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Fermented Foods

Are you plagued by gas, bloating, irritable bowel syndrome type symptoms, heartburn, acne, allergies, asthma, constipation, brain fog, depression, and/or every other ailment on the planet??? Just kidding, but seriously, the one area of our health that can affect virtually every other system in our body (including our brain) is our DIGESTIVE HEALTH. If we have issues with this vital and intricate system, I guarantee there will be problems somewhere else in the body, some obvious, some subtle. Fermented foods are an easy way to put a stop some of our most common digestive ailments.

So, when I started working for Center for Chiropractic and Wellness I would hear people talk about how great fermented foods were for you, how easily they can be made at home, and how people just don't eat enough of them. My valuable input would be something along the lines of, "oh, yea... that fermented food sure is good for you..." trying to hide the fact that I both had no idea what fermented foods were, but also that whatever they were sounded like the LAST thing I would ever willingly eat. I mean seriously, I can't be the only person for whom the word fermented conjures up visions of smelly, sour, gross curdled milk (and yes I know that beer is fermented but for some reason my brain didn't register that, just fixated on milk gone bad). After reading, researching, and experimenting, it is now my pleasure to introduce you to the wild world of fermented foods, so that maybe if someone around you starts talking about them, you can say with confidence, "oh, I know all about fermented foods" and rock the world with your knowledge!

For starters, traditional cultures have been benefiting from fermented foods and beverages for thousands of years; I'm talking 7000-6500 BCE! There are even Roman texts detailing the medicinal properties of these powerhouse foods. Countries like India, China, Russia, and Bulgaria all have rich traditions in fermenting foods that carry over to modern times.

So what exactly is a fermented food? Typically fermentation is a process that occurs when carbohydrates (think the starches and sugars found in fruits, veggies, dairy products etc.) get used as fuel by bacteria or yeast and get converted into something else. As these microorganisms eat, they proliferate and kill off any harmful bacteria leaving behind a superfood that has more health benefits than you can imagine.

Here are a few of the health benefits to fermented foods:

Now that you know what they can do for you, let's explore some common types that are relatively easy to find in your grocery store.

**Remember DO NOT HEAT any of these as it will kill all of the beneficial bacteria**

We will start with my favorite

1) Kefir- yogurt like drink you can find in any grocery store in the dairy section. It comes in a variety of flavors however the healthiest is just plain (it has less sugar); you can add it to a smoothie, granola, cereal, or just drink it on its own. I try to find full fat Kefir by Lifeway (I have found it at Kroger, Harris teeter, Whole Foods, Earthfare and Trader Joes)

2) Yogurt- Your best bet here is to get a full fat plain yogurt. You can add your own fruit to it. Often times fruit flavored yogurt has way too much sugar which can cancel out the health benefits of this food. Make sure the label mentions active cultures and preferably L. acidophilus.

3) Kombucha - a fizzy fermented drink that you can find a health focused grocery store like Whole Foods, Earthfare, or Trader Joes. (Some of the more traditional grocery stores may have it in their health food section) Try a variety of these, some flavors are amazing while others are admittedly a little terrible.

4) Sauerkraut - tricky thing is that you will need to see on the package that it has live cultures, this may be hard to find outside of a Whole foods or other health focused grocery stores. A good brand is Bubbie's. It will be in the refrigerated section. However you can make your own very easily and very inexpensively.

5) Tempeh - a fermented soy food typically found in patty or cubed. It is has more flavor than tofu and can have a denser texture. You can find it in the refrigerated section of health stores and some well stocked grocery stores. Try it in stir fry or add it to your favorite chilli recipe. The options are endless. (You can cook with this one a little bit but don't let the internal temp get too high as it will kill the beneficial bacteria)

6) Miso - another fermented soy food that has a sweet/salty flavor and can be often found in Japanese dishes. You can find this at most grocery stores in the refrigerated section near veggies.

7) Fermented pickles, carrots, beets, salsa, ketchup, etc. - So many things can be fermented it will make your head spin. Here is a recipe for fermented pickles.

8) Kimchi- This Korean based fermented food comes in tons of varieties. Follow the same rules as sauerkraut when searching for these gems.

9) Lassi- This is a traditional Indian dairy/yogurt based drink that also comes in a variety of flavors. This may be more difficult to find outside of an authentic Indian store, but that is no reason to avoid this drink! Dust off your explorer boots and find your local ethnic store.

*If you have never had fermented foods in your diet before, be sure to start slowly to avoid your body reacting to the bad bacteria being killed off. If this happens you may experience some gas and bloating. Otherwise, after slowly introducing it, eat it to your hearts content*

Making fermented foods a new staple in your diet will have a profound effect on your health and well being. Your gut needs all the help it can get to function at its best. Living with constant bloating, discomfort, and stress after meals is not something you have to do! Take your health into your own hands and feed your body what it needs to be at its best. Fermented foods are a perfect way to do just that. My challenge to you is to pick one thing off this list that you have never tried and give it a whirl. I would love to hear how it goes! HAPPY EATING!!

P.S. If you decide you would love to create more fermented foods at home there is a cookbook called "Fermented" by Jill Ciciarelli. It is fantastic, informative, and a great way to enjoy the art of making your own gut healing food!

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Center for Chiropractic & Wellness   |   8300 Health Park, Suite 133 Raleigh, NC 27615    |    Phone: (919)845-3280    |   Fax: (919)845-3276