Humans have been fermenting foods to aid in digestion for as far back as we can trace. Primarily they were fermented to improve holding and storing properties of foods.
The milk from camels were fermented naturally to produce some of the first yogurts. Stored in goat bags and dropped over the back of camels in the hot deserts of North Africa with temperatures reaching 40°C (110°F), it was the ideal environment for lactic acid-producing bacteria to go to work. Pickles date back to ancient Egypt and vinegar was used by the ancient Greeks and Romans as a digestive aid, and to promote a healthy liver and gallbladder.
Every culture in the world has some form of fermented foods they eat with meals to aid in digestion. It isn’t necessary to eat very much, just enough to provide the proper enzymes to help break down food and make the nutrients available for absorption in the small intestine.
Common in Indian, Korean, Chinese and Japanese cuisine are sweet, sour and salty pickles; while in North and Central Europe you will find sauerkraut and, again, pickles; the Mediterranean countries serve a small glass of red wine, cider or beer with meals to provide digestive enzymes.
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When foods are fermented the bacteria, yeasts or molds used in the process predigest the food, meaning they break down the carbohydrates, fats and proteins to create microflora—friendly, life giving bacteria beneficial to the gastrointestinal system. These colonize in your intestines and work to keep the unfriendly intestinal organisms under control, such as yeast, parasites, viruses and unfriendly bacteria.
Fermented foods come in many guises, some you might eat on a regular basis, such as aged cheese, beer and wine, while others can have medicinal qualities that support the immune system and aid in healing the digestive system. Here are a few to consider:
Acidophilus: Lactobacillus Acidophilus is a beneficial micro-flora commonly found in yogurt, kefir and fermented vegetables. It can also be taken in capsule form.
Cultured Vegetables: Cultured vegetables are made with a base of shredded cabbage and a few other grated vegetables packed tightly into an airtight ceramic container and fermented for up to a week or more. The process creates an acidic environment for friendly bacteria to reproduce. Korean Kimchi and raw sauerkraut are good examples of this. Learn how to ferment vegetables at home.
Miso: Made from either rice, soybeans, barley or chickpeas, miso is a fermented paste aged in wooden kegs for two months to two years. High in beneficial enzymes, with traces of B-12 and antioxidants, it is said to be helpful in removing radiation from the body. Check out 10 benefits and uses for miso.
Pickles: Pickles contain large amounts of lactobacilli bacteria, which are important to the digestion of grains and vegetables. One property common to all pickles is high fiber, which is important to proper intestinal functioning.
Vinegar: Specifically apple cider vinegar is rich in beneficial enzymes and used medicinally is said to strengthen the immune system, control weight, promote good digestion and balance blood pH levels.