Sunday, February 12, 2012

Cultured and Probiotic Foods

We all get tummy aches now and again and like most folks, I used to reach for antacids to treat them. But about 6 years ago I discovered an all natural and safe product that was healthy and had no harmful side affects. You have probably already heard of it: probiotics.  The term probiotic is of greek origen and means "for life"

Probiotics are a digestive aid for all the foods you eat: proteins, carbs and fats. They help to break those foods down in the gut which in turn helps you eliminate them. After all, what goes in must come out, right?  But another star quality about probiotics is that they populate the gut with healthy flora and "good bacteria".  Those good bacteria need to outnumber the bad. 

Probiotic foods are simply cultured foods. These are foods that have been fermented when enzymes (beneficial bacteria) and yeasts are present. Fermenting food was a common preservation method before modern refrigeration.  Rather than spoiling, these foods often improve with age because the bacteria and yeasts fight off bad bacteria that would otherwise destroy the foods.

Foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sourdough, naturally brined pickles, sauerkraut or kimchi are some examples of cultured foods. Old fashioned ketchup and soy sauce and other condiments made using traditional methods are also cultured foods.  Natural brines of sea salt, whey or culture starter are different from the white vinegar brines commonly used for grocery store foods like pickles or sauerkraut.  White vinegar brines do not pass on the needed probiotics [enzymes] which are essential for it to be a truly cultured food.

Cultured foods are tremendously important for good digestive health. They help repopulate the gut with healthy bacteria and yeasts and maintain balance in the digestive tract. They also aid in the digestion of our food and hinder infection through a boosted immune system -most of which is located in the intestines.

In bygone times, eating a cultured food with every single meal was common. Not only the foods, but the condiments also commonly contained cultured properties.  My absolute favorite sandwich is a Reuben sandwich.  When prepared using traditional methods, every ingredient - sourdough bread, corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and condiments are all cultured foods! Even the butter it is grilled with can be a cultured food. Enjoy it with a traditional beer or glass of kefir and it constitutes an incredibly probiotic rich meal!

Everyone benefits from probiotic and cultured foods.  But there are those who are in much more dire need than others, such as someone who’s been given antibiotics or suffers from digestive problems or immune system disorders.  Probiotics in the form of cultured foods will be an immense help for these individuals.

Since cultured foods and ferments are literally in a state of pre-digestion, they are often easier to handle for folks who are sick or have trouble digesting their food. I recommend EVERYONE eat more traditionally prepared foods, whole foods, and living foods, like fermented and cultured foods prepared using old world, traditional methods.

I am very anxious to try culturing foods in my own kitchen but I think just getting set up with the necessary equipment (crocks, jars, cupboard space) is what has held me back.  I believe that most cultures are truly set it and forget it and that really calms my fears. From what I have read, you throw a bunch of stuff in a clean jar, throw a lid or tea towel over it, and just let it sit for a few days before tossing it in the fridge for future use. Now really… does it get simpler than that?  J
Other foods high in probiotics are kefir, kombucha, pickles, dark chocolate, aged cheeses such as swiss and gouda and real sour dough bread.  Who knew that some nice melted cheese on some sour dough bread with a little dark chocolate could be so good for you? 

So make sure you include lots of healhty fermented foods in your diet and start your children on them young so it will become a natural part of their diet as they get older.

Whether you buy them or make them fresh, getting cultured foods into your diet is vital.  If you have a recipe you've had success with, I would love to hear about it.


Roxanne said...

I just found you! I've enjoyed all the posts I've read, and you clearly enjoy the mid-century look of things with your pics!

I decided to "follow" you and enjoy new posts!

Simply Keeping Home said...

Thanks Roxanne and welcome! I sure do love the mid-century look! My dream house would contain vintage everything! :)

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