Fermented foods

Fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, raw sauerkraut, and kombucha, are very important for good health.  The good bacteria (probiotics) are beneficial to the digestive tract, crowd out and kill yeast and pathogenic bacteria, and increase enzyme and nutrient content in the food.  Fermented food is essential for good health.  Those that follow “traditional diets” use fermented foods as an essential part of good nutrition.  This is because for many generations, fermenting food was our only way to keep food fresh without refrigeration and during cold winters where vegetables could not be grown. As such, we ate fermented foods daily, which ensured the intestinal tract would be populated with good bacteria and to provide adequate nutrients. Today most of us eat zero fermented foods.  A great book for recipes for making fermented foods is Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz.

Many on the ASD spectrum cannot eat dairy so fermented dairy such as yogurt and kefir are out.  However, those on the SCD and/or those that have cleaned up the gut, often do well with homemade goat’s yogurt or homemade raw yogurt.  Note: You must heal the gut before add in any dairy.

It is my belief that receiving probiotics through fermented food is the best way to colonize and repopulate good bacteria.  We are fortunate to have some great quality probiotic supplements, but there is an advantage to getting children to eat fermented foods.  Eating live fermented foods helps balance the inner terrain of the intestinal tract to allow for better repopulation and they contain far more bacteria than supplements alone can provide.  Typical store bought probiotics have between 3-6 billion bacteria, the most high quality professional supplements have 25-50 billion, while homemade yogurt has 700 billion per cup.  Homemade yogurt is superior to store bought yogurt because it is fermented for 24 hours instead of just 4 hours and is fresher.

Here are just some of the benefits of good bacteria (from Liz Lipski’s, Digestive Wellness):

  • Good bacteria make vitamins our bodies need and utilize, such as B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, A and K.
  • Produce essential fatty acids (specially short-chained which are needed to sustain the good bacteria)
  • They digest lactose
  • Regulate peristalsis and bowel movements
  • Digest protein into amino acids (for use by the body)
  • Help infants establish good digestion, preventing colic, diaper rash and gas
  • Produce antibiotics and antifungals with prevent colonization and growth of bad bacteria and yeast/fungus.
  • Support the immune system and increase the number of immune cells
  • Balance intestinal pH.
  • Break down bacterial toxins
  • Have antitumor and anticancer effects
  • Protect us against environmental toxins like mercury, pesticides, pollution and radiation.
  • Break down bile acids
  • Helps normalize serum cholesterol and triglycerides
  • Break down and rebuild hormones
  • Promote healthy metabolism

Foods containing good bacteria

Yogurt and kefir:  Yogurt and kefir, made from dairy, are excellent sources of good bacteria.  Kefir is similar to yogurt but a little more pourable (actually homemade yogurt is thinner than store bought because it does not have extra milk solids or thickeners).  Additionally, kefir (like kombucha) has good yeast to kill candida. 

Young green coconut milk kefir is a great alternative for those who can’t tolerate dairy.  You get the benefit of the kefir cultures without the casein.  The benefit to kefir is that it is a culture of bacteria and yeast.  This yeast kills yeast and is helpful for yeast overgrowth.  The taste of young coconut milk kefir is pretty good and many kids like it and will drink it.  Unfortunately, this drink is not made commercially and has to be made by hand.  I have to admit it is a bit time consuming and touchy to make.  The other thing to be aware of is that some people have a sensitivity to coconut.  You can find the recipe in The Body Ecology Diet by Donna Gates and on her website, www.bodyecologydiet.com.

Raw sauerkraut, cultured vegetables and kim chi are types of cultured or fermented vegetables.  All cultured foods are sour, a product of the acidic bacteria.  You can really experience this with raw sauerkraut.  It is very sour.  While it took me a while to fully enjoy it, it grows on you and the sour flavor becomes very enjoyable.  Some children love sauerkraut and its sour taste; others (especially those that don’t like vegetables) will not touch it or need some time to get used to it.

Kombucha, a cultured food we don’t hear of too much about, but it is catching on very quickly.  It is my favorite of the cultured foods.  It is delicious and kids love it!  Kombucha is often misclassified as “mushroom tea” leading people to believe it is some sort of mushroom boiled and made into a tea.  This is not the case.  It is a brew of sweetened black or green tea that is fermented with a culture of bacteria and yeast.  The bacteria and yeast feed on the sugar and convert it into beneficial components that help with digestion, detoxification, immune function, cellular metabolism, etc.  It almost seems unbelievable when you see all of the uses for it including: constipation, candida, digestive disturbances, immune system problems like AIDS, cancer, headaches, and a variety of heart-supportive uses.  See the recipe for kombucha (LINK:kombucharecipe).

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