I love fermented products: yogurt for breakfast, vinegar on lunch (or dinner) foods, kimchi as a snack with my hard-boiled eggs, and a kombucha is delicious any time of day or evening. These foods provide a refreshing break from the savory umami flavors, and are certainly more healthful than sweets. The benefits derived from probiotics abound, plus the selection of fermented delights in the stores has never been more plentiful.
Fermented foods are probiotics, live microorganisms that have been shown to have a beneficial effect on the host when administered in adequate amounts (World Health Organization definition; Gut Balance Revolution, Gerard E. Mullin. M.D., p.90). Numerous studies have shown that there are wide-ranging health benefits to regulating the gut microbiome using probiotics. Different species and strains of these favorable microorganisms can be found in various food products, and diversity of bacteria in your gut is good thing. (Gut Balance Revolution, p.47).
Kimchi comes in close to 200 styles, but the most popular variation (Baechu) of this traditional Korean spicy fermented vegetable side dish is made with Napa cabbage, radish, green onions, Korean red peppers, garlic, ginger and salt. Typically made with raw vegetables, it is high in Vitamin C, B-complex vitamins, minerals and capsaicin (an anti-inflammatory found in peppers). It is low in calories–the average per person consumption of kimchi in Korea is 40 pounds annually. My favorite brand is Firefly made in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. It is naturally fermented without heat, vinegar, or sugar. They actually make theirs with green cabbage rather than Napa, and contains no fish sauce so it’s vegetarian. Iggy’s, made on Bainbridge Island, Washington is also delicious and their Turmeric Kraut makes a perfect pairing with any cauliflower dish.
Kombucha is a fermented green or black tea that is somewhat effervescent and is created using using a SCOBY (a “symbiotic colony of bacteria or yeast”). I buy the GT brands pictured above for their lightness and low carbohydrate content (a small amount of fruit or some form of natural sugar is initially required in the fermentation process). I like having a Lavender Love as a refreshing afternoon beverage and an alternative to sipping on tea or coffee late in the day. The Multi-Green variety contains algae, spirulina, and chlorella and is a bit like having a light, tart green snack in a bottle. Friends I know who are trying to cut back on alcohol often order a gingery or fruit-fermented kombucha while they are out instead of wine or take it with them when dining at friends’ houses.
WHAT PROBIOTICS CAN DO FOR YOU
Dr. Mullin (Professor of Medicine at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Director of Integrative Nutrition at Johns Hopkins Hospital) references health effects that include: supporting immune health, improving blood lipids patterns, and reducing risk for allergies (Gut Balance Revolution, p.91). The gut microflora also play a role in metabolic function–“the amount of energy you harvest from the foods you eat is largely determined by the bugs you have in your gut ” (Gut Balance Revolution, p. 32).
PRO-BIOTICS NEED A BASE LAYER OF PRE-BIOTICS
In order for these fermented foods to have a beneficial effect there must be plenty of healthy PREbiotic fiber in your system so that the microorganisms can thrive and have nourishment. All prebiotics are fiber but not all fiber is prebiotic. Prebiotics are fiber that resist absorption in the upper GI tract and can be fermented by intestinal microflora which can stimulate the growth of intestinal bacteria that are associated with health and well being.
Some of the very best prebiotics for the microbes are: cruciferous veggies and asparagus. There are many others (like leeks and garlic) and you don’t have to eat that much of them. For example, even a small to medium cooked onion (4 oz) is a sufficient daily prebiotic quantity.