The Standard American Diet, also known as S.A.D., is fraught with dietary hazards. Americans love their meat and potatoes, white bread, simple carb snacks and soda. In moderation, some of those choices aren't a bad thing, but moderation is the key word... Unfortunately, much of the American diet is made up of these foods. Drive-thru hamburger or chicken sandwich dinners with fries and a soft drink are standard fare, (as evidenced by the number of florishing fast food restaurants), and a frightening amount of chicken fingers, hamburger, pizza and hot dogs are fed to American children. Even meals consumed at home are often made up primarily of processed foods, high in salt, simple carbs, sugar and fats but short on nutrients, enzymes and roughage.
Eating the S.A.D is a recipe for health suicide. High cholesterol, high blood pressure, a suppressed immune systems, digestive issues, kidney and gall bladder problems, metabolism issues and obesity, are common ailments that are directly related to the poor American diet. We are one of the best fed nations in the world and we are literally slowly starving to death. Processed foods like white bread, sugar, soda and fried foods, are comprised of mostly simple carbs or fat, with little nutritional value, little or no roughage and far more calories than are reasonable to consume for the nutrition they provide. But worse than that is what actually happens in the gut (digestive system), when food that contain white flour,(which is mostly simple carbs and water insoluble gluten), highly processed foods and fats are consumed on a regular basis. The villi in the intestine become coated with the cloying, paste-like combination of water insoluable gluten and fat, impeding the absorption of vital nutrients. Over time this coating builds up on the walls of the intestines, acting as a tooth for other intestinal debris to cling to, so less and less nutrition can be absorbed, putrification ensues and toxins build up in the intestines causing inflammation. The lack of nutrient absorption causes the body to go into "starvation mode". In starvation mode the brain tells the body it is hungry, so the person eats, but due to the goop in the gut, little nutrition makes it to the blood stream, and the signal that the body needs food continues to be sent out. The person eats more but the body is still starving... This toxic, inflamed, starved environment is the root cause of gastrointestinal disease, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, kidney disease, cancer, and a host of auto immune disorders that are running rampant among the U.S population, and not only in adults, but in children as well.
So what does any of this have to do with fermented foods? Well, the conversation is actually much larger than just the need for consuming naturally fermented foods. The conversation really needs to be about tossing the S.A.D and replacing it with a diet rich in fresh, living foods,complex carbohydrates and and clean proteins, as well as detoxing and cleansing the body, but fermented foods is a good place to start. The root of all illness is inflammation and the gastrointestinal tract, or the gut, is critical to overall health. In order to reverse the life threatening effects of the S.A.D., beneficial bacteria must be introduced to the digestive tract. Naturally fermented foods are full of life. They are teeming with vital beneficial flora to help with digestion and gut health. These bacteria promote health by stimulating the immune system, improving the digestion and absorption of nutrients, and inhibiting the growth of pathogens in the digestive tract, thus reducing disease causing inflammation. They create a hospitable environment for the healing and restoration of the body's natural balance to begin.
While naturally fermented, unpasturized foods will by themselves not undo the all damage done by the S.A.D., it is a good place to start. There are many forms of fermented foods, raw
fermented sauerkraut, raw fermented vegetables, unpasteurized miso, and home made yogurt to name a few. Most store purchased versions of fermented foods are likely to be pasteurized which destroys the living bacteria thus defeating the purpose. If you want to make use of probiotic bacteria to improve your gastrointestinal health, you will probably need to make your own probiotic foods.
Why do I need to make my own fermented foods? Can't I just take a probiotic tablet and be done with it? Well...some is better than none. Probiotic capsules can help, but they are not able to stand up to the strength and strains of the real deal. While the numbers of bacteria in a probiotic capsule may sound dizzying, 50 billion+ living bacteria, it pales in comparison to the 10 Trillion bacteria in a serving of fermented sauerkraut. 1*Two oz.s of home fermented sauerkraut has more probiotics than a bottle of 100 count probiotic capsules. Translated this means 16 ounce of sauerkraut is equal to 8 bottles of probiotics." It is not only the number of bacteria that counts though, it is also the kinds of bacteria that is important. Naturally fermented foods have as many as 28 different strains of beneficial bacteria, (numbering in the trillions per serving), depending on the kind of vegetable and the environment it was fermented in. A medium grade probiotic cap will contain 5 strains of bacteria, while the top of the 2*line brands may contain 10 strains. Commercially produced yogurts are cultured with two strains of lacto bacilli.
As with most things discussed on the internet, there are all kinds of numbers being bandied around and all kinds of discussions and debates on the web about the best way to introduce beneficial bacteria into the diet. I am not really interested in the arguments that float around the internet. I have tried to present substantiated info in what I write where it is possible, but what I live by and try to promote is to K.I.S.S, keep it simply sustainable. Creating your own fresh, wholesome fermented foods is both simple and sustainable. As long as you have fresh veggies, salt and a clean container you can ferment your own foods. As a bonus, fermented foods not only help populate your gut with a variety of beneficial bacteria to aid in gastrointestinal health, they will nourish your body with the nutrients, enzymes and fiber that are available in the vegetables themselves. You can't get nourishment or fiber from a probiotic capsule.
There is also the budgetary impact to consider, raw fermented foods are prohibitively expensive to buy in the store, if you can find them at all. Foods fermented at home cost no more than buying the ingredients for a side dish to a meal. The prep time for fermented foods are short, and once they have been through the fermentation process, will last for weeks (or months), in the fridge. At our home I keep a number of jars of fermented foods in the works, since we consume them daily and nothing is left in the fridge for long!
If you are troubled by I.B.S., acid reflux, gas, bloating, diarrhea, obesity, metabolism issues, or any of a long list of auto immune disorders, like M.S., Lupus, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Crohn's, Fibromyalgia, Type 1 Diabetes and more, creating a healthy environment where beneficial bacteria can colonize is a good first step in restoring the body's natural balance and healing. If you are blessed with good health and have no physical issues, now is a good time to get ahead of the curve and establish the habit of eating fermented foods before you do have a problem.
If you are interested in learning how to make your own fermented sauerkraut, here are a couple of links to tutorials I have written on this blog. Making Raw Sauerkraut and Red Cabbage Sauerkraut (scroll down some on the post to find the recipe). And here is my newest recipe, Oi-Sobagi, also known as cucumber kimchee.
I will be writing a post a week for several weeks on The Road to Health. Moving away from the Standard American Diet, and beginning the journey to a diet designed to promote health. Please feel free to ask questions and comments are always welcome! Hope to see you again soon!
1*A quote from Dr. Mercola, an osteopathic physician and best selling author of books on health.