Fermented Foods: Important to Gut Health

Our gut is home to around 38 trillion microbes, collectively known as our microbiome.1 To cope with so many guests; our body developed a mutually beneficial relationship. Science is only beginning to unravel the extent of this mutual influence, but it’s already clear that it’s massive and has a huge impact on our health. The gut microbiota influences many aspects of human physiology including your nervous system and immune system.

Our digestive tract has been called “our second brain” and at the root of the relationship between our mind and our digestive tract is the nervous system. Hormonal, neuronal, and bacterial changes occurring in the bowel is some of the information transmitted from your gut to your brain by the nervous system.2 Neurotransmitters such as serotonin and GABA are produced by gut bacteria in the hundreds, which the brain depends on to regulate your mood. Serotonin is considered to be a mood stabilizer and regulate anxiety. GABA is calming and is believed to lower anxiety and fear.3 We begin to see the significance these neurotransmitters have on our mental state, when our microbiome is less than ideal which can cause anxiety and depression to be heightened.4

A diverse microbiome is also important for a strong immune system. Our microbiome helps maintain a physical border so unwanted microbes can’t enter our blood stream. Our microbiome is also crucial in release of immune cells to fight unwanted microbes.5 Studies have shown that a strong microbiome lessens the extent of cold and flus, and taken preventatively leads to fewer antibiotic prescriptions.6

Our microbiome has changed overtime, but not in a good way, as a society we avoid fermented foods as they tend to be an acquired taste. We also eat very little fibre which is an essential feeding source for the microbiome. We need to be constantly replenishing out microbiome with a variety of fermented foods.7

Fermented foods are preserved using an age-old process that not only boosts the food’s shelf life and nutritional value.8 Foods that give your body good bacteria are those fermented using natural processes and contain live probiotics. Live cultures are found in not only yogurt and a yogurt-like drink called kefir, but also in miso, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, sourdough bread and in some pickles. The jars of pickles you can buy off the shelf at the supermarket are sometimes pickled using vinegar and not the natural fermentation process using live organisms, which means they don’t contain probiotics. To ensure the fermented foods you choose do contain probiotics, look for the words “naturally fermented”.

1. R. Sender, S. Fuchs, R. Milo, PLoS Biol. 14 (2016) e1002533.

2. Evrensel, Alper, and Mehmet Emin Ceylan. “The Gut-Brain Axis: The Missing Link in Depression.” Clinical psychopharmacology and neuroscience: the official scientific journal of the Korean College of Neuropsychopharmacology vol. 13,3 (2015): 239-44. doi:10.9758/cpn.2015.13.3.239.

3. http://blog.restore4life.com/mental-health-microbiome/, November 25th, 2019.

4. Link, Rachael. “What Is GABA? The Brain-Boosting, Anxiety-Busting Power of GABA Supplement.” Dr. Axe, 14 Nov. 2017, draxe.com/gaba/.

6. https://neurohacker.com/how-the-gut-microbiota-influences-our-immune-system

5.7.https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/fermented-foods-can-add-depth-to-your-diet, November 12, 2019.

8. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/fermented-foods-for-better-gut-health-2018051613841

I remind my patients that fermented foods are meant to be eaten as condiments, 1-2 tablespoons at a time.  Add to your salad, alongside your meal or anyway you think you will enjoy them.  The more variety of fermented and foods, and fibre, the more diverse your microbiome will be.

Spicy pickled vegetables 9

These spicy pickles are reminiscent of the Mediterranean and Latin American culinary technique known as escabeche. This recipe leaves out the sugar. Traditionally, the larger vegetables would be lightly cooked before pickling, but we prefer to use a quick fermentation method and leave the vegetables a bit crisp instead.

  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 1 to 1-1/4 tablespoons sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 jalapeño or a few small hot chiles (or to taste), sliced
  • 1 large carrot cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds or diagonal slices
  • 1 to 2 cups chopped cauliflower or small cauliflower florets
  • 3 small stalks celery (use only small inner stalks from the heart), cut into 1-inch-long sticks
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cabbage leaf, rinsed

Warm the water (no need to boil). Stir in the sea salt until it dissolves completely. Set aside to cool (use this time to cut the vegetables). Add the vinegar just before using. The brine can be made ahead of time and stored in a sealed glass jar on the counter to use when ready to pickle.

Set a quart-size canning jar in the sink and fill it with boiling water to sterilize. Empty the jar and tightly pack the vegetables and bay leaf inside (stamp the vegetables with a wooden spoon to pack down) to within 1 to 2 inches from the top of the jar. Pour the brine over the vegetables to fill the jar to within 1 inch from the top. Wedge the cabbage leaf over the top of the vegetables and tuck it around the edges to hold the vegetables beneath the liquid.

Set jar on the counter and cover with a fermentation lid. (Alternatively, use a standard lid and loosen it a bit each day for the first few days, then every other day, to allow gasses to escape.) Let pickle for three to five days, depending on the indoor temperature. Check the taste after a couple of days, using clean utensils. Vegetables will pickle faster in warmer climates.  Move your jar to different parts of the house to pick up a variety of natural microbes, this will the good bacteria in your veggies more diverse. Make sure the vegetables stay packed beneath the level of the liquid and add salted water (2 teaspoons sea salt dissolved in 1 cup warm filtered water) as needed.

When the vegetables are pickled to your liking, seal the jar with a regular lid and refrigerate. Vegetables will continue to ferment in the refrigerator. They will keep for about one month. Taste for saltiness before serving and, if desired, rinse gently to remove excess salt.

Calories: 1 (per 1 tablespoon); Carbohydrate: 0 g; Protein: 0 g

9. from Always Delicious, by David S. Ludwig, M.D., Ph.D., and Dawn Ludwig (Grand Central Life & Style, 2018).

If you would like to discuss these tips further or explore other opportunities for overall health, give us a call:  604-888-8325.

Dr. Karen McGee ND

Integrated Health Clinic

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