Fermentation – Where health begins

Fermentation has many different meanings and depending on the context in which it is being used, this ambiguous word can create confusion. Simply speaking, fermentation is defined as a chemical process in which a substance is broken down by microorganisms (such as bacteria). This makes sense when we are referring to the fermentation in food, producing foods such as kefir, natto, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, lassi and the more common pickle (more on these foods later as they also serve a vital role in the healthy functioning of the gut).

Fermentation is also a metabolic process that releases energy from a sugar (or other organic molecules). It occurs in muscle cells under anaerobic conditions and as a result produces the much known lactic acid causing us to have that ‘stiff feeling’.

The type of fermentation of more interest to us at the moment is the fermentation occurring in our bodies, more specifically, our gut. This type of fermentation is referred to as colonic fermentation, because you guessed it, it takes place in the colon.

So what is colonic fermentation?

Colonic fermentation is slightly more complicated than making beer or bread. This process involves the breakdown of undigested food (and insoluble fibre) by the very important resident bacteria in the colon. This breakdown yields by-products which include short chain fatty acids (SCFA’s) and gasses (Hydrogen, Methane and Carbon Dioxide). These by-products are important for the regulation of the uptake of electrolytes and water which we know is one of the main functions of the colon as well as the synthesis of Vitamin K.

The fermentation of undigested food then encourages the growth of essential bacteria such as the Lactobaccilli and Bifidobacteria. Having a good balance of healthy bacteria in the gut prevents inflammation, tumour formation and has an effect on metabolic health and even your mood or emotional state.

What are some of the complications of an unhealthy gut?

Whether its bloating, cramps, diarrhoea or constipation, being in tune with how your stomach (gut) is feeling is oh so important. Besides the inconvenience of feeling generally unwell, an unhealthy gut can often be caused by something worth taking note of, or vice versa, an unhealthy gut can be causing a whole ripple effect of problems.

The gut is a major part of the immune system and dips in the immune system which can be caused by anything ranging from lack of sleep, to poor diet, to stress or depression, can negatively affect the gut and its proper functioning. An unhealthy gut can then lead to autoimmune diseases, weight gain and inflammatory diseases (amongst others).

Fermentation in food

Getting back to the fermentation process in food. This process of preservation has been used since the New Stone Age and fermented foods contain loads of probiotics. A few examples of fermented foods as mentioned above are:

  1. Kefir

Kefir is a bit like yoghurt, except that it’s of a thinner consistency and tastes something like buttermilk. It is made using milk and kefir grains and the whole process takes about 24 hours. Milk kefir has endless benefits, some of which include improved digestion, enhanced use of certain trace minerals and B vitamins, improved lactose intolerance and milk kefir helps your body assimilate calcium. Learn how to make your own kefir at http://www.culturesforhealth.com/learn/milk-kefir/how-to-make-milk-kefir/

  1. Natto

Natto is prepared with soybeans and is fermented so it forms the beneficial bacteria Bacillus. It’s an excellent source of calcium, iron, dietary fibre, and vitamin K. Natto also contains nattokinase, a powerful anti-clotting agent that protects your heart and brain and lowers your blood pressure.

  1. Kombucha

Made from tea, clean water, sugar, yeast, and bacteria. Research has found that this fermented tea balances the amount of E. coli and Staph bacteria in the digestive tract, protecting against illness and aiding digestion

  1. Sauerkraut

Traditional sauerkraut preparation uses water, salt, and cabbage. Very little heat is applied to the final product in order to prevent killing off beneficial microbes. The sour taste comes from the breakdown of lactose by the probiotic bacteria native to the cabbage. A serving gives you a powerful dose of healthy probiotics that aid digestion.

  1. Kimchi

‘Asian fermented cabbage’ to you and me, similar to sauerkraut, provides you with loads of probiotics. Benefits of this fermented product includes: improved colon health, lower cholesterol, improved immune system, healthy skin, and weight loss. It has also been in the limelight for the anti-oxidative, anti-aging, and immune-supporting properties

  1. Pickles

Raw pickles are a great introduction to fermented foods. Pickles made by lacto-fermentation are a delicious snack that aid digestion and support a strong immune system.

  1. Lassi

An Indian staple. Lassi is made by combining yoghurt and milk (or water) and sometimes fruit and spices to create a great probiotic-rich drink. It digests quickly, helps restore friendly gut bacteria, and soothes irritation in the colon.

It’s a no brainer. Start including fermented foods in your diet as well as fibre (both soluble and insoluble) and plenty of clean water. Keep your gut healthy and you will find that the majority of your problems should resolve.