Fermented Foods: The Brain/Gut Connection

With my recent obsession with all things fermented, I’ve been increasing my intake of naturally fermented foods in my diet and have been feeling the benefits. As a recovering sugar addict, its refreshing to have the balanced tanginess that fermented foods provide to my diet. In addition, its amazing what a few bites of sauerkraut can do at the start of the meal to get my digestion kick started, but also ensure that I’m craving less in the way of sweets as I continue into my meal.

And then…there’s my second obsession, Radiolab. I’m an avid listener and have mentioned shows I’ve listened to before. Imagine my delight at their most recent show, Guts (click here to listen), which unpacked the mysterious inner-workings of our digestive system. This isn’t necessarily a show to listen to right before or after a meal, but was vastly intriguing in its exploration of our most important human function outside of breathing and pumping blood…digesting food. The highlight for me was the second “act” Gut Feelings, that discussed the gut/brain connection and how the healthy fauna in our intestinal tracts can actually help us to experience less stress and anxiety. The study itself focused on the addition of probiotics in medicinal form, but fermented foods across the spectrum offer the same healthy doses of lactobacillus and other good bacteria (and they cost significantly less and are much tastier too). I highly encourage a listen, as the studies are fascinating and point to yet another reason why fermented foods are such a positive addition to our diets (as if the 8 reasons mentioned in CheeseSlave’s blog weren’t enough).

While I must admit that yoga and meditation play no small part in my low levels of stress, I can’t help but wonder what part the healthy bacteria in my intestines are playing…now if only I could get them to meditate!

'Be kind to your stomach'
Seymour Nydorf, 1914-2001 / National Archives and Records Administration

Fermented Foods: Supporting the System Naturally

This past fall I took a class on pickling and fermentation. While I have been a long time consumer of fermented foods, I had forgotten their phenomenal health benefits. Fermented foods are helpful in supporting any number of gut related issues and help to restore natural bacteria to the system that often get depleted through our consumption of pre-prepared foods. What struck me most about this class was how easy it was to make your own fermented veggies at home. I have since started several batches of ferments and look forward to enjoying them and exploring new recipes. I have included a very simple Mason Jar Sauerkraut recipe below (courtesy of Seattle Tilth Association). Enjoy!!

 Ingredients
5-6 lbs. green head cabbage
3 Tbsp. salt

Preparation
Wash hands throughly! Then wash cabbage (you can substitute other vegetables for 1-2 lbs, including carrots, beets, turnips, hearty greens) and pull off and save 1-2 whole leaves. Cut the cabbage into quarters, removing the core. Finely shred the cabbage into a large bowl. Sprinkle 3 Tbsp. salt over cabbage.

Using very clean hands, massage the salt into the cabbage. Use a good amount of pressure. The goal is to break down the structure of the cabbage and release a lot of the juices. When the cabbage is soft and a fair amount of liquid has been released, pack it tightly into 2-3 quarter sized mason jars. Pack about 1-2 inches at a time to ensure the jar is packed firmly. Liquid should start to rise to the top. Any leftover liquid at the bottom of the bowl can be poured in to top of the jars.

Take the whole cabbage leaves reserved from the beginning, and tear them to fit into the jar on top of the packed cabbage. The goal is use the cabbage leaf to keep all the shredded bits submerged under water.

Find something to weigh down the cabbage flat. You can use a pint class filled with water or any other item that will hep keep the sauerkraut below the water line. Put your jars on a dish to catch any liquid that bubbles up.

Wait, in warm weather it may take a week, in cooler weather even longer. If you start to see a white colored scum, take off your weight and flap, skim off any scum you see. Rinse the cabbage flap and weight and replace them. Start tasting your sauerkraut after about a week. When it tastes tangy and delicious, refrigerate to halt fermentation.