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Why eat fermented foods?

The Macrobiotic diet lays great emphasis on fermented foods. I often see two things happening when I mention fermentation in my Nutrition Counselling practice in India. First, people confuse this with bad fermentation. By this I mean something that will actually mature after a period of time and go rancid. Second, people with weak digestive systems often react right away and say that fermentation does not work for them. They do not realize that it is actually their weak digestive system that actually needs the good gut bacteria from fermented foods such as vegetable cultures, kefirs, and non-dairy probiotic drinks.

As Indians, we have got a healthy strain of lactobacilli only from yogurt. While this is okay for many dairy consumers, it is counter-productive in very many ways, as one also gets the negatives of dairy. These are the milk solids and proteins (casein) that actually hamper the digestive bacteria. So, on one hand we are thinking that we are supplying ourselves with good gut bacteria and yet, on the other hand, we are also damaging the so-called inner ecosystem.

We need to include, at every meal, a serving of fermented foods. Here is why: Lacto-fermented vegetables (this is the process of lacto-fermentation – a food processing method used to generate good bacteria to break down sugars in vegetables and produce lactic acid) are an excellent source of beneficial bacteria or ‘probiotics’ and enzymes. They are also high in vitamins, which helps enhance the digestive ability to also absorb and assimilate new nutrients, thereby promoting the growth of healthy flora and maintaining your so-called “inner garden”. By this I mean your gut bacterial/microbiota health. Lacto-fermentation also breaks down phytates that prevent mineral absorption. New compounds are generated during this process, like choline which aids fat metabolism, lowers blood pressure, builds good blood and acetylcholine which is a neurotransmitter that helps decrease the heart rate (aids the parasympathetic nervous system), and also helps in the digestion of food and regulate body temperature.

In many cultures, fermented foods are considered as antibiotics that keep your immunity high and preventing you from catching bad bugs e.g. among Germans it’s the use of sauerkraut, and among the Chinese it’s the use of khimchee. You maybe thinking why am I not including the Indian pickle? For one, pickle is way to concentrated with refined oils, salt, and spices making it very contracting (in a sense, pressured) to eat daily. Pickle should be used sparingly. Quick pickles, pressed salads, sauerkraut, khimchee are better to include in a daily diet.

Just remember, the good bacteria need to be re-introduced daily as they kind of check-in and out of your digestive system. The bad bacteria tend to stay, so we need to over-populate our gut with the good ones. Therefore we need to increase the consumption of fermented foods in our daily diet.

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