There seems to be more and more talk about probiotics these days. I take a probiotic, eat yogurt frequently, and regularly drink kombucha. I thought I had it all down…until recently. I started reading Super Nutrition for Babies several months ago because I was looking for more information on how to feed Brooks. It is in this book (written by a pediatrician) which I first learned of fermented or cultured foods. The author recommends making “lacto-fermented” veggies with breastmilk. To be honest, I couldn’t quite get my head around this so I never actually followed the recipes. I did; however, buy a culture starter from a company called body ecology. It sat on my counter for months. Finally, about two weeks ago, I decided to do something with it. I looked online and found a video by a lady named Donna Gates on how to make cultured vegetables (click here to watch but beware they are ridiculously long) and I set out to work. First off, I would like to warn you that if you follow the directions you will end up with more veggies than you know what to do with. I chose to use green cabbage (3 heads!!), 1 red bell pepper, 2 carrots, 2 bunches of kale, and 1 clove of garlic. In retrospect I’m not sure the garlic was a good idea but I’ll get to that later. Apparently fermenting not only makes the vegetables more nutritious but it also enhances the flavors so that they are stronger. Anyhow, after about a two hour process in the kitchen, I had 3 jars and 1 huge bowl of vegetables and all I had to do was wait 3-7 days.
After 3 days my curiosity got the best of me so I opened 1 jar and I was unprepared for the explosion followed by the horrid smell. It overtook my kitchen. Luckily the vegetables taste slightly better. I say slightly because I honestly don’t love them. I’m not even sure that I can say that I like them but I’m hoping that they will grow on me. Chris tasted them and he didn’t think they were so bad but he asked me why I didn’t just buy sauerkraut. Well, the short answer is that you can but most sauerkrauts that you find at the store are going to be pasturized and that defeats the purpose. Bubbies brand and Rejuvenative Foods both do make raw sauerkraut that are available at Whole Foods and therefore have the benefits of my fermented veggie mix.
Speaking of, if you are asking yourself why in the world I went to all of this trouble or why I’m still talking about sauerkraut, it’s because research continues to reveal more and more benefits of having good bacteria in your gut. In fact, The Harvard Medical School lists the following as possible benefits of probiotics: delay of allergies in children, the treatment of gastrointestional issues, the treatment and prevention of vaginal and urinary tract infections in women, and increased immune function. A study written in NBC news suggests that healthy bacteria could help with sinus problems. Another recent study conducted by UCLA shows that eating probiotics in yogurt positively affects brain function. (Click here to read the study) “Researchers have known that the brain sends signals to the gut, which is why stress and other emotions can contribute to gastrointestinal symptoms. This study shows what has been suspected but until now had been proved only in animal studies: that signals travel the opposite way as well.” If none of this is convincing enough, perhaps the fact that emerging evidence suggests that probiotics may have a preventative effect on cancer will convince you. (Click here for more information on that) Sounds like it’s a good idea to add some probiotics, right?
So the question becomes, how much is enough? Are Brooks and I reaping the benefits by my probiotic pill, yogurt, and Kombucha or do I need to incorporate fermented veggies? Unfortunately the answer to this isn’t quite clear. Researchers don’t have an exact number of the microflora that we need in our gut. Likely this number is different for everyone. It is recommended; however, that your probiotic contain billions of live organisms. Yes, billions. Can you have too much of a good thing? Possibly; however, I was unable to find any serious adverse reactions or side effects. It is worth noting; however, that supplements such as probiotics are not regulated and therefore can vary greatly. You can; however, get information on your supplements on consumberlab.com which is an independent organization that tests supplements.
There are of course other foods that have beneficial bacteria. According to The Cleveland Clinic “Foods that contain probiotics include: some juices and soy drinks, fermented and unfermented milk, buttermilk, some soft cheeses, miso, tempeh, kefir, kim chi, sauerkraut, and many pickles. As said, probably the most well known food product that contains probiotics is yogurt”.
With all of this being said, would I go to the trouble of making fermented veggies again? Yes, but I would do it differently next time. I love garlic but it has a very strong flavor and I don’t think it was a very good beginner food for me to ferment. I would like to try fermenting tomatillos to add them to salsa or maybe beets and add them to a salad. I’m not used to sour tastes and therefore, I think I would like them better if I can add them to a more traditional food instead of trying to eat them alone.