Summer’s almost here. Time to fire up the old lacto-fermentation crock! As much emphasis as we put on what takes place at the gym, today’s article will give you a little bit on the importance and benefits of taking care of your gut. My favorite method is to add probiotics, or beneficial bacteria, in the form of fermented foods. The two I use are sauerkraut and kombucha - both of which I make myself at home for dirt cheap. So skip the Dr. Oz labeled pills and powders for now, ‘cause you to can get started making your own probiotics in no time!
Benefits of Fermented Foods
Fermented foods are a good source of probiotics. The walls of your intestines (from top to bottom) are lined with approximately 100 trillion microorganisms. This outnumbers the cells in your body 10 to 1 – technically making you more bacteria than human! These microorganisms exist synergistically to help us break down food, fight off harm pathogens, and produce key vitamins and nutrients that keep us healthy. Poor diet, stress, and antibiotics can weaken beneficial bacteria and wreck havoc on your immune system as well as overall health.
DISCLAIMER: I am not making any miracle health claims that by adding fermented foods one can reverse any and all aliments. I’ve noticed that I feel much better when adding them regularly in my diet – typically around 3-5x/week. Regardless, the impact of adding living foods to your diet may vary from person to person. In fact, many with prior digestive issues have noted symptoms initially worsening as problematic bacteria and yeast die off. For most, there shouldn’t be any prolonged negative side effects, but if any conditions persists more than a week, getting checked out by a doctor might not be a bad idea.
Why Store bought might not be the best option
Fermented foods have grown in popularity as consumers looked for cheap, easy solutions to maximizing health without a prescription. That said, it’s hard to decipher which products are actually helpful and which are just hippy snake oil. Unfortunately the supplement industry remains largely unregulated, meaning that the health claims made on your probiotic’s label might not match up to what’s actually inside the bottle.The same goes for grocery store fermented drinks and foods. The FDA recommends kombucha and other cultured foods be pasteurized (high temperature cooked) prior to sale. This is done primarily to kill pathogens and bad bacteria. Unfortunately this also kills most, if not all, of the good bacteria as well, removing many of the stated health benefits of the product. So instead of overpaying for a bottle that might not even have any actual gut healing benefits… why not try making it yourself?
Getting started at home
Getting started is always the hard part. The good news is you don’t need much to get started and once you’re set up, all the magic happens just about automatically. There are already so many great free resources available on fermenting anything, and everything. So instead of simply paraphrasing one, I thought I’d share what supplies I use and link to my favorite references and guides. I will add a few additional resources below for anyone interested. NOTE: these are not affiliate or referral links.
For kombucha, I have:
- A large jar – preferably glass. I have a continuous brew vessel I purchased for ~$20. It’s a two and a half gallon glass pitcher with a plastic spigot – Not Metal – you can buy from either Marshal’s or Ross (Do you love it? I love it. I got it at Ross). Keep in mind, any large clean glass jar with a lid will work. A mason jar, old pickle jar, etc… just make sure you take a look at the recommended cleaning methods before adding your cultures.
- A SCOBY – Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast. This is what actually houses the bacteria and yeast to start the fermentation process. Every new batch of kombucha made creates a brand new SCOBY – so try to bum one off of a friend if you can. Either way try to avoid using dehydrated cultures - I’ve experimented with a few unsuccessfully.
- Loose or bagged tea – It’s recommend to use green or black teas, I’m using Hannah’s special tea blend.
- Sugar – I use white table sugar
I would highly recommend just getting a starter pack from KombuchaKamp.com. The “Brew Now” package (currently about $50) includes everything but your jar. Follow Hannah’s blogs for tea and sugar recommendations, as well as flavoring options once it’s ready. I’ve made apple and ginger kombucha, which was excellent!
As for sauerkraut, here is what I have:
- Lacto-fermentation crock. I purchased a gallon sized Fermented Vegetable Master from Culturesforhealth.com (about $30). It comes with three glass weights and an airlock system. This system not only helps protect from any problematic mold but I’ve noticed it also minimizes any sour smells while the veggies break down. Before I bought this I tried making sauerkraut using a large bucket with a plate for a lid… once. It was like having a garbage scented glade plug in.
- Large wooden rolling pin (Sur La Table ~$13). This is used to breakdown the cabbage and pack it more tightly into the bottom of the jar.
- Fresh water and Salt I source my water only from either the Arctic and or our athlete’s tears… cuts down on the need for salt.
Both sites above include a ton of great info, products, and free ebooks to help you get started. Regardless, it’s going to take a little trial and error in the beginning. Make sure your cultures have a warm, dark place to ferment in your house. I’ve got mine on a bookshelf covered by a few old (but clean) t-shirts.As for recommended dosage, this really depends on the person. I try to drink about 6-8 oz of kombucha 3x/week and throw a serving of sauerkraut on top of my breakfast when I have it. I’ve also linked to a couple of solid resources on probiotics and gut health if you want more specifics.
REMINDER: Make sure you introduce this stuff slowly when first starting out. As I mentioned previously, adding probiotics for those with an unbalanced gut microbiome could be dicey in the beginning – gas, bloating, diarrhea, etc... This should clear up as your problematic bacteria die off. Regardless, if you aren’t seeing any improvement after a week, you should seek out a good GI doc for some testing.
For many, the concept of eating partially broken down (try not to read rotten) or cultured foods can feel like a challenge you’ve seen on Fear Factor. I will admit it is an acquired taste, but the benefits are well worth it. Do something good for yourself and give it a try. Your gut (and your wallet) will thank you!