Recently, the subject of fermented foods has been of great interest to me. Other than wine, beer and saurkraut I had little experience with fermented foods and their benefits to the immune system. In the last month I started brewing kombucha. Many moons ago I saw a TedTalk about a woman who used the cellulose produced in the brewing of kombucha to make clothes and that this may in the future be a viable option for making certain types of textiles. That’s cool, but not why I find kombucha, milk kefir, water kefir, ginger beer plant and other fermented concoctions so interesting.
The reason I want to learn more and in turn eat more of them is their probiotic colonies. Foods like yogurt, kimchi, saurkraut, fermented pickles and the beverages I mentioned before are teaming with beneficial bacteria. We’ve been taught to wash our hands before eating because we don’t want to eat bacteria. Well, this isn’t the same thing.
Just like there is good yeast and bad yeast (mold) there is good bacteria and bad bacteria. The bacteria we pick up from shopping carts, door handles and computer keyboards is not the same as the good bacteria we consume when we eat fermented foods. The good bacteria actually colonize our gut and help us to digest our foods, maintain proper pH and fight off the foreign bad bacterias we come in contact with each day.
This year has not been a good year for my gut. A cleanse gone wrong in June led to a flu in July and another one in August and September that attacked my whole family. My husband and I were hit the worst. In part I believe this is because our diet is devoid of enough probiotics. He is lactose intolerant to the point that he can’t even eat yogurt anymore. I’ve been having a hard time since the cleanse-from-hell. So I’ve been researching non-dairy and whole food ways to recolonize the intestinal flora that we have lost in the last six months.
Lucky for us we found kombucha at a local Earth Fare store and bought a few bottles. It was such a hit at home that we started buying it on a regular basis until it was no longer feasible to continue to do this on a regular basis. Then in my reading, searching the internet and scoping out Instagram and Pinterest I came across the “holy grail” – instructions on how to make your own kombucha! Thanks to Humm Kombucha of Bend Oregon for sending me a SCOBY to start my brewing! Their brew isn’t available in the Midwest. More on that later.
Your Immune System
When you think of your immune system you may think of white blood cells creating antibodies and fighting off bacterial and viral bad guys. While this is true this is only a small part of a very big and complex picture. Eighty percent (yes, 80%) of our immune system resides in our intestinal tract. When you think about it that makes total sense. All our food and drink go there first. If there is an invader in the mix our intestinal tract is our first-responder to protect the rest of your body.
What many people did not understand until recent years is that little seemingly vestigial organ – the appendix – was actually a haven or nursery for beneficial bacteria. When we have a balanced diet we provide the proper environment for those beneficial organisms to flourish, aid in our digestion and fight off unwelcome visitors. If our diet is not balanced we suffer. We experience extreme gas, acid reflux, constipation, diarrhea, malnutrition and any number of other afflictions from poor diet and limited or weak intestinal flora. Like with anything moderation is key – you CAN get too much of a good thing!
If you are looking for more ways to include fermented foods into your diet check out this post from Eat Local Grown. It lists links to 85 fermented food recipes you can make at home with little more than glass canning jars and the proper ingredients. In addition to kombucha I’ve been making milk kefir for the last four days and just received some water kefir grains yesterday so I’ll be embarking on another experiment today!
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. This article is for informational purposes only, and is educational in nature. Statements made here have not been evaluated by the FDA. This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Please discuss with your own, qualified health care provider before adding in supplements or making any changes in your diet.