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Fermented Food Fest
By Gretchen Roberts
When most of us decide to add “good” bacteria to our diet, we typically turn to probiotic supplements and yogurt. Good choices to be sure, but not the only ones available. Look beyond the dairy aisle to fermented foods, which teem with healthy, good-for-you bacteria.
Why focus on bacteria-rich foods? Because they do everything from helping to promote optimal digestion to allowing our bodies to absorb more vitamins and minerals from foods. Digestive issues affect an estimated 60 million to 70 million Americans, and fermented foods can help combat problems like irritable bowel syndrome and lactose intolerance. “Good digestion is a key part of overall health and immunity,” says Nancy Lee Bentley, a holistic health expert and author of Truly Cultured (IBJ Custom Publishing, 2007), a fermented-foods cookbook. “And fermented foods can help set the stage for healing.”
How? It’s the classic good-guys-versus-bad-guys scenario: Our digestive tract is chock-full of bacteria, and if the good kind don’t balance out the bad, we can get sick—think constipation, diarrhea, and irritable bowel syndrome.
“We have more microorganisms inside our digestive system than we have cells in our body,” says Daemon Jones, ND, a naturopath in Washington, DC, and author of Delicious! Recipes for Vibrant Living (Healthydaes, 2007). “The probiotics in fermented foods actually reproduce themselves in the digestive tract, crowding out the bad bacteria.”
But there’s more. Not only do fermented foods work to offset the bad bacteria in our gut, they actually help unlock important nutrients within the food they inhabit—vitamins and minerals that might otherwise pass through our system unabsorbed. For example, the bacteria in the starter culture of sourdough bread weaken the walls of the starch cells in the wheat, setting free a healthy dose of vitamins for the body to absorb.
In fact, because of the way these bacteria unlock nutrients, most nutritionists agree that the fermented version of any given food is generally more healthful than its progenitor. Take fermented cabbage or sauerkraut as an example.
“Cabbage has a lot of nutrients and fiber, plus glutamine, which is good for the digestive tract,” says Jones. “But once cabbage is fermented, it’s more easily digested, because it’s predigested by microorganisms.” Sauerkraut also increases the healthy flora in your digestive tract, has more isothiocyanates (anti-cancerous substances) than regular cabbage, and helps you better absorb vitamin C. “So cabbage is good for you,” says Jones, “but sauerkraut is a stronger health food.”
A surprising number of foods have fermented alter egos, each with its own healthful properties. For example, kefir, a fermented milk drink popular in Eastern Europe, may fight allergies and improve lactose intolerance in adults. Fermenting black beans reduces flatulence and increases nutrient absorption. Yogurt that contains live cultures can help relieve constipation in patients ...
Author: Gretchen Roberts
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SNA Annual National Conference 2015 - School Nutrition Association
Dates: 7/11/2015 – 7/15/2015
Venue TBD Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City