It is often believed that we are more bacteria than human,…In the past scientists thought that bacteria to human cell ratio in our body was 10:1 however recent studies in Israel and Canada has shown a ratio of 40% human cells to 60% bacteria (about 30 trillion human cells to 40 trillion bacteria), nonetheless, we are still more bacteria than human.  The colonization of these microorganisms (good and bad bacteria) in our body is referred to as “ microbiome”.

We often associate bacteria and microbes with disease but our body is full of bacteria, good and bad…It is the balance between the good and the bad bacteria that determines our health.
When bad bacteria (pathogens) take over the good, we experience many physical and mental health issues…but when the good bacteria outnumbers the bad, like it is supposed to, our body will function like a well-oiled machine.  The ratio of good bacteria to bad in a healthy body is believed to be 85% to 15% respectively.  These tiny warriors are our first line of defense against physical disease and infections as well as mental well-being.

These bacteria are spread throughout our body.  They are on our skin, in our mouth, nose, ears, eyes, respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract (gut), uterus, urogenital, placenta and our reproductive systems.

GI tract and gut bacteria (gut microbiome) is probably one of the most discussed topics in recent years as it is believed that most disease start in the GUT!  So if we manage to maintain a normal gut flora (colony of good gut bacteria) we can live a healthier life and avoid unnecessary sufferings.

The gut flora helps us with digestion of food and absorption of nutrients.  It improves our immune system and fights off pathogens that can cause disease.  Gut flora helps neutralize or reduce the effect of harmful toxins and carcinogens.  In oder words, the good bacteria protect us against our bad diet and modern processed foods.

Bad bacteria in our gut thrive off of sugar, artificial sweeteners and processed food.  If you find yourself craving sugar and junk food, it is a sign that the bad bacteria has taken over your body and is nudging you to eat the kind of food they need to survive and thrive.  Another sign that bad bacteria outnumbers good in your body is having “oral thrush”; the white film on your tongue.

In order to have optimal digestion, we need to have a healthy gut lining and an intact stomach lining to keep our digestive enzymes contained and undiluted.  Research shows that highly processed and refined food, and food lacking pre- or probiotics can disrupt digestion by increasing the number of bad bacteria and damaging the stomach lining.  If that happens, our guts may leak all kinds of bad chemicals and toxins into our circulatory system causing inflammation and awful ailments.  You might have also heard that drinking water with your meal is not recommended as it will dilute your enzymes and disrupts digestion.

As we age, or due to consistent unhealthy dietary habits, the production of our digestive enzymes and fluids required for proper digestion start to decrease.  Slow and compromised digestion and damaged gut lining can cause a flurry of problems in our body such as heartburn or GERD, gastrointestinal disorders, Crohn’s disease, excess body fat, weight loss, abdominal bloating, nausea, poor appetite, lack of energy, vitamin deficiency and many more.

What are fermented foods and how can they help?

Fermentation is a chemical breakdown of a substance and it occurs when microorganisms such as mold, yeast or bacteria produce enzymes that help break down complex molecules into smaller and easier to digest compounds.  The activities of these microorganisms in fermented foods make them a great source of natural probiotics for our gut.

Due to high probiotic content, fermented foods often have more health benefits than the raw materials and vegetables from which they are made of.  Eating and drinking traditional fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, milk kefir, water kefir, fermented soy products and pickled vegetables can help restore gut microbiome and make up for the loss of our natural digestive enzymes.

The key is to incorporate these fermented foods into our daily diet and eat or drink a small portion two or three times a day with every meal in order to notice the amazing health benefits.  Three of the most important enzymes in our body are responsible for breaking down the huge protein, carbohydrates, sugar and fat molecules into simple compounds that are readily available for our body to use and turn into energy and nutrients.  By adding different varieties of fermented foods to our daily diet, we can support different types of enzymes and their function in our body.

Medicinal Use Of Traditional Fermented Foods Throughout History

It is believed that human beings have been making fermented foods since Neolithic era (New Stone Age 10,200 BC) and the earliest records of the koji-making process (mold fermented grains, soybeans and sake) can be traced back to about 300 BC in china.

In ancient times, our ancestors used fermentation as a way of preserving vegetables and certain drinks and preventing them from spoilage.  Lacto-fermented cabbage (sauerkraut) has been known as one of the most beneficial healing foods since early humans.  The ancient Egyptians were avid practitioners of fermentation.  Before Christ, the Greeks had written about its benefits and the Romans used sauerkraut to treat and prevent intestinal infections.  Mongolian Army used sauerkraut to prevent scurvy.  In the late 1770s Captain Cook managed to travel around the world without losing a single sailor to scurvy; his secret: 60 barrels of sauerkraut and lime juice.  Early Chinese scripts show that the laborers consumed some sort of fermented cabbage while building the Great Wall of China over 2,000 years ago.  The Japanese and Koreans often serve a small serving of pickled vegetable with their meals.   Throughout Europe, East Asia and Russia sauerkraut and other fermented foods such as kefir, yogurt, buttermilk, kapusta, kvass, borscht, tempeh and miso have been a dietary staple after centuries of use.

Fermented Foods in Modern Society

Our ancestors often fermented vegetables to use throughout the year when fresh vegetables weren’t in season.  Nowadays, with freezing and canning methods, and express transportation and sophisticated storage facilities we can buy almost any kind of vegetable all year around.  These modern methods are convenient and help retain vitamin content for the most part, but they are devoid of digestive health and probiotic benefits compared to fermentation.

In recent years we have seen a large number of probiotic supplements, drinks, kefir drinks and kombucha in health stores with outrageous price tags.  Just like many other diet fads such as gluten-free, non-GMO, sugar-free, etc. these products are engineered to respond to consumer demands and the needs of the latest trends.  Commercial probiotics are just NOT what they say they are…They don’t have all the strains of bacteria needed because they are processed and pasteurized to have a longer shelf-life.  Pasteurizing dairy products kills many of the good bacteria and probiotics in them.  They also have added sugars and sweeteners to be better tasting and its the sugar and sweeteners that feed your bad bacteria at the same time so it defeats the purpose.

There is a constant battle between the good and the bad gut bacteria.  Probiotics feed the good bacteria while sugar, starch and wheat feeds the bad bacteria.  If you read labels of the products, you will notice that wheat and sugar are in almost everything…I mean EVERYTHING!  Some health foods like green juices and protein bars have more sugar than a can of coke.  And that is what is feeding the bad bacteria in our gut.  That’s why it is impossible to try to restore your gut microbiome and heal your gut from the convenience of your local health store.  This restoration has to start in your kitchen; from scratch.  Over the years I have learned that “convenient” and “healthy” can not be used in the same sentence.  If it is convenient, it CAN NOT be healthy.  That’s why when it comes to probiotics and fermented foods, I recommend making them at home from scratch so you have control over the quality or buying them from a friend who makes them.

With medical advancements of 21st century we might have been able to eliminate most infectious diseases but we have simply replaced them with chronic diseases.  Per “National Association Of Chronic Disease”, more than two-thirds of all deaths are caused by chronic diseases and nearly 45% of Americans suffer from one or more chronic diseases.  Chronic diseases are signs of bad bacteria taking over the good in the gut; that is our body speaking to us and telling us the ugly truth about our unhealthy lifestyle and bad habits…and the solution is not more packaged and processed foods.

Our health is the most important thing in life.  It is only fair to invest some time (in the kitchen) to ensure healthy nutrition and balanced, wholesome, clean food.  Read my next post to see how easy it is to make your own kombucha and milk kefir at home.  It takes me about an hour a week to make these delicious and probiotic-rich beverages.   All you need is the starter culture and some items that you already have in your kitchen.