Do you commonly experience digestive problems? Yeast infections? Chronic fatigue? Allergies? IBS? Cravings? Then you might benefit from eating fermented vegetables!

All of the above problems can be traced to imbalanced intestinal flora (a higher proportion of “bad bacteria” to “good bacteria”). Eating fermented vegetables daily (along with reducing refined foods as always!) is a natural, inexpensive and easy way to maintain a healthy bacterial balance.

A healthy colon (large intestine) is acidic and has lots of beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus. Your body relies on this population of beneficial bacteria to produce vitamins (mostly vitamin K and B7 (biotin)), assimilate valuable nutrients, and defend itself against toxins and pathogenic bacteria. About 70-80% of your immune system is based in your gut. A healthy gut can put up an awesome fight against invading bacteria and viruses; on the same note, a weak gut makes you vulnerable to a myriad of illnesses and conditions. These healthy microorganisms also feed on the waste left over from our digestion and create lactic acid. In turn, lactic acid helps to keep our colon in an acidic state which stops the overgrowth of parasites and yeasts. Lactic acid also helps digestion at an earlier stage in our stomach. As we get older, our stomach’s natural secretions of hydrochloric acid (HCl) decrease. HCl helps to break down food so it can be more easily absorbed by the small intestine. HCl is also an important defense against harmful bacteria and parasites often present in food. Lactic acid can help compensate for reduced hydrochloric acid.

If you have a history of using antibiotics, antacids or do regular colon cleanses your gut will be more susceptible to parasites and Candida (“bad bacteria”) overgrowth. Candida is one of the most common problems related to poor intestinal flora. Some of the signs of Candida (yeast) overgrowth are fatigue, poor memory, a “spacey” feeling, intense food cravings, gas, loss of sexual desire, bad breath and indigestion. Candida has also been directly linked to allergies, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, multiple chemical sensitivity disorders and various cancers. Use of antibiotics, birth control pills, alcohol, antacids and refined foods all increase the risk of developing Candida overgrowth. Also, when we are low in “good bacteria”, besides proper digestion, serotonin suffers. When we are low in serotonin, we have intense cravings and low moods. Probiotics also protect us from colon cancer, prevention of inflammatory bowel disease, relief from lactose intolerance, diarrhea, and reduction in children’s cavities (check out http://www.westonaprice.org for more on this one!).

The most common thing I see missing from the majority of diets are fermented foods…and no, alcohol doesn’t count! Nor does grabbing a can of sauerkraut from the shelf at the grocery store. Commercial sauerkraut is preserved in vinegar instead of the traditional lacto bacterial probiotics. Instead try making your own (see recipe at http://www.wildfermentation.com/making-sauerkraut-2 by fermentation king, Sandor Ellix Katz) or purchasing raw, unpasteurized fermented products like Karthein’s Organic Sauerkraut or Bubbie’s full sour pickles or a high quality kimchi (can be found in the refrigerated section of health food stores/Whole Foods).

Unpasteurized sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables also benefit digestion by assisting the pancreas. The pancreas secretes essential digestive enzymes into the small intestine. Sauerkraut is especially high in enzymes that work similarly to the ones secreted by the pancreas.

We need good bacteria for other things too. Most people are fooled by marketing that we need “whole grains” in order to be healthy, but unfortunately don’t realize that whole grains need a lot of preparation (such as soaking, sprouting or fermenting) to reduce the phytic acid it contains which makes it VERY hard to digest and assimilate its nutrients. The average person does not do this and so consuming healthy bacteria will help to reduce the phytates and lectins found in grains and make them more digestible. These desirable microorganisms that create lactic acid in the colon are naturally found in all vegetables and helps turn cabbage into highly-digestible sauerkraut. The fermentation process greatly increases the amount of these microorganisms.

Lastly, you probably know the phrase “follow your gut feeling”. Well, in a way you really can think with your gut. Containing more nerve cells and neurotransmitters than the nervous system, the gut has been referred to as a second brain. And what goes on in there is just as important as what’s going on in your brain. This is a huge and important topic, one that deserves much more attention than I can provide!  For more insight into this topic, please consult the book “The Second Brain” by Dr. Michael D. Gershon, who is one of the leading experts in this field of neurogastroenterology.

Makes you think you should spend a little more time on intestinal health, doesn’t it? Well don’t just sit there…get fermenting!

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