2016 has seen an increased awareness and the rapidly growing interest in the human microbiome. The microbiome consists of ten trillion bacteria which make up our gut. They outnumber our cells ten to one! Recent studies, such as those published in the scientific journal Science Daily and conducted by the Washington University in St. Louis, have linked the importance of gut bacteria to digestion, mood, obesity and anxiety disorders.
It is now known that there is a communication pathway between our gut and our brain. It is known as the gut brain axis. It uses a combination of nervous, endocrine (hormone) and immune signals to convey messages to the brain. The phrase “A gut feeling” holds more meaning now more than ever.
The bacteria in your gut bacteria are altered with every bite you eat. They are affected by stress,environmental toxins and the number one killer – Antibiotics. So, in knowing the importance of your gut bacteria, how can you help it?
Firstly, in cases where antibiotics have been used you can pop into your nearest health shop for a probiotic, which is a capsule with live bacteria in it that can help repopulate your gut.
Secondly, fermented foods. This food group contains naturally occurring bacteria. Fermented foods have seen a surge in popularity recently in Ireland. Other parts of the world rnotably Asia and Eastern Europe have known and used them for centuries. Kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh and kefir have all been fermented so that they produce bacteria that are beneficial to our gut. Here in Ireland we are more familiar with live probiotic yogurt.
Since the end of last year fermented foods have been popping up on health food shop shelves:
– Kefir is a milk or yogurt drink which has been fermented using kefir grains. It is suitable to pour on cereals, into smoothies or serve with some fruit.
– Tempeh is a fermented soya product normally found in the frozen section of a health store. Use it in a stir fry or in any meal as a protein source. With 19g of protein per 100g.
– Miso is a paste made of fermented soy, and is commonly used to make a clear broth served with seaweed and tofu. You can buy it in Asian stores and health food stores.
– Sauerkraut is a a finely chopped cabbage dish that has been fermented.
– Kimchi is a traditional fermented Korean dish that has cabbage and chili in it. Cultured Kitchen is an Irish vegan kimchi that can be found in The Hopsack, The Healthstores, Urban Health, Love Nature and The Happy Pear.
Both sauerkraut and kimchi are well suited to sandwiches, burgers, side salads and Cultured Kitchen’s kimchi is great with eggs and avocado on toast! It should be noted that most fermented foods should not be heated. With the exception of miso and tempeh. The heat would kill bacteria.
How do you make a cabbage become a tasty host for such healthy bacteria? Add sea salt, A LOT of elbow grease and wait a few weeks. This produces lactic acid which is a natural preservative – this process of fermenting is called “Lacto-fermentation.”
Lets look at a basic Sauerkraut Recipe:
– One medium cabbage
– 3 tsp sea salt
1. Slice cabbage up into thin strips.
2. Place into a bowl with salt and massage until there is liquid in the bowl.
3. Place into a clean glass kilner jar and press down until liquid has risen above the cabbage.
4. Loosely close lid or open your lid periodically to allow gas out.
5. Leave it in a warm place for a week and taste it. The longer you leave it the stronger the flavour.
6. Once to your liking place it in the fridge and keeps in the fridge for a few weeks.
Fermented foods are not a food fad. With benefits such as reducing bloating, improving digestion, improving the absorption of nutrients and improving the removal of waste they are here to stay.
So, choose your favourite and incorporate it into your own eating habits. Your gut will thank you for it.
Aoife Martinho is a Nutritional Therapist, food blogger and food lover. Aoife is also the co-owner of Cultured Kitchen, an Irish fermented food company which aims to revive this ‘tasty’ traditional food production method with an emphasis on optimal gut health.