Gut Health Part 3: Probiotics & Fermented Foods 101


If you’ve been on HFFG’s Facebook page for any length of time, you may have noticed discussion about the importance of having adequate beneficial gut bacteria and its role in our overall health.

 

We’ve seen how things like asthma, allergies, skin rashes, depression, anxiety, colic, heart disease, inability of the liver to detox, weight gain, autism, and even morning sickness can be from inadequate beneficial gut bacteria.

(See Part I–All Disease Begins in the Gut for more information here: 
http://healthyfamiliesforgod.com/2011/10/gut-health-part-1-all-disease-begins-in-the-gut/

 

See Part II–Gut Destroyers–here: 
http://healthyfamiliesforgod.com/2011/10/gut-health-part-2-gut-destroyers/

Probiotics and fermented foods are not simply a supplement or medication that I am recommending for the health problems we have been discussing; they are an essential piece of a healthy, primitive diet!

While the idea of food filled with bacteria and foods left on the counter sounds extremely radical to many Americans, this process has played a crucial role in almost every traditional cuisine, if not all of them!  According to Sally Fallon in Nourishing Traditions:

Only in the West is milk consumed in a “natural” or unfermented state, and this Occidental practice is relatively new.  Before the age of industrialization, Europeans consumed milk as yoghurt, cheese, clabber, or curds and whey.  Without pasteurization or refrigeration, milk sours and separates spontaneously.  This is due to the process of lacto-fermentation during which lactic-acid-producing bacteria begin digesting or breaking down both milk sugar (lactose) and milk protein (casein).  When these friendly bacteria have produced enough lactic acid to inactivate all putrefying bacteria, the milk is effectively preserved from spoilage for several days or weeks. . .


William H. Lee, PhD and author of The Friendly Bacteria also notes:

The tradition of preserving foods, enhancing their nutritive value, and making them more interesting to eat through fermentation is a very ancient one. 

As we’ve ventured away from this healthful process and moved into the era of high-heat and extensive processing, we’ve found ourselves experiencing more and more diseases and illnesses.  Ironically, many of these new illnesses cause a person to have to eliminate dairy products.  It’s no coincidence that the lack of beneficial bacteria in our foods has also caused overly sensitive immune systems.

Numerous studies show that probiotics are the single best supplement–especially for children–for the prevention of respiratory and gastrointestinal infections.  And while they are now often referred to as “supplements”, I want to point out that with the information above, we can clearly see that these products were meant to be a dietary staple, a food source of healthful bacteria and other valuable properties.

AND probiotic-rich foods contain MORE beneficial bacteria than probiotic supplements and can be made for a very small fraction of the price!

So how do we get this traditional practice and its benefits back into our lives? We need to start by seeing just how easy (and cheap!) it is to revert to primitive methods of food preparation and consumption. . .


Kefir

What in the world is kefir? When I get this question along with astonished and confused facial expressions, I always simply refer to kefir as yogurt on steroids.  According to Dr. Mercola,

A quart of kefir (homemade from raw milk) has far more active bacteria than you can possibly purchase in any probiotics supplement.  

Additionally,

Yogurt contains transient beneficial bacteria that keep the digestive system clean and provide food for the friendly bacteria that reside there. But kefir can actually colonize the intestinal tract, a feat that yogurt cannot match.

Kefir contains several major strains of friendly bacteria not commonly found in yogurt, Lactobacillus Caucasus, Leuconostoc, Acetobacter species, and Streptococcus species.

It also contains beneficial yeasts, such as Saccharomyces kefir and Torula kefir, which dominate, control and eliminate destructive pathogenic yeasts in the body. They do so by penetrating the mucosal lining where unhealthy yeast and bacteria reside, forming a virtual SWAT team that housecleans and strengthens the intestines. Hence, the body becomes more efficient in resisting such pathogens as E. coli and intestinal parasites. (http://www.kefir.net/kefiryogurt.htm)

 

So not only is it the most powerful source of probiotics, but it’s cheaper than any other one as well if it’s made homemade (depending on what your raw milk costs are).  With my average price of $3/gallon for raw milk, I can make a quart of kefir for around $.75 (not including the cost of the grains).  That is a big difference compared to the cost of kefir at the grocery store which is usually around $4 or more!

While store-bought kefirs offer a great dose of beneficial bacteria, the flavored choices are loaded with sugar.  If you remember from our discussions, sugar feeds bad bacteria.  The benefits of kefir therefore do not come out ahead with this amount of sugar. (As an additional downside, storebought kefirs are usually made with low-fat milk which contains oxidized cholesterol and is more likely to cause weight gain than whole milk.)

I recommend making homemade kefir from whole, raw milk and mixing it with some raw honey and fruit to make flavored varieties yourself.  For instance, I have duplicated the strawberry flavored kefir simply by putting a quart of kefir in the blender along with a dash of vanilla extract, a few tablespoons of raw honey, and a handful of frozen strawberries.

There are two ways to make homemade kefir–either with grains or a starter.  A starter will last for a few batches; grains will last indefinitely (years!).  This video shows how to make it with grains, which can be purchased at the link below.


In addition to the method shown in this video, you could also purchase a plastic can strainer.

To order live, active kefir grains, check out HFFG’s store to see if they are in stock.

I would also like to note that, like yogurt, kefir is very easily tolerated by most lactose-intolerant individuals.  (So is raw milk, by the way.  It’s all about the enzymes and lactic acid that are only present in raw and/or cultured milk products!)

However, for those who do not have access to good quality milk or who need to stay away from dairy, there are a couple of options:

1.  Purchase milk kefir grains for use with coconut milk to make coconut milk kefir; or

2.  Purchase water kefir grains and make water kefir!

To consume on a regular basis, we simply use kefir in our daily smoothies.  It can be used in place of yogurt for just about anything. You can also soak your oats in it in the fridge overnight, along with some raw honey and fruit, for a delicious breakfast muesli.


Yogurt

Like kefir, yogurt provides our body with beneficial bacteria that contribute to good gut health.  Unfortunately, the marketing world has gotten ahold of yogurt and used it as a promotion to sell non-nutritious foods under the guise of the health word “yogurt.”

Here are some tips from Dr. Sears on purchasing yogurt:

Ounce for ounce, plain yogurt is more nutritious than fruit-added preparations. Notice the differences on the labels: 

  • Plain yogurt contains around one-half of the calories of the same amount of fruit-added yogurt. 
  • Plain yogurt contains almost twice the amount of proteins. 
  • Plain yogurt contains fewer fillers. 
  • Plain yogurt contains more calcium. 
  • Plain yogurt contains no added sugar. 

If plain yogurt doesn’t appeal to you, buy plain yogurt and flavor it with your favorite fruit. This way you control the sweeteners. As when you purchase any food, read the label, both the “Nutritional Facts” panel and the list of ingredients. Look specifically at the following:

1. The best nutritional deal is plain yogurt, which has only two ingredients: live cultures and milk (My note: whole milk, please–none of this lowfat or nonfat stuff!  Read Is Skim Milk Making You Fat for more info: http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/2010/02/why-skim-milk-will-make-you-fat-and/ ). 

Avoid yogurt that says “heat treated after culturing” on the label. This means that the yogurt was pasteurized after the healthful organisms were added, which dilutes the health benefits of the yogurt. Pasteurization deactivates the lactase and kills the live cultures, thereby obliterating two health benefits of yogurt. Heat- treating yogurt trades economic gain for nutritional loss. It prolongs the shelf life, but spoils its nutrition and health-food value. Lactose-intolerant persons who can tolerate yogurt containing live and active cultures may not be able to digest yogurt that has been heat treated.

Yogurt-based salad dressings and yogurt-covered raisins, pretzels, and candy typically do not contain live and active cultures. (Yes, I’m sorry–yogurt covered raisins and pretzels, and especially frozen yogurt, are NOT a health food.)

Because some “yogurts” don’t even really have live and active cultures, the National Yogurt Association is urging the FDA to prevent them from being classified as yogurt.

If you’ve decided against kefir and prefer yogurt, you can either make it homemade from really good-quality whole milk (without hormones) or buy whole milk plain yogurt and flavor it yourself.  There are many good recipes and techniques for making homemade yogurt; I have had success using the crockpot recipe: http://www.nourishingdays.com/2009/02/make-yogurt-in-your-crock-pot/

Cultures for Health also sells yogurt cultures to make it at home, including a mesophilic culture that allows you to make yogurt at room temperature, which is MUCH easier!

Probiotic Supplements

Rather than creating traditional probiotic foods, some people prefer to use probiotic supplements.  Some people have severe allergies that prevent them from being able to experience the benefits of kefir, yogurt, and other things.

Also probiotic supplements are very helpful for babies and much better to give them before they are ready for whole foods like kefir and yogurt.

For babies, I had a difficult time finding a very high-quality, allergen-free infant probiotic supplement with no fillers.  That is why I recently formulated my very own line of supplements that includes a high-potency, high-quality and allergen-free infant probiotic!

Click here for more information and to order.  

(Note that this product, while labeled for babies, can actually be used for children and even adults! I have customers who use this probiotic for their whole family as they cannot find a good-quality, high-potency, hypoallergenic probiotic anywhere else.)

Some other good sources of probiotics for adults include:

Primal Defense

Primal Defense® ULTRA is the ultimate high potency, broad-spectrum probiotic formula, providing a 15 billion live cell count** per day of 13 species of beneficial cultures including soil-based probiotics called Homeostatic® Soil Organisms.

Women’s Probiotics

For women, there are two very important strains to make sure a probiotic supplement has–lactobacillus gasseri and s. boulardii. Lactobacillus gasseri is a probiotic strain that is naive to the human gut and vaginal tracts of healthy women and normally present in breastmilk. It produces hydrogen peroxide which inhibits pathogenic bacteria from forming in the vaginal tract, making it a really important strain for pregnant women.

S. Boulardii is a hardy, non-pathogenic (non-bad) yeast that has broad antimicrobial activities against candida (as well as e. coli and c. difficile). For women who struggle with candida overgrowth, this is an important strain to have in your probiotic supplement.

Primal Defense (above) has s. boulardii but does not contain l. gasseri. Most women’s probiotics, such as Garden of Life’s RAW Women’s probiotic, does contain l. gasseri.

Any of these probiotics can be ordered for less than almost anywhere else at Vitacost.com and if you use this referral link for your first order of $30 or more from Vitacost, you get $10 off! https://www.vitacostrewards.com/Bl9Qddk

(Please make sure not to purchase your nutritional supplements, especially probiotics that need to be refrigerated to maintain potency, from Amazon. In addition to having sellers that sell adulterated/fake supplements put in name-brand containers, Amazon’s warehouse temperatures are sometimes very hot which may cause probiotics to lose much of their potency.)

Dr. Mercola provides a wealth of information, as well as probiotic supplements, on his website here:  http://probiotics.mercola.com/probiotics.html.  Whether you choose to purchase his supplements or not, this page can provide you with great tips for finding a good probiotic supplement.

It’s important to start at a low dose and build up slowly.

Kombucha

Kombucha is a fermented tea that has been enjoyed for thousands of years.  Its taste resembles a mixture between champagne and apple cider vinegar.  It is bubbly and can be flavored in many different ways.  In Sally Fallon’s description of kombucha:

Kombucha is the cure for a hot day–it tastes delicious and refreshing.  A fizzy, dark colored, energizing beverage, at the same time acidic and slightly sweet, this gift to the world from the Ural mountain region of Russia qualifies as the soft drink of the twenty-first century, the answer to the scourge of cola drinks that now wreaks havoc with the health of Western populations.

It is also reported to be an incredible detoxifier.  It contains glucuronic acid which is reported to be a powerful aid to the body’s natural cleansing process, a boost to the immune system and a proven prophylactic against cancer and other degenerative diseases.

Interestingly, I experimented with it one day after having a gut-wrenching allergic reaction to bananas.  Every time I would eat plain bananas, I developed an incredible stomach pain that would last for hours.  It was accompanied by sweating and nausea.  The last time I had one of these banana allergy attacks, I chugged down a small glass of kombucha.  Within five minutes, I felt 100% better!  I was amazed.  Now, whenever someones tummy isn’t feeling well in our home, the kids all yell, “Drink some kombucha!”

Before I proceed with the video and notes on making kombucha, I want to post a disclaimer–Kombucha is not for everyone.  From what I’ve researched, kombucha is a powerful detoxifier.  Some people have reported reactions to it as a result of years worth of toxins working their way out of the body.

However, we have not seen any such side effects in any of our friends and family members, even in my dad and stepmom who smoke, drink, and eat the Standard American Diet. The most commonly reported side effects in people who report any side effects at all are frequent bowels after consumption (which is the body purging toxins).

As a result of its detoxifying powers, I would not always recommend that women begin drinking it for the first time during pregnancy or breastfeeding.  (I did, however, and started very slowly.) Even for those who aren’t pregnant, I recommend starting slowly–an ounce or two per day for at least a few days to observe how the body will handle it.

For those with candida (yeast overgrowth), you may want to do your own research; I have seen claims that it has cured candida and seen reports of it making it worse.  Research is difficult to come by on this product–I believe because it’s not worth the research industry’s time as they cannot make money off of it once they see its amazing benefits.  

So do your own research, test it out and decide for yourself. But remember–yeast feeds off of sugar, not yeast. If you let your kombucha ferment for at least 10 days, the sugars are likely to be mostly consumed/converted.

(Update: I’d also like to note that additional research on my part has shown the action by which kombucha detoxifies candida. When it does this, it causes candida to attempt to leave the body which can cause symptoms that would make someone think it is worsening their candida. If this is the case, it is important to be sure the body’s detox pathways are cleared by having regular bowels and drinking lots of water. You will also want to check out HFFG’s Chlorella Detox product in our Store that helps bind candida in the digestive tract and effectively eliminate it.)

This fermented drink uses a large, slimy disc called the SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast).  It also uses sugar.  Yes, you heard me right–sugar.  Ironically, this medicinal drink is the only reason we even own a bag of sugar.  As Sally Fallon says,

It seems surprising, even ironic, to conclude a health food cookbook, in which we have warned against sugar, yeasted foods and tea, with a tonic made from sugar, yeast and tea! But the kombucha “mushroom” acts on sugar and tea to produce not only acetic and lactic acid but also small amounts of a potent detoxifying substance, glucuronic acid.

 

The sugar plays an important role in this process:

Throughout the fermentation the yeasts break down sugar into glucose and fructose. Glucose is used by the yeasts to yield ethanol and carbon dioxide. (http://happyherbalist.com/analysis_of_kt_cornell.htm)

 

Without the sugar, the process of converting the tea to contain helpful acids, and also the carbon dioxide that gives it the yummy fizzy taste, would not be possible.

All that said, here’s the link to the video:Mouth Of Babes 104 – How To Make Kombucha (Mushrooms)

In addition to the four black tea bags, I discovered that they taste best right when they’re done–warm and very fizzy.  But some of my family members prefer it cold. You can also swap out some of the black tea with green and white tea to lower the caffeine (which is already very low).

There is also a process called the 2nd Ferment for which you can add additional flavor to your kombucha.  If you order a kombucha starter set from me, you will get complete instructions on the original kombucha-making process, as well as instructions on how to do the 2nd ferment with some flavoring ideas. More info and ordering instructions here: http://healthyfamiliesforgod.com/make-your-own-kombucha-probiotics/


Fermented Foods

Did you know that sauerkraut and pickles used to be served with meat in order to aid digestion? Traditionally, these condiments were fermented.  Like the processes above, fermenting vegetables (and fruits) produces lactobacilli bacteria in addition to containing helpful enzymes.

Unfortunately, because the process of fermentation can vary and sometimes has unpredictable results, industrial manufacturers decided to forgo this beneficial process and instead use high-heat techniques that produce consistent results but remove the health benefits.  Manufacturers began using vinegar for the brine, which is too acidic to be eaten in large quantities and effectively destroying all lactic-acid-producing bacteria, thus robbing consumers of their beneficial effect on digestion.

The traditional process of fermenting vegetables uses either salt and/or whey instead of vinegar.  The food is prepared according to directions; salt and/or whey is added, and most directions call for it to be tightly lidded and placed at room temperature for at least three days. Sometimes, it is kept at cooler temperatures (but not refrigerated) for weeks or months to achieve full probiotic benefits. After that point, it can be kept in cold storage (refrigerator) for many months.  Sauerkraut can be eaten immediately but is said to improve with age, so it is a great one to make a lot ahead of time and keep stored for long-term use.

And recent research has also discovered that just one ounce of homemade fermented sauerkraut contains more probiotics than 6 ounces of a probiotic supplement, making it a powerful and money-saving probiotic option!

The process is just as easy, if not easier, than conventional canning methods and provides so many more health benefits.  So why not give it a try?!

The number of websites covering this healthful process is growing and thus, information is readily available.  For my experience with this, I mostly referred to Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions cookbook.  I have had great success making fermented sauerkraut, cortido (Latin American sauerkraut), kimchi (Korean sauerkraut), salsa, and ketchup.  It’s nice to know that my family can slather on the condiments and actually get health benefits from them!

To supplement the directions in Nourishing Traditions, I also got some additional tips from this webpage: http://www.thefamilyhomestead.com/homemadekraut.htm.  I figured that if I was going to make sauerkraut and since it was good for so many months, I wanted to make a lot.  So I made enough for a one-gallon jar like she did on that webpage.  I did not, however, follow her directions with a bag on the top of the cabbage and it worked out fine.  But you can choose which way you’d like to make it!

Additionally, you can purchase fermented sauerkraut and pickles at many grocery stores now.  I have seen it usually in the refrigerated section of the organic/natural department located by organic cheese, milk, and kefir.  Brands include Bubbie’s and WildBrine. I will warn you, however, that they come with a hefty price tag, especially when you compare how much it costs to make it homemade!

Or how about a homemade fermented salsa? Instead of high-heat canning, you can make delicious salsa that is full of probiotics! Here’s a good recipe: http://www.gardenbetty.com/2013/09/summer-means-salsa-spicy-fermented-salsa-that-is/

 

Check out my Ferments/Probiotics Pinterest board for more recipes! http://www.pinterest.com/HFFG/ferments-probiotics/

 

I am confident that by incorporating a few of these primitive foods in your diet, you will see dramatic differences in your health.  Our gut really is responsible for so much of our overall health.  No matter what health conditions you have (or even if you’re currently healthy!), I encourage you to choose a few of these traditional foods and give them a try!

 

Blessings of good health,

Sara

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Comments & Responses

12 Responses so far.

  1. […] That is also why I prefer food sources of probiotics–they are more natural, more cost-effective, contain higher amounts of probiotics than supplements, and are delicious! (Read my post about Probiotics 101 here.) […]

  2. […] (Click here to read my post Probiotics 101 to learn more about all these different choices in probiot….) […]

  3. […] Click here to read my post on Probiotics that includes more information on homemade probiotics as we… […]

  4. […] Probiotics, or foods/drinks/supplements containing healthy live bacteria help increase the good bacteria, thereby reducing the bad bacteria, thus strengthening the immune system. There are many different ways to get probiotics. Here is Part 3 of my series on gut health explaining probiotics and fermented foods. […]

  5. […] you can see from the third part of that series, I discuss what probiotics are and how they help restore proper gut health. (If you haven’t […]

  6. […] Homemade probiotics, including milk kefir, kombucha, and fermented vegetables such as kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, etc. For introductory info on probiotics and why they are nutritionally superior to probiotic supplements, read my post Probiotics 101. […]

  7. david says:

    if i see any yogarts with the word pasturization on it should i assume because of the high heat process of same the yogart is thus no good?

    • sjpoff says:

      Not necessarily David. As long as the yogurt was cultured AFTER being pasteurized, the culturing process will help it become more digestible and will still contain the enzymes and beneficial bacteria 🙂

  8. […] just may be the ticket to good health you’ve been looking for all along!  (Seen here: http://healthyfamiliesforgod.com/2011/10/gut-health-part-3-probiotics-fermented-foods-101/) *{margin:0; padding:0;} #socialbuttonnav li{background:none;overflow:hidden;width:65px; […]

  9. […] For more information on probiotics and which ones are the best, check out my other article Probiotics 101. […]

  10. […] As you may notice from studying it further, children with abnormal gut health tend to be more susceptible to these symptoms. Consequently, I highly recommend strengthening a child’s gut who displays these symptoms. This includes cutting out processed foods and over-the-counter and prescription drugs; and consuming probiotics daily. Restoring gut health takes a while but is the key to overall health for a lifetime! For more information on the different probiotics, check out my post Gut Health Part 3: Probiotics & Fermented Foods 101: http://healthyfamiliesforgod.com/2011/10/gut-health-part-3-probiotics-fermented-foods-101/ […]

  11. […] watch next week for Part III: Probiotics & Fermented Foods 101! (Part III can be seen here: http://healthyfamiliesforgod.com/2011/10/gut-health-part-3-probiotics-fermented-foods-101/)3 John 2: Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, […]

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