Where ancient art meets modern medicine…
I’ve been experimenting in the kitchen recently with fermented foods. Many of you will have heard of the fantastic health benefits of consuming live cultures in food such as yoghurt, sauerkraut, kefir and kombucha – but let’s recap anyway.
The seat of all health
Hippocrates once said “all disease starts in the gut”. Today we might say – “all chronic disease starts in the gut”. From skin problems to arthritis, migraines to depression – the delicate ecosystem of our gut affects every aspect of our health and wellbeing.
This ‘ecosystem’ is made up of trillions of microorganisms – bacteria, yeasts, viruses and funghi – which are in constant communication with each other and our own cells. Your ‘microbiome’ is specific to you; no-one else has exactly the same make-up.
When in balance, these microbes aid digestion, produce vitamins and other nutrients, detoxify harmful substances, strengthen the lining of the gut, prevent infections and even improve mood.
But our stressful lifestyles, convenience diets and exposure to chemicals in air, food, water, beauty & household products inevitably cause imbalance over time. The natural process of ageing, taking antibiotics and having a Caesarian birth all affect the microbial composition of the gut as well.
This is where fermented foods come in. They contain ‘probiotics’ – live bacteria, yeasts and funghi which, when taking in large enough doses, have a beneficial effect on physiology.
And it’s not just the probiotics – the process of lacto-fermentation, such as in sauerkraut, also boosts the B and C vitamin content of our food, providing those essential nutrients in a highly absorbable form.
Experimenting with fermentation is like going back in time. Long before pasteurisation – the process of heating food until all microorganisms are killed – became a common practice, our ancestors fed and healed their families with these simple methods of food preservation.
The holy trinity
Kefir, kombucha and sauerkraut are considered the holy trinity of fermented foods. Add these to your daily diet, and you’re good to go.
Kefir & kombucha are delicious, fizzy, probiotic drinks you can make with either whole milk, water or green tea – simple recipes for both, as well as starter cultures, can be found online. For more information, or to sample some amazing ready-made kombucha, visit Raw Kombucha Algarve on Facebook.
For the purpose of this article, I will focus on sauerkraut – the easiest, healthiest and most delicious way of using your organic cabbage.
As well as B vitamins and probiotics, sauerkraut is brimming full of antioxidants, flavonoids, minerals, vitamins C, A & K and compounds called glucosinolates, also found in broccoli and watercress, which have been shown to protect against cancer.
Variations on the recipe below include beetroot & red cabbage, white cabbage & carrot, and white cabbage with turmeric, garlic and ginger. Go on, experiment!
1 medium organic cabbage (about 500g)
4 tsp sea salt (not table salt)
1 large sterilised jar
1 smaller sterilised jam jar that fits inside the bigger jar
A large ceramic or glass mixing bowl
- Thinly shred your cabbage and pop into the mixing bowl
- Add salt and let sit for 30 mins.
- Squeeze and massage the cabbage for 5-10mins to get as much liquid out as possible.
- Transfer into the big jar, pressing down with the little jar until all the water is sitting above the cabbage.
- Fill the little jar with water to weigh it down, and cover with muslin cloth, or kitchen roll.
- Keep at room temperature for 4-5 days, checking daily to make sure the liquid is always covering the cabbage.
- As long as it’s fully covered in the brining liquid it’ll keep for months in the fridge. If it looks or smells off, throw it away and start again. Otherwise, dig in!
Recommended dose: 2 tablespoons a day.
Stress, sugar and the gut
All this lovely stuff will only work in combination with two things: less stress and less sugar. Think of stress-reduction practices you can do every day, and substitute sweet snacks for healthy alternatives while you’re experimenting with fermentation.