Gut health is a big deal these days and for good reason. As a natural health practitioner and herbalist I know that one of the key factors to obtaining overall wellness is a healthy and well functioning digestive system. Simply speaking, if your digestion (this includes your own gut flora) is not working well you can’t absorb anything properly – food or supplements. Unfortunately the traditional North American lifestyle of processed, modified, hybridized and convenience foods, abundant stress, lack of sleep and too much caffeine and sugar does not lend itself to a healthy balance of gut flora/bacteria.
Many traditional cultures have some form of fermented food they serve with their meals. In Korea it’s kimchi, in Japan they serve miso and in Germany (and many other European countries) it’s sauerkraut. The logic behind this is quite simple; these fermented dishes helped you to digest your meal more easily. When consumed over long periods of time fermented foods can help to balance, support and heal your digestive system.
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What Does Fermented Mean?
Foods that have been fermented have been through a process known as lactofermentation. During this process natural occurring bacteria feed on the sugar and starches in foods creating lactic acid. This process also preserves the food, creates probiotics (multiple strains), beneficial enzymes, B vitamins and Omega-3 fatty acids.
To some folks this may sound kind of gross. Why in the world would I want to consume bacteria? Isn’t bacteria bad for me? This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact the human body is home to over 1,000 different species of bacteria on any given day. These bacteria are healthy and have a very important roles in the body ranging from digestion to immunity.
Unfortunately things like high sugar intake, stress, processed and rancid foods, antibiotic use, over the counter medications and chlorinated water (just to name a few) drastically disturb the balance of healthy bacteria in the body. When the levels of healthy bacteria drop you become more susceptible to illnesses (acute and chronic) and your digestion and other bodily functions become impaired.
Benefits of Fermented Foods
- digestive disorders (including leaky gut, IBS etc)
- hormonal imbalances
- brain disorders and mental illness
- food allergies and sensitives
- autoimmune conditions
- obesity and weight gain
Regular consumption of fermented foods results in improved immune function, more efficient digestion and absorption of nutrients, reduction of inflammation in the body (which we are now discovering is the root of almost all illness), improved ability to handle stress and reduce incidences of depression and other mood disorders and aiding in the body’s natural detoxification process.
Store Bought Sauerkraut
I know you’ve all seen the pretty jars of Bick’s Sauerkraut in the grocery store. I wish I could tell you that this is the same thing I’m talking about here today, but alas, it is not. It has been through the pasteurization process which effectively kills all of the lovely probiotics created in the fermentation process. As a general rule of thumb; if the sauerkraut is on the shelf (as opposed to a fridge) it’s been pasteurized.
But all is not lost. In fact, making your own sauerkraut is really, really easy. Like really easy.
Did I mention it was easy?
In addition to being easy (I think I said that already), it’s also more cost effective than buying sauerkraut on a regular basis.
How Much Should I Consume?
If you are a new to consuming fermented foods I would start slowly. Even 1 TBSP daily of fermented sauerkraut will results in improvements and benefits. As your body gets used to this new type of food you can increase those amounts easily. Start with 1 forkful (about at TBSP) daily and increase gradually to 2 TBSP. Once you are at 2 forkfuls you can then start to consume it at those amounts with each meal.
If sauerkraut is the only fermented food you plan on eating then I would try to consume it with (or before) each meal. Because I also consume kombucha, milk kefir and water kefir on a regular basis I find I don’t need sauerkraut with every meal. As a general rule of thumb I tend to consume 1/4 cup of fermented sauerkraut with dinner each day. If I’m eating something that I know my body struggles with a bit (like beef or gluten) I will increase that amount to 1/3 or 1/2 a cup.
Making Sauerkraut at Home
You really don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to make sauerkraut. That being said I LOVE my Pickle Pipes. As a note I am not being paid by the company to endorse their product. I just like to spread the word about cool stuff that makes my life easier and Pickle Pipes fall into that category. They make them for both wide mouth mason jars and for regular mason jars. I highly recommend getting the whole set which includes the Pickle Pipes, Pebbles and the Pickle Packer.
- Good knife (or food processor)
- Muddler, Pickle Packer etc.
- I’ve used the pestle (from my mortar and pestle) before as well
- Mason Jar
- Pickle Pipe (optional)
- Pickle Pebble (optional)
I hope you enjoy your sauerkraut making process. Eat ALL the ferments my friends!
P.S. Pin for future use 😉