Your great great great great great grandmother would like you to eat…

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This topic itself seems sort of boring on the surface… like mildly interesting, with a “so what” aftertaste. Talking about water feels that way, but there’s nothing “so what” about water,  just go a day or 2 without it. What I’m saying is; please stick around a bit and see if we can’t turn this seemly “so what” into a “holy crap”.


Whether it’s vitamin D, multi-vitamins, probiotics, you name it, I’m always asked “Why is this  so important NOW? People have been living without supplements and other newage treehugger garbage for thousands of years. So why should we care now?”. Creationists and evolutionists can both agree that we haven’t changed much over the last couple thousand years. What has changed drastically is what we eat.


To really drive this point home, let’s imagine one of our ancestors living 300 years ago. If you’re familiar with your heritage, then you can imagine what foods they might have had available, how they were stored, and how they were prepared. Now that you’re mentally standing in their kitchen or pantry, how different do you think their grandparent’s kitchen or pantry would have looked? Probably not very different at all, right?  Now compare that with your own… see any differences yet? How about your own and what you remember of your grandparents as a kid. Any differences there?


The topic for today relates to this in two ways. First, they may be missing from your kitchen all together, and secondly, even if you think you have them, they are not likely the same as your ancestor’s or grandparent’s.


I’m talking about fermented foods. While most people instantly think of sauerkraut or pickles, fermented foods can be made from almost any vegetable. Fermented foods have been used for thousands of years by virtually every culture around the world. However, these foods have all but disappeared from the western diet.


The jar of sauerkraut in your pantry that you bought from the supermarket has been pasteurized. Pasteurization kills all the bacteria, good and bad, along with destroying the beneficial enzymes. The pickles in your fridge were pickled with vinegar; they weren’t fermented.


Fermented vegetables were a staple of our ancestors for up to 10 months out of the year and if you’re like most Americans, you haven’t eaten any in years, or maybe your entire life.


As a nation, our guts (digestive systems) are a mess. This is a HUGE problem for our health for more reason than I’m about to list. The vast majority of the nutrients that enter the body are absorbed in the guts, they are responsible for eliminating toxins, and decide what’s allowed to make it into our bodies and what’s not. Over 70% of our entire immune system comes from our guts. How can anyone expect to be healthy with unhealthy guts? Answer: they can’t… no way, no how!


Fermented foods were our ancestor’s probiotics (more info on probiotics). In fact, the number of probiotics in real sauerkraut would make most of the probiotic capsules on the market blush. Our ancestors ate probiotic rich foods almost daily, didn’t take antibiotics, didn’t eat meat that took antibiotics, and didn’t eat herbicides, pesticides, loads of sugar, or processed foods (all things that can devastate our gut flora).


In addition to probiotics, an argument could easily be made that fermented vegetables are actually better for us than raw, fresh vegetables. I’m not kidding! Here are some of the benefits in no particular order:


  • Fermented foods are easier to digest – the fermentation process goes to work on the vegetables, which puts less of a burden on your digestive system.

  • Fermented foods are actually higher in vitamins – not only does fermentation preserve the vitamin content, it enhances it… especially B vitamins.

  • Fermented foods have more enzyme activity –  it’s hard for the body to access all the great enzymes contained in raw vegetables; fermentation makes them readily available.

  • Fermented foods are more absorbable – this ties into a couple of the above points, but stands on it’s own as well. Raw vegetables can be very hard for the body to break down completely. Many of the nutrients (vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, enzymes) simply never have a chance to be absorbed.

  • Fermented foods are lower in carbohydrates – sugar is converted to lactic acid in the fermentation process.


Not only is fermentation good for you, it’s practical too. It’s easy, fun, cheap, and extends the life of your garden… or your neighbors (just sayin’). There are several great websites and books to learn all you need to know about fermenting your own vegetables. Here’s a couple resources to get you started.


Well, I hope I’ve peaked your interest enough to look into fermentation.  I truly believe it’s a vital piece of our heritage and health. If you’re one of the few savvy folks still fermenting, then please share some of your experience in the comments. Also, if you’d like to know more about how the process works, I’d be happy to write on that in the next couple weeks… just let me know.


sauerkraut photo by cheeseslave (flickr creative commons)


Co-Founder of NutritionGeeks, retired USAPL drug-free powerlifter, volunteer youth wrestling coach, father of 3 amazing boys and interested in all things health

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