Okay, I’m not an “expert” on this, but I find the subject interesting and increasingly in the news. Besides, if the purpose of The Nutrition Debate is to inform the reader, and if along the way the writer learns, that’s good too. In our pursuit of healthy eating and “truth,” we are open to new ideas, and new foods. We hope you are too.
The Wikipedia listing for “fermented foods” has hundreds of pages of every kind of fermented food imaginable from cultures all over the world. American readers will be familiar with some: yoghurt, sauerkraut, salami and other sausages, wine, beer, cheese, sour-dough bread, soy sauce, kefir, natto and kim chi.
The traditional process requires fermentation with salt (in brine); however, today many of the foods mentioned above are made by modern methods that do not involve fermentation. If a listed food is made from pasteurized products, it is not “live.” Pasteurization kills the pro-biotic friendly bacteria that LIVE fermented foods contain. To get the benefits of LIVE fermented foods, you must look for the words “live” or “contains live cultured products.”
So why do we want “pro-biotic friendly bacteria” in our gut? Mark Sisson, of Mark’s Daily Apple and Primal Blueprint (PB) fame, offers a good primer in his “Definitive Guide to Fermented Foods.” Even though his Primal diet (similar to Paleo) excludes Neolithic foods like dairy, grains and soy, he explains that with “proper fermentation,” such foods become tolerable. His list of “tolerable” includes “aged raw-milk cheese” (for the vitamin K-2), real, long-fermented, sour dough bread, and traditionally fermented soy sauce or natto (also for the K-2).
Sisson says that fermentation can render previously inedible or even dangerous foods edible and somewhat nutritious. “The lectins, gluten, and phytates in grains, for example, can be greatly reduced by fermentation,” he says. He’s not advocating these foods; he just wants to explain how fermentation makes these foods “tolerable.”
Dr. Mercola, a high-profile osteopathic physician (DO) and web entrepreneur, tells the story “at-a-glance”:
“The importance of your gut flora and its influence on your health cannot be overstated. It's truly profound. Your gut literally serves as your second brain, and even produces more of the neurotransmitter serotonin—known to have a beneficial influence on your mood—than your brain does. Your gut is also home to countless bacteria, both good and bad. These bacteria outnumber the cells in your body by at least 10 to one, and maintaining the ideal balance of good and bad bacteria forms the foundation for good health—physical, mental and emotional.”
At the moment, kim chi is my favorite live fermented food. I’m lucky that I can buy mine from a local Korean green grocer in a town near my hometown. Curiously, there is none offered in the large farmers’ market that I visit every week in winter, but I found some in the Publix supermarkets that are ubiquitous in Florida. They’re always in the refrigerated case near the fresh vegetables (think horseradish). I haven’t found any “live” sauerkraut though; it is all pasteurized, as I suspect all the yoghurt in the dairy case is too. I wonder if they have any raw milk cheeses.
The regulatory environment is improving in some places, however, thanks to the efforts of organizations like the Weston A. Price Foundation. Raw milk can now be sold in New York and many other states. And the vendor next to my egg/organ meat vendor (who also sells grass-fed, grass finished beef) is hopeful that Florida will soon allow it too. And the organic, free-range chicken vendor is hopeful too. I wonder why there are no live fermented food vendors at the farmers’ market. Maybe veggies are just too inexpensive in Florida, or maybe they take too long to ferment, or maybe they are just so easy to make yourself that everyone is making their own at home! (If you’d like to try it, check out Cultures for Health, a commercial website. My editor says the sour cream is really very good). And she has found live kraut, pickles, and other veggies at Whole Foods and several natural food stores in Florida.
Note: If you’re live fermenting in warm weather, it’s a little tricky, and the food can go past the tasty stage really fast. When you make or buy fermented foods, you need to refrigerate it to slow the fermentation process down so you can eat it while it’s still at its best.