Western culture is terrified of germs and overly obsessed with hygiene. Children are told to wash their hands constantly. Petting a dog or receiving a dog’s sloppy tongue kiss is considered gross by many. Getting dirt under your fingernails disgusts many. We have become germaphobics and, yes, our health is now compromised. We live in the midst of the war on bacteria, and our bodies are major battlegrounds. We are taught to fear exposure to all forms of microscopic life. Every new sensationalized killer microbe gives us more reason to defend ourselves with vigilance. Nothing illustrates this more vividly than antibacterial soap.
The is a hygiene hypothesis which attributes the dramatic rise in prevalence of asthma and other allergies to lack of exposure to diverse microorganisms. We also have an epidemic of obesity. The more “germ-free” we try to be, the more vulnerable, over wight and sick we become. Well-informed hygiene is very important, but it is impossible to avoid exposure to microbes. They are everywhere. And, we need to be friends with many microbes and enhance their living inside our body
To appreciate the symbiosis human’s require with colonies of bacteria I have written an article HERE. This article is about how to make and include food specifically for gut colonies so they are happy camper and we become healthy hosts…..fermented foods.
Before I go into the ferment foods that feed the good guys, we need to talk a little bit about digestion. Digestion moves from the north to the south. So, it is good to look at the beginnings first. The stomach is the acid churner which begins the digestive process with strong acids that break down food preparing it for the rest of the journey south. So, it is wise to first focus on the importance of the stomach acid and perhaps supplementing with hydrochloric acid (HCL) for anyone with digestive issues. HCL is not really feasible to get in food form. Raw Apple Cider can certainly help, as can herbal bitters,but therapeutically HCL is sometimes required. Other things like enzymes are needed as well, but it’s so easy to get that from a good diet loaded with probiotic/enzymatic rich foods.
The Roles of Stomach Acid
- Stomach acid essentially sterilizes our food. It s our first line of defence against pathogens coming in to the stomach. It will kill bacteria/microbes/pathogens/yeast that come in and try to colonize in the intestines. These germs are destroyed on contact as our food is mixed with stomach acid.
- Stomach acid begins digesting our proteins. Namely the enzyme pepsin in our stomach juices.
Minerals are pulled for absorption by our stomach acid. Without enough stomach acid we cannot assimilate the minerals from our food.
- Stomach acid also stimulates the pancreas to secrete enzymes and bicarbonate. When the food is the proper pH moving out of the stomach it will signal the pancreas to secrete its’ juices. If the pH is not appropriate this can cause damage to the wall of the small intestines.
Self-Test Instructions for HCL
- Begin by taking one 350 to 750 mg capsule of betaine HCl with a protein-containing meal. A normal response in a healthy person would be discomfort – basically, heartburn (or a warming sensation in the stomach). If you do not feel a burning sensation, at the next protein-containing meal, take two capsules.
- . If there are no reactions, after two days increase the number of capsules with each meal to two capsules.
- Continue increasing every two days, using up to eight capsules at a time if necessary. Build slowly to a maximum of eight capsules with each meal. You’ll know you’ve taken too much if you experience tingling, heartburn, diarrhea, or any type of discomfort, including feelings of unease, digestive discomfort, neck ache, backache, headache, fatigue, decrease in energy, or any new odd symptom. If you experience tingling or burning, or any symptom that is uncomfortable, you can neutralize the acid with 1 teaspoon of baking soda in water or milk.
- When you reach of state of tingling, burning or any other type of discomfort, cut back by one capsule per meal. If the discomfort continues, DISCONTINUE the HCl. These dosages may seem large, but a normally functioning stomach manufactures considerably more, about 2,000 per meal.
- Once you have established a dose (either 8 capsules or less, if warmth or heaviness occurs), continue this dose.
- With smaller meals, you may require less HCl, so you may reduce the number of capsules taken.
Individuals with very moderate HCl deficiency generally show rapid improvement in symptoms and have early signs of intolerance to the acid. This typically indicates a return to normal acid secretion. Individuals with low HCL/pepsin typically do not respond as well to so to maximize the absorption and benefits of the nutrients you take, it is important to be consistent with your HCl/pepsin supplementation.
Over time you will rebuild your own stomach acid and no longer need supplementation. If you are needing supplementation with HCl for more than one year you may need to address deeper issues and use digestive enzymes, bitters, nutrients and possibly some body work like acupuncture or learn stress management techniques.
To heal the stomach first:
Make sure to chew slowly at every meal, relax, support with herbal bitters before and/or after meals, licorice (DGL“ deglycyrrhizinated), digestive/pancreatic enzymes (gut healing nutrients), and maybe some Aloe Vera Juice if there are ulcerations. Cabbage juice, several ounces daily, could be very helpful and start to help the parietal cells of the stomach to make its own HCL (this is only if you do not have a thyroid problem goitrogenic foods such as cabbage are contraindicated in thyroid issues). Vitamins A & D and even L-glutamine may also help. Supplemental B1, methylated B12 and zinc nutrients support acid production.
Then add the HCL, keep using probiotics and enzymes daily. Working to add properly fermented foods daily would be optimal, aim to have a small serving with each meal.
Fermented food is an amazing way of introducing the “wild” of nature into our body. It is an important connection to nature. There is a magic and power in fermented foods that has been used by many ancient human civilizations. Fermentation practices have long illustrious histories that stretch deep into prehistory and appear to have evolved together with the crops and animals themselves. It is actually how alcohol was discovered but it was also a way to preserve foods for our ancestors who did not have refrigerators and freezers.
There is no food that cannot be fermented, though not every food has an established tradition of fermentation.
Here are the most popular (and highly beneficial) fermented foods.
Yogurt has many benefits, mostly due to its rich probiotic content. Brands of yogurt that contain billions of live active cultures may support digestion, Raw, unpasteurized yogurt is ideal if you can handle dairy and even coconut and almond milk can be fermented. Homemade is always best simply because I believe personal alchemizing effort adds that magic to the microbe party. If you are buying it, be sure you’re choosing yogurt that contains live active cultures, and try to choose plain, full-fat versions in order to avoid sugar. Yogurt that contains sugar can be counterproductive, as sugars feed pathogenic bacteria and contribute to sugar overload.
Natto is prepared with soybeans and is fermented so it forms the beneficial bacteria Bacillus. It’s an excellent source of calcium, iron, dietary fiber, and vitamin K2. You may not have heard a lot about it, but K2 is essential for heart health as it keeps calcium out of your arteries and gets it to your bones where it’s needed. Natto also contains nattokinase, a powerful anti-clotting agent that protects your heart and brain and lowers your blood pressure. Natto is an acquired taste. I have made Natto and have discovered ways to “hide” it in our family meals.
Kefir is a bit like yogurt is smell and taste.. Researchers report kefir may reduce irritation in the intestines, preventing toxins and other pathogens from getting into the blood. If you’re choosing to drink dairy kefir, make sure it’s organic and isn’t loaded with refined sugarf Once you have kefir grains, they grow and multiple right on your counter top. I share this abundance with my goats and dog. I also use the grains in smoothies.
Made from black tea (and sometimes herbs), clean water, sugar, yeast, and bacteria, kombucha has amazing probiotic offerings. Its fizzy so is like a “soda”. This tea is great at warding off E. coli and Staph bacteria in the digestive tract, possibly protecting against illness and aiding digestion.
5. Sauerkraut, Kimchi, Pickles and Fermented Veggies
Traditional sauerkraut preparation uses water, salt, and cabbage, and very little heat is applied to the final product in order to prevent killing off beneficial microbes. The lacto-fermentation creates a sour taste. A daily serving gives you a powerful dose of healthy probiotics that aid digestion, and research has found raw sauerkraut prevents cancer cells from forming. These are a great source of antioxidants and immune-aiding bacteria.
This Indonesian ‘cake’ has a nutty flavour and chewy texture, and because of this, it is often used as a replacement for meat in many vegan recipes. Traditionally made from soybeans and a yeast starter, it undergoes controlled fermentation that makes it a great source of probiotic bacteria. Tempeh is also a great source of calcium, iron, and magnesium.
As noted above, yogurt and fermented dairy play an important role in Indian cuisine. Lassi is made by combining yogurt and milk (or water) and sometimes fruit and spices to create a great probiotic-rich drink. It digests quickly, helps restore friendly gut bacteria, and soothes irritation in the colon. Again, I don’t recommend consuming conventional pasteurized dairy. If you are going to drink lassi, it’s best to find a product using grass-fed, free-range goat milk. Goat milk tends to digest more easily. If you’re vegan, try finding or making lassi with organic coconut or almond milk yogurt.
Vessel: 1-quart/1-liter wide-mouth jar, or a larger jar or crock Ingredients (for 1 quart/1 liter): 2 pounds/1 kilogram of vegetables per quart/liter, any varieties of cabbage alone or in combination, or at least half cabbage and the remainder any combination of radishes, turnips, carrots, beets, kohlrabi, Jerusalem artichokes, onions, shallots, leeks, garlic, greens, peppers, or other vegetables Approximately 1 tablespoon salt (start with a little less, add if needed after tasting)
Prepare the vegetables. Remove the outer leaves of the cabbage and reserve. Scrub the root vegetables but do not peel. Chop or grate all vegetables into a bowl. The purpose of this is to expose surface area in order to pull water out of the vegetables, so that they can be submerged under their own juices. The finer the veggies are shredded, the easier it is to get juices out, but fineness or coarseness can vary with excellent results. (Fermenting whole vegetables or large chunks requires a saltwater brine)
Salt and season. Salt the vegetables lightly and add seasonings as you chop. Sauerkraut does not require heavy salting. Taste after the next step and add more salt or seasonings, if desired. It is always easier to add salt than to remove it. (If you must, cover the veggies with dechlorinated water, let this sit for 5 minutes, then pour off the excess water.) Squeeze the salted vegetables with your hands for a few minutes (or pound with a blunt tool). This bruises the vegetables, breaking down cell walls and enabling them to release their juices. Squeeze until you can pick up a handful and when you squeeze, juice releases (as from a wet sponge).
Pack the salted and squeezed vegetables into your jar. Press the vegetables down with force, using your fingers or a blunt tool, so that air pockets are expelled and juice rises up and over the vegetables. Fill the jar not quite all the way to the top, leaving a little space for expansion. The vegetables have a tendency to float to the top of the brine, so it’s best to keep them pressed down, using one of the cabbage’s outer leaves, folded to fit inside the jar, or a carved chunk of a root vegetable, or a small glass or ceramic insert.
Screw the top on the jar; lactic acid bacteria are anaerobic and do not need oxygen (though they can function in the presence of oxygen). However, be aware that fermentation produces carbon dioxide, so pressure will build up in the jar and needs to be released daily, especially the first few days when fermentation will be most vigorous.
Wait. Be sure to loosen the top to relieve pressure each day for the first few days. The rate of fermentation will be faster in a warm environment, slower in a cool one. Some people prefer their krauts lightly fermented for just a few days; others prefer a stronger, more acidic flavour that develops over weeks or months.
Taste after just a few days, then a few days later, and at regular intervals to discover what you prefer. Along with the flavour, the texture changes over time, beginning crunchy and gradually softening. Move to the refrigerator if you wish to stop (or rather slow) the fermentation. In a cool environment, kraut can continue fermenting slowly for months. In the summer or in a heated room, its life cycle is more rapid; eventually it can become soft and mushy.
Surface growth. The most common problem that people encounter in fermenting vegetables is surface growth of yeasts and/or molds, facilitated by oxygen. Many books refer to this as “scum,” but I prefer to think of it as a bloom. It’s a surface phenomenon, a result of contact with the air. If you should encounter surface growth, remove as much of it as you can, along with any discoloured or soft kraut from the top layer, and discard. The fermented vegetables beneath will generally look, smell, and taste fine. The surface growth can break up as you remove it, making it impossible to remove all of it. Don’t worry.
Enjoy your kraut! I start eating it when the kraut is young and enjoy its evolving flavour over the course of a few weeks (or months in a large batch). Be sure to try the sauerkraut juice that will be left after the kraut is eaten. Sauerkraut juice packs a strong flavour, and is unparalleled as a digestive tonic or hangover cure.
Develop a rhythm. Start a new batch before the previous one runs out. Get a few different flavours or styles going at once for variety. Experiment! Variations: Add a little fresh vegetable juice or “pot likker” and dispense with the need to squeeze or pound. Incorporate mung bean sprouts . . . hydrated seaweed . . . shredded or quartered brussels sprouts . . . cooked potatoes (mashed, fried, and beyond, but always cooled!) . . . dried or fresh fruit . . . the possibilities are infinite . . .
Recipe from: Katz, Sandor Ellix. Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods, 2nd Edition
See optional modifications for each dosha below.
- 1/2 cup of plain organic yogurt
- 1 cup of water
- 1/8 tsp turmeric powder or 1 medium root
- 1/8 tsp ginger powder or 1 inch sq root
- 1/8 tsp cinnamon powder – or same full/dried
- 1/8 tsp cardamon powder
- pinch black pepper
- 3 saffron stigmas – or marigold/calendula flowers
- 1 tsp of raw honey
Optional – you can add mangoes, berries or coconut
1. Place the yogurt in a blender.
2. Add the water, spices and honey.
3. Blend thoroughly for 1 minute.
4. Alternatively one can use a hand blender or a ball jar with an airtight lid to “shake it up”.
5. Take 1/2 cup of this probiotic drink after each meal to increase the digestion, boost beneficial bacteria in the gut and strengthen the blood.
Optional Doshic Variations
This recipe is great as is for Vata types and should be taken regularly after meals to reduce gas, bloating and constipation symptoms.
Pitta types should replace the honey with yacon syrup which is more cooling (and also appropriate for diabetics). If available they should use homemade yogurt, as this is more cooling and less sour than its store bought counterpart.
Kapha types should use plain goat yogurt rather than cow yogurt, as this tends to be easier to digest. They can double the amount of cinnamon and ginger and add in a pinch more black pepper. If there is a strong Kapha imbalance such as congestion, cough, excessive mucus, excessive weight or obesity, one should reduce the amount of yogurt in half.
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