Health Benefits of Fermented Foods

By Nancy Lee Bentley

Self-serve  olive bars are becoming so popular in many Washington supermarkets that  storeowners are now offering expanded “antipasto” bars, heaped high  with pickles, pickled peppers, mushrooms, artichokes and other tangy pickled  and marinated foods, according to The  Seattle Times.

This  growing trend in both health/natural and regular commercial supermarkets across  the country is theoretically good news for health-conscious consumers looking  to increase their digestive, cardiovascular and immune health, since these  traditionally lacto-fermented foods are some of the oldest and healthiest on  the planet. Yet, the key phrase you absolutely must watch for if you want to  achieve the amazing health benefits is traditionally lacto-fermented, as  not all of these tasty condiments are created equal.

The  Wonderful Health Benefits of Traditionally Lacto-Fermented Foods

Olives,  pickles, grass-fed cheese, wine, yogurt, sauerkraut and the seasoned, aged  sausages the French call “charcuterie” are some of this category’s  most popular delicacies.

Though  the term “fermented” sounds vaguely distasteful, the results of this  ancient preparation and preservation technique — produced through the  breakdown of carbohydrates and proteins by microorganisms such as bacteria,  yeasts and molds — are actually delicious. Even more so, they are so  beneficial to overall health that some of these “functional foods”  are now considered to be “probiotics,” increasing your overall  nutrition, promoting the growth of friendly intestinal bacteria, and aiding  digestion and supporting immune function, including an increase in B vitamins  (even Vitamin B12), omega-3 fatty acids, digestive enzymes, lactase and lactic  acid, and other immune chemicals that fight off harmful bacteria and even  cancer cells.

Beware  the BIG Difference Between Healthy Fermented Foods Versus Commercially  Processed

Fermentation  is an inconsistent process –almost more of an art than a science — so  commercial food processors developed techniques to help standardize more  consistent yields. Technically, anything that is “brined” in a salt  stock is fermented, but that’s where the similarity ends, as each type of  fermented food has specific, unique requirements and production methods.

Refrigeration,  high-heat pasteurization and vinegar’s acidic pH all slow or halt the  fermentation and enzymatic processes. “If you leave a jar of pickles that  is still fermenting at room temperature on the kitchen counter, they will  continue to ferment and produce CO2, possibly blowing off the lid or exploding  the jar,” explains Richard Henschel of Pickle Packers International, which  is why, of course, all “shelf-stable” pickles are pasteurized.

It’s  probably not surprising that our culture has traded many of the benefits of  these healthy foods for the convenience of mass-produced pickles and other  cultured foods. Some olives, such as most canned California-style black olives,  for instance, are not generally fermented, but are simply treated with lye to  remove the bitterness, packed in salt and canned. Olive producers can now hold  olives in salt-free brines by using an acidic solution of lactic acid, acetic  acid, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate, a long way off from the old time  natural lactic-acid fermenting method of salt alone.

Some  pickles are simply packed in salt, vinegar and pasteurized. Many yogurts are so  laden with sugar that they are little more than puddings. Unfortunately, these  modern techniques effectively kill off all the lactic acid producing bacteria  and short-circuit their important and traditional contribution to intestinal  and overall health.

How  to Make Sure You are Getting the Incredible Health Benefits of Lacto-Fermented  Foods

As  fermented foods expert Sally Fallon asks in Nourishing Traditions, with the  proliferation of all these new mysterious viruses, intestinal parasites and  chronic health problems, despite ubiquitous sanitation, “Could it be that  by abandoning the ancient practice of lacto-fermentation, and insisting on a  diet in which everything has been pasteurized, we have compromised the health  of our intestinal flora and made ourselves vulnerable to legions of pathogenic  microorganisims?” Like the $2.97 gallon jars of dill pickles Vlasic sells  at a loss at Walmart, are we undermining our health and even economic  well-being by our insistence on “more, faster and cheaper?”

You  can still find some healthy traditional varieties. The stronger-flavored,  traditional Greek olives you are most likely to find on olive bars are not  lye-treated and are still alive with active cultures. So are  “overnights,” the locally-crocked fresh pickling cukes made in local  delis every few days, as well as the pickles, sauerkraut and other fermented  foods you make yourself at home. Generally, the more tangy and stronger the  flavor (not counting any added jalapeño or other hot pepper flavorings), the  more likely that the food will still have active and beneficial lactobacteria.

So how  can you be sure if you are getting the benefits of these active, fermentation  cultures? For one thing, you can make your own. Olives, sauerkraut, miso,  crèmefraîche — these are some of the recipes and ingredients I created to be  right in line with Dr. Mercola’s dietary program that you will find in his  book, “Dr. Mercola’s Total Health Program.”

In  addition to being good for individual metabolic  types, reducing carbohydrates and cholesterol, strengthening digestion and  immune systems, and even proactively helping us fight off and prevent disease,  these foods are a lot simpler, easier to prepare and enjoy than you might  think.

So in  “Dr. Mercola’s TOTAL HEALTH Program,” we’ve demystified the process  for you, providing an entire chapter, in fact, devoted to simple,  health-enhancing “Raw, Sprouted and Fermented Foods.” This means  double dividends for you: foods that taste good and are actually incredibly  good for you, as well.

Check  out “Dr.  Mercola’s TOTAL HEALTH Program,” including the Table of Contents and List of  Recipes, as it is a sure way to make your New Year a happy and healthy one.  Dr. Mercola guarantees the book or your money back for the rest of your life  for a reason — it WILL improve your health while pleasing your taste buds.  Now, please pass that relish tray!

By Dr. Mercola

The preceding article on the very important topic of  the benefits of traditionally fermented foods is by Nancy Lee Bentley.  The more I study health, the more I have come  to appreciate how crucially important the bacteria in your gut are. The website  Green Med Info has assembled an amazing list of more than 200 studies, which together explore  more than 170 diseases which can be helped or treated with probiotics. The  conditions include:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Atopic dermatitis
  • Diarrhea
  • Allergic rhinitis
  • And even the common cold!

Eating sugar nourishes pathogenic bacteria, yeast  and fungi in your gut.  One of the major results of eating a healthy diet,  low in sugar, is that you cause your beneficial gut bacteria to flourish, and they  secondarily perform the real “magic” of restoring your health. You  may have noticed that probiotics are now featured in articles about all sorts  of health problems, including obesity, diabetes, depression and heart  disease.

As  explained by Russian neurologist Dr.  Natasha Campbell-McBride, a woman’s gut flora can also influence the health  of her child. If your child’s gut flora is compromised from birth, he may have  an increased risk for adverse vaccine reactions.

Fortunately,  you can easily screen for this imbalance, and if it is found, all immunizations  should be avoided until it is corrected with strategies that are  comprehensively described in Dr. McBride’s book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome. This bookshould be, in my opinion, required  reading for ALL parents and parents-to-be. The simple and inexpensive screening  she suggests could prevent a lifetime of suffering for you and your child. All  in all, the research into probiotics indicates that probiotic supplementation is probably more important than taking a multi-vitamin; in  fact, its true importance for your health is likely right up there with vitamin  D.

Fermented foods are the most potent source of beneficial  bacteria, and these probiotics are some of the best chelators available,  capable of drawing out a wide range of toxins and heavy metals. According to  Dr. McBride, the GAPS Nutritional Protocol restores your own detoxification  system in about 90 percent of people, and the fermented/cultured foods are  instrumental in this self-healing process. Making your own fermented vegetables  is inexpensive and less complicated than you might think.

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