Superfood Sunday – Sauerkraut (and more on gut health)
I’ve spent the last week listening to a bunch of speakers discuss the importance of gut health. See seminar link here.
It was amazing and eye-opening to say the least. The awareness of gut health is a growing issue, and I think this is primarily due to the abundance of research proving the integral role of the gut in our bodies and the common link to disease. In fact, Dr Natasha Campbell McBride (founder of GAPS – Gut and Psychology Syndrome) believes that all autoimmune diseases, like Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, begin in the gut.
The zoo inside your body
Dr Campbell McBride explains that 90% of all genetic materials in the human body is gut flora. In fact, it’s estimated that the human gut contains 100 trillion bacteria. These bacteria, or gut flora, influence health in many ways, from helping to extract energy from food to building the body’s immune system, to protecting against infection with harmful, disease-causing bacteria. In a healthy person the microbial world is dominated by good tissues and beneficial bacteria which control all of the pathogenic microbes that lie alongside the good ones and keep them at bay to prevent them from releasing harmful substances into the rest of the body.
However, the problem is when the beneficial bacteria is destroyed and the gut becomes dominated by pathogens. As the gut lining becomes destroyed by these pathogens it can lead to things like leaky gut and an inability to digest food probably, food intolerances etc. Pathogens digest food in the wrong way and convert it into thousands of poisonous toxic chemicals which are absorbed through damaged gut lining and get transported throughout the body. If they come into contact with various organs of your body from your liver, kidney, heart and bone marrow – they can cause disease.
As a result, our bodies are starving for essential nutrients which have been deprived in this process. We then build up allergies to food which can manifest in many ways like headaches, skin rashes, mood swings, eczema, low energy levels – which can come a day later or months later.
Beneficial bacteria can also be destroyed through antibiotics and long-term overuse of prescription medication. Gerard Mullin, M.D., a holistic gastroenterologist, professor at Johns Hopkins, and the author of ‘Inside Tract: Your Good Gut Guide to Great Digestive Health’, explains that any time you take medicines that block acid production or kill healthy bacteria, you upset the delicate ecosystem in your gut.
Therefore, we need to focus on healing and sealing the gut wall/lining. To do so we need to change the gut flora and normalise it.
As a starting point, eating a diet high in probiotic rich foods is one of the best ways to restore the good gut flora. So this not only means taking probiotics in a powder form (which is more digestible than tablets/capsules), but also eating a wide variety of probiotic foods such as fermented vegies like sauerkraut and kimchi and drinking probiotic elixirs such as coconut kefir and kombucha.
Today I’m going to focus on one of my favourite probiotic-rich foods – sauerkraut. Before I knew how good sauerkraut was for me, the closest I had come to eating it was in a large beer tent at Oktoberfest, Munich circa 2010, alongside schnitzel, currywurst and one too many steins!! Wow how times have changed! But if I had known back then how good sauerkraut was for me… chances are I would have been downing the stuff like there was no tomorrow!
Sauerkraut is made by lactic fermentation so that the necessary bacteria and yeasts are naturally present on cabbage leaves. Apart from salt, which starts the process, no other ingredients are required. Cabbage contains natural isothiocyanate compounds which have cancer-fighting properties. So if you’re not making it yourself, make sure you choose the organic unpasteurised sort which is full of beneficial lactobacillus bacteria – more than is in live yoghurt – which increase the healthy flora in the intestinal tract. This helps the immune system fight infection, and aids digestion (hence sauerkraut’s venerable reputation as a remedy for upset stomach and constipation).
I haven’t got round to trying to make it myself, but that’s definitely on the list of things to learn in 2014! These days I just buy a brand called Peace Love and Vegetables – all home-grown in Byron Bay, NSW and all organic. It’s so delicious and you only need about ¼ cup per day to get health benefits from it! Plus it has some other amazing ingredients in there like spirulina, E3 Live and kale – hence the name ‘Superkraut’!
I usually consume mine as a side to my lunches and dinners, and it’s really great when mixed with proteins like eggs, meat and grains to help with digestion. I love to add it to salads with a bit of quinoa, avocado and olive oil. Yum!! 🙂