaminated food. Fortunately, cultured vegetables filled with rich microbes can eat up anything dangerous that tries to come into the gut. Because the bacteria in cultured vegetables are alchemistic, they also help change toxins like mercury into useful amino acids.
For optimal health, microbial diversity in the gut is key.
A recent study suggests good bacteria help fight cancer.14 Plantarum in cultured vegetables, taken alongside the bacteria in a probiotic capsule, can provide even more benefits to the body.
2 Body Ecology-favorite cultured vegetable recipes for beginners
One important secret to making really delicious yet medicinal cultured veggies is to use freshly harvested, organic, well-cleaned vegetables. After washing the veggies, spin them dry. Clean equipment is essential. Scald everything you use in very hot water.
Recipe version 1
- 3 heads green cabbage, shredded in a food processor
- 1 bunch kale, chopped by hand (optional)
- 2 cups wakame ocean vegetables (measured after soaking), drained, spine removed, and chopped
- 1 tbsp. dill seed
Recipe version 2
- 3 heads green cabbage, shredded in a food processor
- 6 carrots, large, shredded in a food processor
- 3 inch piece ginger, peeled and chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
To make cultured vegetables:
- Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.
- Remove several cups of this mixture and put into a blender.
- Add enough filtered water to make a "brine" the consistency of a thick juice. Blend well and then add brine back into first mixture. Stir well.
- Pack mixture down into a 11⁄2-quart glass or stainless steel container. Use your fist, a wooden dowel, or a potato masher to pack veggies tightly.
- Fill container almost full, but leave about 2 inches of room at the top for veggies to expand.
- Roll up several cabbage leaves into a tight "log" and place them on top to fill the remaining 2-inch space. Clamp jar closed.
- Let veggies sit at about a 70° room temperature for at least three days. A week is even better. Refrigerate to slow down fermentation. Enjoy!
To use Body Ecology's Culture Starter:
- Dissolve one or two packages of starter culture in 11⁄2-cup warm (90°) water. Add approximately 1 tsp. of some form of sugar to feed the starter (try Rapadura, Sucanat, honey, Agave, or EcoBloom).
- Let starter/sugar mixture sit for about 20 minutes or longer while the L. Plantarum and other bacteria wake up and begin enjoying the sugar. Add this starter culture to the brine (step 3).
If you’re new to fermented foods and are eager to give your gut this unrivaled support, start here first:
- The BE Cultured Fermentation Course will give you all the tools and knowledge you need to become a fermented foodie in your own home. With 20 video tutorials and 73 bonus recipes, you can trust that all your fermentation questions will be fully answered.
If you’re ready to ferment without any tutorial needed, this is where to begin:
- The Body Ecology Vegetable Starter Culture is easy to use at home and can yield multiple batches of cultured vegetables teeming with gut-friendly bacteria. The Starter Culture contains 6 packets that can be used to make cultured vegetables, cultured whipped butter, and creme fraiche rich in microbes.
What To Remember Most About This Article:
Good gut changes take time. Fermented foods contain bacteria that help to change the environment of the gut and protect the gut so pathogens can't grow there. And by keeping a cleaner, healthier gut, they're preventing a lot of the gas and bloating from occurring. In the beginning though, fermented foods can actually appear to cause more gas and bloating because the bacteria are starting to move into the intestines and clean up the area.
These bacteria have to change the environment so that they and their future descendants can survive. So, they will clean the gut, and in the process of that change that’s occurring in the environment in your gut, there will often be a battle.
If you were to paint a living room, you would pull everything away to the center of the room. For a while, it will look like chaos before you finish painting the walls and put everything back together. Clean and put it all back, and then the room will look great. That's exactly what's happening with the beneficial bacteria in your gut. They're trying to create a whole new world by disrupting the dysfunctional system that may exist inside your body.
- DR Tucker, et al. Protection of Vaginal Epithelial Cells with Probiotic Lactobacilli and the Effect of Estrogen against Infection by Candida albicans. Open Journal of Medical Microbiology. 2012; 2(3), 54-64.
- D'Aimmo MR, Mattarelli P, Biavati B, Carlsson NG, Andlid T. The potential of bifidobacteria as a source of natural folate. J Appl Microbiol. 2012;33:975984. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2672.2012.05261.x.
- Bergillos-Meca T, Navarro-AlarcÃ³n M, Cabrera-Vique C, Artacho R, Olalla M, GimÃ©nez R, Moreno-Montoro M, Ruiz-Bravo A, Lasserrot A, Ruiz-LÃ³pez MD. The probiotic bacterial strain Lactobacillus fermentum D3 increases in vitro the bioavailability of Ca, P, and Zn in fermented goat milk. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2013;33:307â€“314. doi: 10.1007/s12011-012-9544-0.
- Boye J, Wijesinha-Bettoni R, Burlingame B. Protein quality evaluation twenty years after the introduction of the protein digestibility corrected amino acid score method. Br J Nutr. 2012;33(Suppl 2):S183â€“S211.
- Kim, E. K., An, S. Y., Lee, M. S., Kim, T. H., Lee, H. K., Hwang, W. S., ... & Lee, K. W. (2011). Fermented kimchi reduces body weight and improves metabolic parameters in overweight and obese patients. Nutrition Research, 31(6), 436-443.
- Ranadheera, R.d.c.s., S.k. Baines, and M.c. Adams. "Importance of Food in Probiotic Efficacy." Food Research International 1 (2010): 1-7.
- S Salminen, et al. Probiotic bacteria as potential detoxification tools: assessing their heavy metal binding isotherms. Can J Microbiol. 2006 Sep;52(9):877-85.
- JN Bhakta, et al. Characterization of lactic acid bacteria-based probiotics as potential heavy metal sorbents. J Appl Microbiol. 2012 Jun;112(6):1193-206. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2672.2012.05284.x. Epub 2012 Apr 11.
- Xu, J., & Gordon, J. I. (2003). Honor thy symbionts. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100(18), 10452-10459.
- Bested AC, Logan AC, Selhub EM. Intestinal microbiota, probiotics and mental health: from Metchnikoff to modern advances. Part III - convergence toward clinical trials. Gut Pathog. 2013;33:4. doi: 10.1186/1757-4749-5-4.
- Klotz SA, et al. 2010. The Perfect Adhesive. Environmental Microbiology, Geomicrobiology, Soil Microbiology, Biocontrol 1, 838-844.
- “Facts About IBS.” International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders.
- Siebecker, Allison. “60% of IBS caused by SIBO.” SiboTest.com.
- Vyara Matson, et al. 2018. "The commensal microbiome is associated with anti-PD1efficacy in metastic melanoma patients." Science. Vol. 359, Issue 6371, pp.104-108. DOI: 10.1126/science.aao3290.
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