by Sue Becker
Do you suffer from lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance, constipation, IBS, yeast infections, allergies, or asthma? All of these conditions have been linked to a lack of good bacteria in the gut.
I have had a growing concern over the past few years about the vast number of people being diagnosed with food intolerances, particularly gluten. Although I know for some people these intolerances are very real and removal of certain foods may be the only option, nevertheless I still wonder at the cause of such prevalence today and question the wisdom of removing these God created foods completely from our diets.
In some of my recent studies, I learned that glutamic acid, an amino acid found predominately in wheat gluten, is critically important in brain metabolism. Glutamic acid functions as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system and is called “brain food” because of its special role in the brain. It is converted to glutamine in the body, which serves as a buffer against too much ammonia in the brain. A lack of glutamic acid can cause mood swings and brain upset. Glutamine has been shown to improve intelligence and the I.Q. of the mentally retarded. If wheat and other whole grains containing gluten are our predominate food source for these amino acids, is it wise to completely eliminate these foods from our diet or is there another solution to the problem?
Of course if you can not digest gluten, then these amino acids can not even function in the body and the undigested protein just makes health matters worse. Perhaps, however, correcting the digestion issues could be a better solution. Here is where fermented foods may play an important part.
The idea of fermenting foods may sound unappealing to some, but the truth of the matter is that fermented foods have been the mainstay in the diets of most cultures probably since the beginning of time. Fermentation involves the culturing of food with living organisms, and is certainly not limited to milk. Such foods as yogurt and kefir are common fermented foods, but sauerkraut, sour dough bread, miso, kimchi, and fermented juices have graced the tables of people in other countries for centuries. Perhaps what began as a means of preservation, the fermentation of foods, is now known for its restoration of health to an out of balance body.
The Health Benefits of Fermented Foods
Not only do fermented foods naturally contain important enzymes to help with digestion of other foods, but also the fermented foods themselves are partially digested before we consume them. The living organisms actually ingest the proteins, fats and sugars in the foods during fermentation, making these components easier to assimilate by the body requiring much less digestion. Sometimes people who can not tolerate milk can eat yogurt because the fermentation process breaks down the milk sugar, lactose.
Our bodies need enzymes to properly digest, absorb, and make full use of the food we eat. As we age, our body’s supply of enzymes is depleted. Nutrient absorption is greatly enhanced by both eating living food with enzymes still in tact and eating fermented foods that are already partially digested.
Restoring the Proper Balance of Gut Bacteria
The widespread use of antibiotics in this country has greatly affected the delicate balance of our good gut organisms. The fermentation process of foods, whether it is milk, vegetables or fruit, is accomplished by the action of lactic acid forming organisms. Foods that have been properly fermented contain a wide range of healthy organisms that can effectively recolonize our guts. These organisms play a key role in our immune function as they not only produce antibiotics in the gut but the also keep in check the overgrowth of harmful organisms.
Increased Nutrient Absorption
During the fermentation process the organisms actually produce certain nutrients as a byproduct of the break down of the food. For example, the organisms used to culture yogurt actually produce an abundance of B vitamins, giving yogurt a higher vitamin content than milk. These same organisms produce nutrients in the gut as well that are very useful to the body. As stated earlier, eating fermented foods will actually help to absorb more of the nutrients you do ingest.
Bottom line, if we fail to replenish our good gut bacteria on a daily basis, we will never effectively restore balance to our systems. Though just the name, “fermented food”, may sound unappealing, the possibilities go way beyond yogurt and kefir, to delicious foods your whole family will love.