When I was first diagnozed with autoimmune disease called Hashimoto more than 10 years ago, I researched a lot and came to conclusion that all autoimmune disorders live in our intestinal tract (gut). It means that there are more pathogenic bacteria in the gut then there are beneficial bacteria. Re-balancing the gut bacteria will lead to reduced inflamation and therefore help to manage autoimmune conditions. Re-balancing can be done through diet (fermented foods), probiotics, and digestive enzymes.
I am going to talk about the diet aspect of re-balancing gut bacteria, specifically fermented foods. For thousands of years, people around the world have consumed fermented foods. The process of fermenting foods not only preserves them, but improves their flavor and enhances their digestibility and nutrient status. One of the most important functions of the fermentation process is that it produces beneficial bacteria. A healthy balance of gut flora is critical for immune health, nutrient absorption, weight control, detoxification, and more. Beneficial bacteria are affected by processed foods, sugar intake, antibiotics, acid-reducing medications, toxins, and chronic stress.
Fermentation is the process where beneficial bacteria such as lactobacilli and yeasts break down foods sugars, starches, and proteins into lactic acid, carbon dioxide, and enzymes, which produce more beneficial bacteria. The lactic acid produces an environment that inhibits pathogenic and opportunistic bacteria. Proper fermentation must be done with salt, NOT vinegar. Salt is antimicrobial in nature, and will inhibit the growth of putrefying bacteria while the lactic acid preserves the vegetables. Also, salt aids in the proper activation of enzymes. The salt should preferably be non-iodized and unprocessed as this contains minerals that help the lactobacilli grow.
A lot of fermented foods use a starter to immediately establish a presence of beneficial bacteria and shortens the fermentation time. Something to be mindful of is the whey starters if a person has a dairy sensitivity or allergy.
Some examples of fermented foods are:
– kombucha (also known as fermented tea)
The major benefits of fermented foods are:
– Enzymes produced aid in the digestion of foods eaten in the same meal;
– The beneficial bacteria aid in detoxification, improve the immune system, and reduce growth of harmful yeasts, bacteria, and parasites;
– Easy to digest due to fibers, starches, and proteins being pre-digested;
– Lower the glycemic load as the natural sugars have already been metabolized;
– Produces vitamin C and folic acid;
– Aid in absorption of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, and copper by reducing phytates and oxalates (found in grains, nuts, and veggies);
– They are acidic, which can aid in the digestive process further by lowering the pH of the contents of the stomach;
Fermented foods should be consumed daily. Start with a small amount and gradually increase the amount. It is more beneficial to eat small amounts (2-3 tablespoons) at least 1 time per day than in large amounts less frequently. They should be consumed cold (no heating) to preserve their enzymes and probiotics.
My favourite fermented foods are:
– Kombucha tea (Learn How to get started)
– Sauerkraut (remember not to use vinegar). Check this Simple saurkraut recipe.
– Yogurt and kefir. Starter kits are sold at some grocery stores. Look for them in the fridge are in the healthy foods isle.
Please feel free to share your favorite fermented food recipe in the comments below.