“Keeping the immune system productively engaged with microbes is another important ecosystem service and one that might turn out to be critical to our health.”-Michael Pollan
Your Gut Flora & Why it is Vital to your Health
A well functioning digestive track is essentially 90% of your immune system! If your digestion isn’t working optimally, then your health could significantly be compromised, This could lead to health issues like infections, leaky gut, poor metabolism, or even cancer.
One of the key factors in maintaining a healthy gut is through taking care of the “healthy bacteria” that keeps everything working in harmony. You have more then 100 trillion microbes living in your body! You need about the size a brick, of healthy bacteria in your digestive track. That is a LOT of good bacteria!
Making the Right Choices
Antibiotics destroy all of the bacteria, both good and bad, in our guts, so steering clear of their unnecessary consumption is crucial in maintaining a healthy balance in our digestive tract. Whenever possible, opt for organic when choosing your meat, dairy, and even apples. Conventional varieties of these foods often contain antibiotics that can cause damage to your digestion and your health over time.
When it comes to healthy bacteria in your gut, even birth control pills and just about any other drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter can upset the balance. These drugs kill off healthy microbes and allow unhealthy bacteria to flourish. So, it is wise to keep all of these to a minimum when ever possible!
Another key factor in maintaining good gut flora is controlling how much sugar we consume, in all forms, not just cane sugar. Many people don’t think of alcohol, white potato, white rice, flour (derived from all grains), dairy (lactose), honey, maple syrup, and even fruit when we talk about sugar, but these culprits feed the bad bacteria and so moderation is always the best rule. The only two sweeteners that do not feed the bad bacteria are stevia and birch sugar, aka xylitol.
Replenishing Your Healthy Bacteria through Lacto-fermentation
There are many ways to replenish gut flora but one of the most obvious is to incorporate healthy bacteria into your diet. Back before we started homogenizing and pasteurizing everything, our ancestors used to preserve their foods through a process called lacto-fermentation. It is essentially a preservation process much like canning, but without killing the live cultures. Heating the food in a typical canning process kills most of the nutrition in the food with extreme heat to facilitate sealing the jars. During lacto-fermentation, the raw food preserves itself, utilizing a sea salt brine. In the case of making yogurt, you would heat the milk and then add a live starter culture after the milk has cooled enough, with a little sugar to help feed the culture, and then incubate it for several hours.
Popular foods that can be made with lacto-fermentation
We’ve all heard how great the live cultures in yogurt are for a healthy, well-functioning digestive tract. Unfortunately, most store bought yogurts aren’t that great for you because of the antibiotics and hormone injections used in producing most dairy products. My best advice in choosing a dairy form of yogurt would be to always choose organic and go with the unsweetened version. You can always add your own fruit to make it sweeter, so that you can control how much sugar is added. Remember that lactose is sugar too.
Pickles, Sauerkraut and other vegetables
Although these tasty treats should be packed with live cultures, most pickles and sauerkraut that you find at the grocery store have been pasteurized in honor of a longer shelf life, and without the need of refrigeration. This means that there isn’t any healthy bacteria left in the product. They use vinegar and salt to create that “pickled” flavor but if you just use a salt water brine and let the vegetables ferment on their own, then you will get the same fermented vinegar taste without the added heat or even the vinegar, leaving you with a delicious pickled treat that still has it’s full nutritional value and is loaded with healthy bacteria that your gut will thank you for!
The best part about lacto-fermented foods is that they require very little effort to make. They are far more nutritious & affordable if you make them yourself and they taste much better too! If I am going to go through the trouble of making them myself, I like to make several batches. They keep for quite a while in the fridge and they all make for great snacks when I’m craving things like sugar. The bonus is that the more you eat of these foods the less likely your body will crave the sugar too!
Recipe of the Month
Lacto-Fermented Dill Pickles
This crunchy snack is healthy, delicious and sure to rival any store-bought brand.
- 1 tablespoon chopped dill
- 2 – 3 cloves garlic, sliced
- 3 oak leaves (freshly picked, this ingredient makes for crunchy pickles but isn’t necessary. I do find that it really makes a huge difference if you like them crunchy!)
- 6-8 pickling cucumbers, slice off the blossom end or both ends (to help keep crispy)
- 1 heaping tablespoon sea salt (Redmond Real Salt is my favorite)
- 2 teaspoons mustard seed
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
- 1/2 cup Bubbies brand lacto-fermented pickle juice (or else a vegetable starter of your choice)
- 1 cup filtered water (regular tap water will NOT work)
Sterilize the following
- 1 quart sized jar w/ lid
- 2 small glass spice bowls (for pre-measured ingredients)
- measuring spoons
- 1 liquid measuring cup
- wooden or stainless steel spoon
- knife (for chopping)
- stainless steal strainer
- wooden cutting board
- Fill a large stock pot with filtered water and bring to a boil. Dip each of your tools that need sterilizing into it and lay out on a clean towel to dry.
- Rinse off your pickling cucumbers and oak leaves and pat dry with a clean towel.
- Measure out and prepare your ingredients and place into 2 small glass bowls.
- In 1 quart sized canning jar, place the oak leaves, chopped dill, sliced garlic into the bottom.
- Chop your cucumbers into slices or quarters, if you prefer. Make sure to cut off the blossom end because this will keep your pickles crisper.
- Add the cucumbers to the jar and pack them in really tight so that they won’t float to the top when you add the brine.
- Next, you will make your brine. I like to use my liquid measuring glass to do this. First add your water, then your starter, then the sea salt, mustard seed and red pepper flakes and stir until salt has fully dissolved.
- Pour your brine over the cucumbers until it reaches about 1/2 inch from the top. You need that space for the off-gases during the fermentation process.
- Close the lid, but not too tightly. Then place in a warm place, like the top of your fridge, and cover with a couple of dark towels to keep dark and warm for about 2 – 7 days. I like mine more sour and so I go the full 7 days.