One topic I come back to frequently on “Wellness Wednesday” is the importance of healthy gut flora. If you’re new to this blog (first of all…welcome!), it might sound like a strange thing for a chiropractor to talk about, but when it comes to total wellness, healthy gut flora ranks right up there with breathing and circulation, so I come back to it often.
To the casual observer, it might seem like a small thing to be concerned about. Why is it so important?
There are hundreds of different species of microscopic bacteria living in your gastrointestinal tract. While there are some unhealthy bacteria that can grow and spread, the majority of them are healthy and productive, controlling the bad bacteria, digesting your food, and fighting off infections. That last one – fighting off infections – makes the other two pale in comparison. Your gut flora is the centerpiece of your immune system, and it’s incredibly powerful.
It’s also incredibly fragile. Most of us suffer from digestive disorders of one form or another – whether we feel discomfort from it or not – because of the relentless assault our gut flora faces every day. Antibiotics, medications, processed foods, and even air pollution can have a toxic effect on this precious colony inside.
It’s time to fight back.
While there are things you can do to slow down the assault (eat right, limit antibiotics, etc.), there are also things you can do to strengthen and reinforce your gut flora from the inside.
Ways To Strengthen and Reinforce Your Immune System
Wouldn’t it be great if you could prevent colds and viruses, or cure them naturally, instead of taking antibiotics?
- Load up on Vitamin C, Vitamin D, echinacea, ginger, oregano, and a host of other supplements.
- Take a probiotic (especially if you’ve been taking an antibiotic).
- Do a 28-day detox cleanse to remove the foods that inflame your gut and kill the gut flora.
But there’s one thing you can start doing today that will, in my opinion, have a greater and longer-lasting impact to your overall health.
Last week, we talked about the health-promoting power of fermented foods to build a strong colony of healthy bacteria in your gut. The active cultures in fermented foods are amazingly powerful, and have been a staple food in nearly every civilization around the world for thousands of years – except ours.
We think they smell bad.
Let’s face it, the Standard American Diet is a train wreck. Even the most ancient tribal civilizations are looking down at us, shaking their heads at the way we poison ourselves with food, while we leave out the foods that can really heal.
We all have our reasons for not liking certain foods, but we’re missing out terribly if we let our noses drive us away from fermented foods.
Some active culture foods are easy to embrace, like yogurt, mayo, sour cream, and even kimchi. Others, like sauerkraut and kefir, are an acquired taste. But believe me, if you knew what these foods could do for you, you would go out and acquire that taste in a heartbeat!
Frankly, it’s a good idea to keep a variety of cultured foods on hand, so you don’t get into a rut or develop a sensitivity to one or another. Plus, each different type has a slightly different nutritional value from the others.
Four Kinds of People
At this point, I have four different types of people reading this:
- Some still have their noses turned away. I get it. I will never pressure them to enjoy a healthy body. I say you have to come to that decision on your own.
- Some are ready to “dip their toes in the water” and give fermented foods a try.
- Some might even have a favorite fermented food (usually yogurt), and they’re ready to branch out into new experiences.
- But then, I’ve got a group of people that are ready to take the plunge and make their own fermented foods at home.
It’s a great way to save money, learn about your body, and have fun in the kitchen. It’s not expensive, it just takes a little time.
If You’re Ready…
I learn a great deal from Dr. Jospeh Mercola on his website, mercola.com. It’s a treasure trove of health information. He does a great job of bringing in specialists who are at the top of the field for their expert advice.
This topic is no exception. I encourage you to read his terrific piece on preparing your own fermented foods with Nutritional Therapy Practitioner Caroline Barringer. It’s lengthy, but it has a very informative video at the top.
In case you’re a little pressed for time, I’ll give you the highlights.
Here’s a quick summary of Caroline’s recipe for how to make your own fermented veggies:
- Shred and cut your chosen veggies
- Juice some celery. This is used as the brine, as it contains natural sodium and keeps the vegetables anaerobic. This eliminates the need for sea salt, which prevents growth of pathogenic bacteria
- Pack the veggies and celery juice along with the inoculants (starter culture, such as kefir grains, whey, or commercial starter powder…all of which can be used for vegetables) into a 32 ounce wide-mouthed canning jar. A kraut pounder tool can be helpful to pack the jar and eliminate any air pockets. We hope to have our new starter culture which is optimized with strains of bacteria that will make high doses of vitamin K2 sometime in early 2013 assuming our testing goes well.
- Top with a cabbage leaf, tucking it down the sides. Make sure the veggies are completely covered with celery juice and that the juice is all the way to the top of the jar to eliminate trapped air
- Seal the jar store in a warm, slightly moist place for 24 to 96 hours, depending on the food being cultured. Ideal temperature range is 68-75 degrees Fahrenheit; 85 degrees max. Remember, heat kills the microbes!
- When done, store in the refrigerator to slow down the fermentation process
Here are a few of Caroline’s suggestion for how to store the jars for optimal fermentation. (Remember, they don’t require a heated environment and only need to be kept around 72 degrees):
“Simply put the jars into a [portable] cooler and place the cooler OFF the floor (the floor is usually too cold due to heat rising away from it). Wrap the jars inside the cooler in an old towel and place an additional jar of HOT water into the cooler to make the environment warm. You can replace the hot water jar when you “think” about it – no need to obsess.
You can also place the jars in a casserole dish or baking dish and wrap them in a towel and place them in your oven with the oven heat OFF of course, but switch the oven light on. The heat emitting from the appliance bulb will keep the veggies warm.
Another option is to place as many jars as possible into a dehydrator and set it to the lowest temperature setting, but most dehydrators only accommodate a couple of jars max. It’s best to prepare many jars at one time due to the given fact that making veggies is a labor intensive process. I like the cooler or oven incubation processes best. They work well every time.”
Last but not least, resist the temptation to eat out of the jar! This can introduce organisms from your mouth into the jar. Instead, always use a clean spoon to take out what you’re going to eat, then, making sure the remaining veggies are covered with the brine solution, recap the jar.
One Dozen Tips and Tricks for Making Delicious Cultured Vegetables
Due to my own interest, Caroline has shared a lot of information with me. Here are a dozen more of her tips and tricks that she didn’t share during the interview:
- Cabbage should comprise at least 80 percent of your vegetable blend. Carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, turnips and other hard root veggies can also serve as a great base for your cultured veggies, but they’re not as economical.
- Five to six medium-sized heads of cabbage will yield about 10-14 quart-size (32 oz) jars of fermented veggies.
- You can use red or green cabbage, but make sure they’re hard and heavy, with densely packed leaves. The lighter, leafier varieties will tend to turn into mush that doesn’t ferment well.
- Add in other vegetables to suit your taste, such as: red, yellow or orange bell pepper, butter nut squash, dill, parsley, kale, collards and red or golden beets. Beware: use bell peppers sparingly as they have a very strong presence. Onesmall pepper for 12 to 14 jars is plenty.
- Always use ORGANIC vegetables!
- Peel your vegetables as the skins can add a bitter flavor.
- When adding aromatics, such as onion, garlic and ginger, remember that fermenting increases the flavor multiple-fold, so a little goes a long way. Don’t overdo it! A few medium-size cloves is enough to infuse a dozen jars or more with a mild garlic flavor.
- Onion tends to overpower, no matter how little is used, so Caroline doesn’t use it in any of her blends.
- When adding herbs, only use fresh organic herbs, in small amounts. Tasty additions include: basil, sage, rosemary, thyme and oregano.
- Add sea vegetables or seaweed to increase the mineral, vitamin and fiber content. You can add pieces of whole dulse, or use flakes. Wakame and sea palm, which do not have any kind of fishy flavor, need to be presoaked and diced into desired size. Arame and hijaki do have a fishy flavor.
- Use two packets of starter culture for a 12-14 jar batch during summer season. In the winter, you’ll need three packets.
- During summer, veggies are typically done in three to four days. In the winter, they may need up to seven days. Just open up the jar and have a taste. Once you’re happy with the flavor and consistency, move the jars into the fridge.
Isn’t that powerful?
I’m so grateful that detailed resources like this are available for free on the web, and I strongly encourage you to read that whole article if you’re interested in learning how to make your own fermented foods. It might be the best thing you do for your health.
In the mean time, I find that there always seems to be someone in my circles looking for healthy recipes for their family. You ever notice that? Maybe that’s how you found my blog. This would be a great resource to share with them. You never know who will appreciate it.
“At the end of your feelings is NOTHING. At the end of your principles is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas