Boost Beneficial Gut Bacteria by Making Fermenting Foods at Home for Gut Health. We included a Homemade Fermented Pickle Recipe that’s beyond EASY to make!
In the summer of 1982, I took a once-in-a-lifetime trip with my Mom: a ten-day white water rafting excursion down the Colorado River. I was sixteen, experiencing the Grand Canyon up close and personal. I took home memories of lizards crawling across my stomach at night while we camped out in the open and photographs of beautiful landscapes and rapids. But, unfortunately, my mother took home something quite different: an intestinal parasite called giardia.
This intestinal parasite, along with the antibiotics used to treat it, radically disrupted the balance of good and bad microorganisms in her gut. Because of this imbalance in her microbiota, or gut bacteria, my mother experienced gastrointestinal issues for years. While some of the symptoms are still lingering to this day nearly forty years later.
We have billions of live bacteria, fungi, and even viruses inhabiting our bodies. When it comes to our digestive tract, they can be found anywhere along the way, from the point of entry for our food to the point of exit. But the majority reside within the large intestine, particularly the colon. Some of these microorganisms we inherit from our mother via vaginal birth and breastfeeding. Others we pick up along the way. If this gives you the heebie-jeebies like a lizard crawling across your stomach in the dead of night, consider this:
Gut Microbes are Key to Many Aspects of Our Health
Our gut bacteria are essential tools for digestion. They help us break down complex molecules in the food we eat, making food digestible and the nutrients more available. In addition, these microbes play a role in food cravings and the signal to our brain that we are satiated.
The microbiota in the gut is also involved in our adaptive immune system, helping the body recognize and fight off invading viruses and bacteria. Here, diversity is key. A healthy population of varied bacterial species in the gut is generally associated with a strong immune system and an overall anti-inflammatory environment in the body. However, since inflammation in the body has been linked to a number of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and asthma, it begs the question of whether maintaining a healthy gut is fundamental to enjoying a healthy life.
In my mother’s case, the parasite and antibiotics caused a disruption and imbalance in the microbiota in her gut, a condition called dysbiosis. In addition to illness and antibiotics, stress and a poor diet are the leading contributors to this condition. Unfortunately, the typical Western diet and lifestyle ~ full of processed foods and high levels of stress ~ are associated with dysbiosis and a gut profile where the “bad” bacteria outnumber the “good” bacteria. Luckily, some steps can be taken to restore and support gut balance and health. Specifically, you want to add “good” bacteria back into the mix and feed it with the foods they thrive on.
Prebiotics Feed Beneficial Bacteria
Prebiotics are specialized plant fibers that would be indigestible if it weren’t for the “good” bacteria in the gut. Since we can’t digest them on our own, they survive the journey through the digestive tract until they meet up with the beneficial bacteria in the colon. Here, the healthy bacteria break down the plant fibers and use them to grow and thrive. Although you can find prebiotic supplements on the market, it’s best to go directly to the source and consume a variety of foods that contain them. Onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, soybeans, bananas, apples, barley, oats, quinoa, wheat bran, and seaweed are excellent sources.
Probiotics Contain Beneficial Bacteria
Probiotics are live organisms that, when consumed, add to the population of “good” bacteria in your gut. When beneficial bacteria are numerous and thriving, it helps keep the “bad” bacteria in check, a balance that is fundamental to our health and wellbeing. Probiotics are made of both bacteria and yeast, with the most common being lactobacillus, bifidobacterium, and saccharomyces boulardii. Just like prebiotics, there are many natural food sources for probiotics in addition to supplements. Yogurt is probably the most well-known source, but there are many other probiotic-rich foods, including kefir, miso, tempeh, kombucha, buttermilk, sourdough, sauerkraut, some fermented pickles, and beer. What these foods all have in common is that they go through a fermentation process.
Fermented Foods are Home to Healthy Bacteria for gut health
When food is fermented, beneficial bacteria thrive on the naturally occurring sugar or fiber in the food. By consuming these foods, we help populate the “good” bacteria of the gut. These beneficial bacteria, however, are destroyed if heated to a temperature above 115 degrees. So although sourdough contains probiotic bacteria, these microorganisms are killed off during baking for sourdough bread. To preserve the gut health benefits of fermented foods, they should be consumed as condiments or added as the last ingredient to a cooked dish or heated soup.
The processing of some fermented foods commonly found in grocery stores can also kill the live probiotic cultures. While pasteurization might help preserve food and make it safe for consumption, it also destroys probiotic bacteria. Canned sauerkraut, therefore, has had all of its gut health benefits removed. And grocery store pickles never had them to begin with. One solution is to ferment your own favorite foods at home. It’s amazing how easy it is to do and equally adaptable to your tastes. I think you will love my homemade Fermented Pickle Recipe.
Summer is the Perfect Time for Fermented Foods
Summer is the optimal season for trying out fermented foods. For your next cookout, compliment your favorite burger with a side of fermented sauerkraut or homemade pickled onions. Visit your local microbrewery and enjoy a beer ~ most microbreweries forgo the pasteurization process for some or all of their beers. Or get creative with the overabundance in your garden, preserving your cucumbers, carrots, peppers, and beans by pickling them. Let us know if you make the Homemade Fermented Pickle Recipe, or have any questions.
You Can Absolutely Increase the Beneficial Bacteria for your Gut Health With Food
I wish my Mom had this information 40 years ago! Fermented foods, can help restore and preserve the balance of microbes in the gut, providing health benefits beyond just digestion. In addition, fermenting foods at home is surprisingly easy and ensures that you are not losing any of the benefits during the process. And it doesn’t require special equipment or fancy ingredients, so it costs much less than pricey probiotic supplements. Here’s a simple Fermented Pickle Recipe to get you started!
Food has always been an important part of my healthy living lifestyle. Let us know in the comments about your experience with gut health. Do you have a similar story? What is your top go-to fermented food? We would love to hear from you!
We will be featuring articles from Diana Hoscheit this summer. Let us know your interest in a live Zoom webinar on this topic.
Fermented Garlic Dill Pickles
- Medium Pot
- Wide Mouth, Quart-Sized Mason Jar
- Pint-Sized Mason Jar
- Kitchen Towel or Cheese Cloth
- 1 lb Pickling Cucumbers or Kirby Cucumbers (4-5 inches)
- 1 qt Spring Water Or Distilled Water
- 2 tbsp Sea Salt or Himalayan Salt - Fine
- 4 cloves Garlic Chopped - add up to 6 cloves if you like
- 1 tsp Dill Seed add another tsp of dill if you like
- 1 tbsp Dried Dill or a handful of Fresh Dill
- 3 Bay Leaves an extra if you like - this helps the pickles maintain crispness
- 1 tsp Fennel Seed optional
- 1 tsp Coriander Seed optional
- 1 tsp Allspice optional
- 1 tsp Peppercorn optional
- 1 tsp Mustard Seed optional
- 1 tsp Celery Seed optional
- ⅛ tsp Crushed Red Pepper or a few fresh red chilies
- Place the cucumbers in an ice-water bath for 1 hour to crisp them.
- Meanwhile, heat one cup of the water on the stove, and stir in all the salt until dissolved. Let cool to room temp. Mix this cup with the remaining 3 cups water.
- Thoroughly clean the mason jars.
- Place garlic, leaves, and spices in the bottom of the quart jar.
- Add the cucumbers, packing them tightly.
- Pour the salt water brine over top, leaving an inch of headroom (there will be salt water left over).
- Weigh down the cucumbers, if need be, so they are submerged under the brine. This can be done by filling the pint jar with rocks, marbles, or water and placing it directly on top of the cucumbers.
- Cover loosely with a kitchen towel or a piece of cheese cloth secured with a rubber band.
- Place the jar on a plate to collect any overflow and leave it in a cool dark place for 3-7 days.
- After 3 days, gently tap the jar and see if tiny bubbles rise to the top. Once bubbles begin to form, taste to see if the pickles are to your liking. Longer ferments will yield tangier, softer pickles. Once you have your desired taste and texture, cover the jar and place it in the fridge, where it will continue to ferment, but much more slowly. Be sure to keep the pickles submerged in the liquid to avoid mold developing.