By Nicky Halliday, Nutritional Therapist & Natural Chef
Nicky Halliday works in Dublin as a nutritional therapist and natural chef providing her clients with consultations on their health and diets and preparing and cooking food tailored to their individual needs.
Some might say disease has become endemic throughout the Western world, and I believe this to be true. Even though medical researchers have continued to discover successful ways to treat illnesses, unfortunately somewhere along the way we have created an environment where disease and allergies are increasingly prevalent. I do believe antibiotics have their place in this world but it is gradually becoming clear that they have been over prescribed and abused for many years now. This is creating a serious problem for most of us who are alive today.
More than 2000 years ago Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut”. The trillions of beneficial bacteria in the human gut form the basis of our health. In order to protect our bodies against parasitic and microbial attack, our digestive and immune system, and even our nervous systems depend on us having a healthy balance of intestinal flora. The beneficial bacteria in our guts support the barrier function of the intestinal mucous membrane against allergens and digested poisons, preventing these unwanted substances from entering the blood stream. If there is an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in our gut (dysbiosis) our digestive system cannot function properly, our immune system is seriously weakened and our gut wall will be damaged as our protection mechanisms start to break down. The result of this is breakdown leads to a condition called leaky gut, where undigested foods can pass through the gut wall and into the blood stream. This can have a catastrophic effect on our bodies and may cause allergies, intolerances, infections, autoimmune-diseases, IBS, yeast infections, cancer, skin problems, inflammation and heart disease, to name a few.
The beneficial bacteria also send chemical messages to our nervous systems which our brains pick up, understand and act upon. If the beneficial bacteria are present they will send our brains the correct messages. This is why now, more research is coming to light in relation to the link between our gut health and our brain, and conditions such as autism, ADHD, depression and dyslexia are being increasingly associated with an imbalance in gut flora. If you think about it, we take antibiotics to cure ourselves from illnesses, but these drugs inevitably kill off most of the bacteria in our gut, the harmful and but also the beneficial. Yes, we will feel better after the dose but if we do not make an effort to replace the friendly bacteria our gut will provide space for more of the harmful bacteria to flourish, as antibiotics have no effect on a potentially harmful bacteria that lives in all our guts, Candida albicans. Hence we can find ourselves providing an environment for Candida to thrive after a course of antibiotics. However, antibiotics are not the only culprit to blame for this lack of beneficial bacteria so many of us are suffering from: there is a long list of contributory factors for example, bottle feeding babies, long term stress, an unhealthy diet consisting of processed food, sugars, refined carbohydrates and grains, prolonged fasting and overeating, most medications including the contraceptive pill, alcoholism. It can also be passed down from parents to their children.
As we can see it is extremely important for all of us to look after our gut as much as we possibly can, and a simple and natural way to do this is to eat fermented foods. Humans have beenfermenting foods and drinks for thousands of years, producing yogurt, sauerkraut, crème fraiche, cheese, kefir, tempeh, tamari, miso, kimchi, kombucha and pickled vegetables.
So, why are fermented foods beneficial for us? Our gut bacteria will feed upon whatever we eat, and these foods in particular can create a home for the beneficial bacteria in our gut to flourish and feed upon. The bacteria in foods that have been fermented act by breaking down starches and sugars into lactic acid. These “bio preservatives” naturally preserve the food, thus inhibiting the growth of other harmful bacteria like salmonella. Fermented foods can gradually transform the environment in our gut to a healthy place by supplying the digestive tract with live cultures (probiotics) that aid digestion and nutrient absorption. Not only do they encourage the good bacteria to flourish, but they also prevent the food from decaying in the bowel. Lactic acid breaks down the nutrients in food into more easily digestible forms. Basically, fermented foods have been “pre-digested” for us before we eat them. This is why some people can digest a good quality natural yogurt, but cannot tolerate a glass of milk. And there are these additional benefits to consider: while these foods are fermenting, they create B vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids which make them even more nourishing. I believe if we heal our guts and create a friendly environment we can cure most of our allergies and prevent disease.
I recommend eating fermented foods with every meal for optimum health benefits. Unfortunately most of the fermented foods in stores have been pasteurised which kills the beneficial bacteria, so making them yourself is the best route to go down. Or if you would like me to make you some I would be more than happy to do so. They are extremely simple and inexpensive to make, although a little patience is needed while the process takes place
A basic sauerkraut recipe to make at home.
- 4-5 pounds cabbage
- 2 tablespoons sea salt
- You can use a Kilner jar which you can buy in most hardware stores (one with a rubber seal and clasp) or else you can use a wide mouth glass jar with a tea towel and rubber band.
- Finely shred the cabbage and place it in a bowl in batches, sprinkling each batch with a layer of sea salt. I find the best way to release the juices is by massaging it with your hands until it breaks down and becomes soft. You might want to wear a pair of protective gloves.
- Pack very tightly into jars, pushing it all down until it is completely submerged by liquid. The most important thing is to make sure it all stays under the liquid or the top will turn mouldy, I usually weigh it down with another glass jar sitting inside.
- Close the top of the jar or place a tea towel over it and place a rubber band on the outside so nothing can creep in but air.
- Let it ferment on your counter for 4-6 weeks, depending on how you would like it to taste.
- When you are ready to eat it, transfer it to the refrigerator where it will keep for a few months
The possibilities of fermented vegetables are endless. The most popular would be different types of cabbage, carrots, beetroot, garlic and ginger. Many other vegetables can be used in different combinations to make a rich array of probiotic foods. I will be posting a few of my tasty recipes to my website very soon and I look forward to hearing about your own creations and experiences.
www.nickyhalliday.com | 087 7541993