Fermented Foods: Probiotics, naturally

~ Dr. Christina Vlahopoulos, ND

As a child, I loved a Greek food that my mom made called tourrsi – it tasted tangy and delicious. Little did I realize it was a traditional form of fermenting cabbage for winter storage – many of you would know it today as sauerkraut.

Long before refrigerators and freezers were invented, foods needed to be preserved to last and one simple way was through lacto-fermentation. Lacto-fermented foods have increased levels of lactic acid which decreases the chance of spoilage. They also help with overall gastrointestinal health due to their high enzyme and probiotic content. It is the Lactobacillus bacteria specifically that generates the fermentation, which inhibits food spoilage. Fermented foods such as kefir, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh and yogurt, aid the production of a more acidic pH in the gastrointestinal tract, thereby inhibiting the growth of undesirable bacteria. Fermented foods are like probiotic supplements in food form.

Sally Fallon, author or Nourishing Traditions, is an advocate of fermented foods for their nutritional benefits and natural probiotic effect:

“The proliferation of lactobacilli in fermented vegetables enhances their digestibility and increases vitamin levels. These beneficial organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anticarcinogenic substances. Their main by-product, lactic acid, not only keeps vegetables and fruits in a state of perfect preservation but also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine.”

In 2005 researchers released a study that demonstrated how Polish women who ate 4 or more servings of sauerkraut per week during adolescence were 74% less likely to develop breast cancer. Also back in 2005, researchers at the Seoul National University claimed that 11 out of 13 chickens infected with the avian flu and who were fed kimchi (a spicy version of sauerkraut), started to recover after one week. This may be because a healthy digestive tract helps to balance the immune system, which plays an important role in cancer prevention and flu recovery.

It is important to note that many fermented foods purchased in supermarkets today are pasteurized and therefore have few bacterial benefits. Furthermore, commercially prepared goods are often loaded with sodium. Making your own fermented foods can be easy, rewarding and most of all tasty! As with all food preparation, adequate hygiene techniques and care is required to prepare the food safely so, if fermenting for the first time, please seek guidance from an experienced food fermenter.