3 Reasons Why You Should Ferment Vegetables
We’ve talked a lot about making fermented tea (kombucha), but there’s a host of other easy-to-make fermented foods that you can take advantage of that offer you a different set of benefits such as kefir and fermented veggies.
Modern civilization is a wonderful thing. We have laptops and smartphones, refrigeration and compact cars, electricity and running water and shops that sell rain forest-grown coffee on almost every street corner. But civilization has come at a price, causing problems in the environment around us – and the environment inside us, as well.
In 2009, a group of researchers studied the digestive systems of the Yanomami peoples of the Brazilian rain forest, and discovered something amazing. The microorganisms in these native peoples’ intestines (often called “gut flora”) were 50% more diverse than the microorganisms in a typical American’s digestive system. This diversity helps the Yanomami stay healthy and process a wide range of nutrients that they get from their hunting and gathering. The gut flora act as antimicrobial and antifungal agents, keeping away intestinal problems, and help support a healthy immune system.
Even though the average American has access to more fresh fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates, and proteins than the average Yanomami, the American probably isn’t getting as much nutrition out of their food as the Yanomami is, because of this lack of good healthy gut flora. Nutritional experts have been pointing this out for years, which is one reason why the sale of probiotic supplements has turned into such big business.
However, there’s an easier way to improve the health of your digestive system’s microbial population, and that’s by adding fermented foods to your diet.
Why Fermented Foods?
Many of the microorganisms that work to turn fresh ingredients into fermented ones are the same ones that live inside your gut. The Lactobacillus group of bacteria are particularly important. This group includes L. acidophilus, L. Brevis, and L. Bulgaricus. These bacteria provide significant health benefits for people of all ages.
The Lactobacillus bacteria turn the sugars that are naturally found in vegetables, fruits, dairy products, and grains into lactic acid, a type of organic acid that gives fermented foods that typical tangy flavor. Lactic acids also help keep you healthy by:
- regulating your digestive system
- increasing the amount of active enzymes in your gut
- reducing the amount of non-beneficial microorganisms like yeasts
- improving your body’s ability to absorb vitamins and minerals from food
NOTE: Fermented foods are not the same as pickled foods. Pickles are made by pouring heated vinegar over vegetables, which kills off many of the beneficial bacteria. In addition, most commercial pickles are pasteurized, removing even more of the good bacteria. Even commercially-fermented foods like sauerkraut are usually pasteurized. To get the most nutritive benefit from fermented foods, make them at home.
1. Fermented Foods Are Easier To Digest
When you ferment vegetables, you turn them into something that’s easier for your body to process. In effect, the bacteria start “eating” the vegetables for you, before you even put them in your mouth. The bacteria start the process of breaking down the tough vegetable matter, so that when it lands in your digestive system, your own gut flora will have an easier time of finishing up the digestive process and extracting all of the essential vitamins and minerals.
Fermented foods provide you with more of the calcium, vitamin B-complex, phosphorus, and vitamin C in many vegetables. And because the digestive process goes more quickly and is more complete, you’ll find that you have fewer problems with bloating and gas, something that is a common complaint when people eat tough but nutritious vegetables like cabbage and turnips.
2. Lactic Acid Improves Health
Lactic acid is one of the compounds that your body burns to provide energy for your muscles. You’ll get more out of your exercise routine if you provide your system with a good supply of bacteria that create this compound from the food you eat. Many people report that they have less of a problem with muscle cramping as well.
Lactic acid is one of the probiotics produced during the fermentation process. This includes fermented drinks such as Kombucha and kefir (fermented milk) as well as fermented foods such as cultured veggies.
These probiotics act as anti-inflammatory compounds, which can help with auto-immune diseases. By lowering the inflammation in your gut, you also improve your digestion and reduce the amount of mucus produced in your intestines. This helps you absorb more of the nutrients from your food.
When your gut is healthy, you’re happy – not just because you’re not bothered by things like gas, constipation, and diarrhea, but because your body is less stressed. Less stress in your body means less stress in your brain. Even if you aren’t aware of it, your system is sending out signals saying “help!” when something’s wrong in your body. Long-term inflammation and agitation in your intestinal tract will have your unconscious in a constant state of worry. Removing this problem will let your body calm down, which will smooth out and improve your emotions and your mental functioning.
3. Fermenting is Fun
Even if you don’t cook regularly, you’ll enjoy the process of fermentation. In fact, if you don’t cook regularly, you probably need fermented foods more than ever! Many Americans get by on a diet of whatever’s quick and easy, and that often means foods that are full of excess fat, sugar, and chemicals. Commercially-processed foods are so far away from natural foods that your body will need a lot of help to extract the nutrients that are there without being overwhelmed by the ingredients you don’t need. While it’s better to avoid fast food, high-fat foods, too much sugar, and anything with more than three chemicals you can’t pronounce listed on the label, simply adding fermented vegetables to your diet will start to balance your body’s functions.
All you need to make a batch of fermented vegetables is a clean glass container, a small plate, and a clean cloth to cover the container and keep out bugs and dust. It’s easy to make fermented vegetables using almost any fresh vegetables you have in the house. Popular veggies are cabbage, radishes, turnips, cucumbers, onions, and carrots. You’ll mix your sliced or shredded vegetables with a bit of sea salt (or any other unrefined salt) and then pack it into the fermenting container – and that’s it! Once the veggies are in the container, you just have to wait for the bacteria to ferment them.
Fermenting is so simple, even a child can do it. If you’ve got kids at home, you can make fermenting a family tradition. Get started today, and you’ll soon see why everyone should ferment vegetables at home! Read our complete guide on how to quickly and easily ferment veggies!