In this age of pharmaceuticals, vitamins, and other supplements, the relative simplicity of healing food is often overlooked. Fermented raw foods have a long history of consumption as a staple all over the world and can still form the foundation of a healthy diet and nutrition. Fermentation is a natural and time-honoured method of food preservation that not only retains the goodness of organic whole foods, but actually enhances their healthy qualities. In addition to being used as part of a healthy meal, some fermented foods should be highly regarded as dietary supplements because they have such incredible healing properties. And you may go one step farther by choosing "certified organic" fermented foods to be guaranteed their highest quality with the least negative environmental impact.
Here are some of these amazing fermented foods.
Unpasteurized Sauerkraut - Natural Probiotics:
Unpasteurized sauerkraut is a truly extraordinary raw food. It is loaded with naturally occurring beneficial bacteria, digestive enzymes, lactic acid, sulphur and easily digested vitamins and minerals.
Traditionally, sauerkraut is made with only two ingredients - Cabbage and salt. Spices may be added, too. However, pasteurization, vinegar, water and preservatives are short cuts to making good sauerkraut and are telltale signs of poor quality 'kraut. Pasteurization stabilizes sauerkraut making it much easier to distribute and retail because it doesn't require refrigeration and has an indefinite shelf life. Unfortunately for the consumer, the high heat of pasteurization ruins the taste and destroys many of the valuable health benefits. In pasteurized sauerkraut there is no viable enzymes and no beneficial bacteria.
In the making of sauerkraut, various strains of good bacteria eat the cabbage creating lactic acid. Lactic acid is why real sauerkraut is sour - it is not from vinegar. It is lactic acid that keeps unpasteurized sauerkraut fresh for over one year provided it is kept refrigerated. Lactic acid does the same in a jar of sauerkraut as it does in your large intestine - it keeps the bad yeast and parasites away while providing a comfortably acidic environment for healthy bacteria or probiotics such as lactobacillus acidophilus.
Most sauerkraut on the market is pasteurized - If it doesn't say unpasteurized, it's not the real thing. Ask for unpasteurized sauerkraut in the refrigerated section of your health food store. It is not common yet but it is growing in popularity. You can also try making it at home.
When beginning to eat unpasteurized sauerkraut, start with small amounts to allow your system to adjust to it. It can be very cleansing. The key to using unpasteurized sauerkraut for digestive system healing is to take small amounts on a regular basis. Eat it with meals to get the benefits of the digestive enzymes. These are similar to the enzymes produced by your pancreas and help to break down food in the stomach and small intestine. Start with a forkful or two depending on the strength of your digestion. At maximum, consume 5 to 6 forkfuls at a time eaten during 2-3 meals per day.
Kefir is a cultured milk product with amazing health attributes. Its tart flavour and natural manufacturing process are similar to yoghurt. Some describe Kefir as "yoghurt x 10!", referring to the amount of beneficial bacteria and effectiveness for helping digestive problems.
It is possible to make your own Kefir at home by purchasing a Kefir "starter" at your local health food store. Certified organic Kefir is also commercially available - Ask in the dairy department at your local store. When choosing any dairy products, look for its "Certified Organic dairy products" status. This means a third party certifier has conducted strict audits on organic production procedures right back to the cow! Certified organic dairy products assures no antibiotics or growth hormones, organic feed, ethical treatment of the cows, and steps taken to minimize negative environmental impact.
Kefir contains beneficial yeasts in addition to friendly bacteria. The naturally occurring bacteria and yeast in kefir work synergistically to provide health benefits that are superior to yoghurt. As it is pre-digested by the good bacteria and yeast, it is full of readily available vitamins, minerals, and easily digestible complete proteins. Kefir has also been proven to contain natural antibiotic properties.
Another benefit of Kefir is that it contains "Lactase." This is an enzyme that breaks down most of the Lactose in the milk through the fermentation process. This makes Kefir easily digested by those with minor to medium degrees of Lactose intolerance. (Start with small amounts and gradually increase.) Similar to unpasteurized sauerkraut, it is best to consume small amounts regularly. Work up to about 125ml or ½ a cup as an optimum serving.
Tempeh is a traditional Indonesian fermented soy cake. Tempeh is made by culturing (or inoculating) soybeans with the Rhizopus Oligosporous bacterium. The process takes approximately 18 to 24 hours. Tempeh has a chewy texture and distinctive flavour. It can be used as a meat substitute in recipes. It is not unusual to find black discolouration on the surface of tempeh - This part is perfectly healthy and does not need to be cut off.
Tempeh is different from unpasteurized sauerkraut and kefir in that it must be cooked prior to eating. It is considered healthier than Tofu for a variety of reasons:
- Tempeh is made from the whole soybean, where as tofu is made by discarding the "whey" of the soy. Tofu is not a "whole food."
- The Rhizopus Oligosporous bacterium pre-digests the soybeans making it MUCH easier digest than tofu. This pre-digestion makes all of those beneficial qualities of soy such as isoflavones much more accessible for the body to absorb.
- Soybeans contain natural enzyme-inhibitors that interfere with the digestion of protein. In most modern tofu making, the beans are not soaked before cooking and the beans are pressure cooked versus cooked in open kettles. Both of these short cuts to making tofu don't allow for enzyme-inhibitors to be removed. The culturing process of Tempeh removes these enzyme inhibitors, making the protein even more digestible.
Tempeh is not easily produced at home but it is readily available at most health food stores and some major grocery retailers. It can be uncooked and frozen or pre-cooked and refrigerated. Fortunately all tempeh commercially marketed in Canada now is certified organic. This is ideal because if soy is not certified organic, it likely contains genetically modified organisms (GMO's.) For example, Monsanto's "Roundup Ready" soybeans have been genetically modified so that they tolerate high amounts of the toxic herbicide "Roundup" that normally kills non-GMO soy and most other plant life.
Incorporating traditional fermented and organic foods into your diet can, over time, bring balance to an unhealthy digestive system. They are also a simple preventative health measure. To be healthy, look to the diets of our ancestors. By making careful food choices from the best possible sources we empower ourselves - we feel better, look better and think better.
By Joe Karthein
Joe Karthein has been studying nutritional healing and organics since 1996.