Natural&Traditional Digestion Support -- thanks ancestors!
It's happening... fall is just around the corner. Leaves are hanging loosely onto their branches, and the rain has arrived! As we move into cooler weather and the PNW perma-gray, we’re likely to reach for more comforting and warming foods that make us feel good.
What are the first things that come to mind when you think of comfort food? I think of warm curries and hearty stew -- yum! Unfortunately sometimes our favorite comfort foods can come with some indigestion or a feeling of heaviness -- argh!
Something I've learned as I've studied nutrition (and other areas of physical, mental, and spiritual health) is that as we strive to makes things more convenient and modern, we tend to abandon traditions. Why does this matter? Well, to put it plainly, because our ancestors were wise! Despite not having the technology for research like we do today, many traditions were developed for specific reasons. The example I'm thinking of today is specific to not only food preservation but also digestion, and that is the consumption of fermented foods!
What is fermentation and why is it so important?
Fermentation is the chemical breakdown of carbohydrates by microorganisms, and the results are major health benefits:
Improves digestion with naturally occurring probiotics
Increases nutrient absorption and bioavailability
Soothes gut inflammation and arthritic symptoms
Reduces symptoms of lactose intolerance
Decreases symptoms of depression and social anxiety
What are fermented foods?
Plain, unsweetened yogurt
Raw, fermented sauerkraut or kimchi
Lacto-fermented pickles (and other veggies!)
Apple cider vinegar (with the mother)
Raw cheese (especially from grass-fed animals)
Are any of these foods familiar to you? Maybe your parents or grandparents insisted on having some form at every family gathering or maybe you live in a culture that still includes them daily. Traditionally, ferments have been consumed by cultures all around the world. One form you may be familiar with is sauerkraut on sausages or hot dogs. Though the sauerkraut often used is pasteurized and thus without benefit, this combination is very traditional -- the sauerkraut helps aid the digestion of the sausage and provides a bit of vegetable when fresh veggies may not be available.
Keep in mind when purchasing fermented foods that they must be RAW -- pasteurization destroys the living cultures which provide us with all those awesome benefits. The taste is often tangy, bright, and savory, though some brands may be more pungent than others. Wildbrine is my favorite brand to buy in store. Trader Joe's also sells a raw sauerkraut, though the flavor is pretty intense and not usually what I recommend starting out with if you're new to kraut. I personally love a big scoop of garlic dill sauerkraut or plain yogurt on most of my meals. You can also start small by sipping kombucha or kefir before or after lunch or even pouring a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar over salad greens.
Recently I lacto-fermented ginger carrots sticks and garlic dill green beans. After several unsuccessful attempts at making sauerkraut, I think I finally have this fermentation thing figured out! They both turned out tasty and - most importantly - safe to eat! Haha it's been a bumpy road, but in the words of Drake - started from the bottom, now we're here! ;)