Including fermented foods in your diet is among the most important strategies you can adopt for bowel and overall health. It is so important that I tell people to include at least one, if not many, fermented foods in your daily routine.
Fermented foods literally come in thousands of different forms. Among the most familiar are yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, pickles, and fermented meats like salami and sopressata. (Note that most commercially sold sauerkraut, and pickles in the U.S. are not fermented, but simply packaged in vinegar and brine. Yogurt, and to a lesser degree, kefirs, are fermented for such a short time to hasten production that microbial counts are negligible.) In parts of the world in which consumption of fermented foods remains a popular practice, you can find an extraordinary variety of fermented foods: omeboshi (plums) and other forms of tsukemono in Japan, the many forms of kimchi in Korea, Horta in Greece, raw meats in Spain and Italy.
A recent study conducted by the husband-and-wife team of Justin and Erica Sonnenburg and their team at Stanford is the clearest evidence of the benefits of consuming fermented foods. Vigorous consumption of fermented foods was associated with increases in microbial species diversity (the number of different species present that are lowest, for instance in people with obesity, type 2 diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases) and decreases in multiple measures of inflammation such as IL-6 and IL-10. And the more fermented foods that were consumed, the greater the effects. Interestingly, the increase in microbial richness was not due to inoculating the microbiome with species provided by fermented foods, but due to the appearance or increase in other species, though it is not quite clear how this is accomplished.
So including fermented foods in your daily routine is important. While you can buy an increasing number of commercially fermented foods, it is still best to make your own. But many people remain squeamish about doing so, fearful of the cloudy mix that develops or the white residue that sometimes appears on top. I therefore came across some products from a company called Cutting Edge Cultures that offer products that make it a bit easier. Here is a terrific video, for example, with fermented food book author, Donna Schwenck, demonstrating how to use their Starter Culture for fermenting vegetables. In other words, rather than allowing the microbes present on the exterior of a cucumber or onion to initiate fermentation, you can use this Starter Culture that contains Lactobacillus plantarum, Leuconostoc mesenteroides, and Pediococcus acidilactici to start the process and add to the microbes already present on the vegetable or other food. Starting with the greater numbers of microbes in the starting culture also accelerates the fermentation process while also making it less likely that contaminating organisms proliferate. Cutting Edge Cultures, by the way, also has a kefir starter and a nice prebiotic fiber mix.
It is my suspicion that populations on this planet who have far less heart disease and obesity, such as Koreans, the Japanese, and some traditional Mediterranean cultures, are less likely to experience these conditions partly due to their enthusiastic consumption of fermented foods. The wide availability of refrigerators was a death sentence for fermented foods in the U.S. It’s time to recognize that fermented foods are a crucial part of your effort to maintain or regain health.