Adding fermented foods to your diet can aid weight loss, boost energy, improve the immune system and even enhance your mood. Pass the sauerkraut…
Thirteen years ago Donna Schwenk was 41 and pregnant with her third child. When she developed the high blood-pressure condition pre-eclampsia, her baby Holli had to be delivered seven weeks early. In addition, Donna was diagnosed with diabetes and severe fatigue, leaving her barely able to care for her newborn, whose birth weight was just 4lb. ‘Holli was tiny – I had to get better to help her thrive,’ she says. Browsing in a health-food store, she came across The Body Ecology Diet by Donna Gates and opened a page about kefir, a fermented milk drink high in beneficial gut bacteria.
‘A shop assistant said, “That’s the most important book you will ever need,”’ says Donna.
Donna began taking kefir and adding two teaspoons of it to Holli’s bottles. Within a month Holli had gained 4lb and after 12 weeks Donna found that her blood sugar and blood pressure had returned to normal. Today Donna, who went on to write the book Cultured Food For Life, is evangelical about the way fermented foods, with their high natural probiotic content, can transform health, not only by improving digestion but by boosting the immune system, improving metabolism, aiding weight loss and even raising mood.
Fermentation occurs when bacteria and enzymes convert carbohydrates into alcohol or organic acids, changing the flavour and texture of food and preserving it. The beneficial microorganisms eat up sugars (which is why many fermented foods taste sour) and inhibit the growth of bacteria, which make food go off. This process occurs naturally in many foods under the right conditions (such as warmth and darkness), and humans have made use of it for thousands of years (for example, making yoghurt out of milk or alcohol from fruit). Before refrigerators, we would eat vegetables in season and ferment them for preservation for the winter.
Fermentation has been a part of diets around the world since ancient times, from kimchi – fermented vegetables eaten in Korea – to Northern Europe’s sauerkraut, to fermented soya beans in Japan. Kefir was originally preserved in goatskin pouches by shepherds in the Caucasus mountains. ‘Until 100 years ago, many of the foods we ate were fermented in some way and this made it easier to retain the balance of good bacteria in our bodies,’ says nutritional therapist Daniel O’Shaughnessy (thenakednutritionist.co.uk). ‘Our bodies have evolved to thrive on this kind of diet.’
Article from The Daily Mail, November 1, 2014, by Anna Magee.