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Add This Food to Your Diet to Improve Digestion and Health

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If there was one simple way to improve your health and boost your digestive and immune system, wouldn't you try it? Recent scientific studies have found that a diet rich in fermented foods may just be the necessary ingredient to preventing bowel disorders and improving digestion.

Do you have problems with digestion? Do you suffer from bowel problems like Crohn’s disease, cramps, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Research from across the globe shows that you can ease your digestion, help your body resist diseases, and might even be able to reverse bowel disorders with one simple diet change. The key to a healthy gut is the proper balance of bacteria in the intestines.

Today’s food preparation practices have largely eliminated the presence of naturally fermented foods in the diet- much to the detriment of the modern person. According to an article written by bacteria expert, Dr. Siri Carpenter- published by the American Psychological Association in 2012- the digestive tract contains the majority of the body’s immune function and operates as the “second brain.”

If your stomach and intestines are not working properly, then the entire health of your body is compromised. The stomach is home to over one trillion strains of bacteria, and any imbalance in those strains can upset the function of the body. This leads to a wide range of health issues: including weight gain, a poor immune system, digestive disorders, and even intestinal diseases.

So, how can a person reset the digestive system and restore the correct balance of bacteria and microorganisms in the stomach and intestines? The stomach’s main role is to produce acid and enzymes that break down food and kill bad bacteria. The stomach requires the right nutrients and bacteria to complete this delicate process. Modern foods do not contain the essential bacteria that promote healthy digestion. However, one ancient food preparation does- fermented foods.

Fermented foods promote digestion and introduce essential bacteria and enzymes that restore the digestive balance of the stomach. By adding fermented foods to the diet (which contain beneficial bacteria, enzymes, and make digestion easier), you can not only make digestion easier and reduce painful intestinal problems, you can also boost the health of your entire body.

What Does the Stomach Do?

Recent studies show that your stomach does more than simply digest food. Scientists have only recently explored several different roles that the stomach plays in your overall health. A 2013 article in Scientific American states that the stomach might operate like a sieve, which filters microbes and other toxins from entering the small intestine.

According to the study, the stomach not only digests food, but also is used to kill bacteria, fungi, viruses, and worms that are harmful to the body, while allowing the beneficial microbes to pass through the body into the intestines.

What happens when the stomach acid isn’t working properly? You get sick and feel bad. Research shows that over time, a person’s stomach becomes less acidic, which is why it is important to continually provide the stomach with a constant source of healthy bacteria- mainly in the form of fermented foods.

The Dangers of Digestive Orders

Aside from some inflammatory bowel diseases, which can lead to rapid weight loss, there is some evidence to suggest that an imbalance of gut bacteria will lead to weight gain. Studies, although mainly anecdotal in nature, have shown in thousands of cases that an imbalance of bacterial endotoxins can lead to weight gain.

Studies on mice conducted by Belgian researchers from the Catholic University of Louvain found that when mice were given endotoxin they gained weight dramatically and became diabetic when fed a high-sugar, high-fat diet. Mice fed a similar diet who were not exposed to any microbes in a similar study from Washington University in St. Louis gained no weight at all. This made both researchers theorize that when bacterial endotoxins mix with high levels of fat and sugar, it contributes to weight gain.

This happens because junk food feeds the wrong kind of microbes in the stomach and destroys the microbes that regulate metabolism and inflammation. An unhealthy stomach and gut leads to the presence of unhealthy bacteria and organisms in the rest of the body because the stomach cannot kill the bad organisms in time. This could be one contributing factor to the widespread inflammation that many adults and children have today.

When the body is stressed and inflamed, it triggers a response to save as much energy as possible in the form of fat (saving it up for the future “battle”). This reaction leads to disproportionate weight gain. In addition to contributing to weight gain, an imbalance of bacteria in the stomach will also reduce the immune system and may be a direct cause and contributing factor in inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Crohn’s disease.

How to Restore the Bacterial Balance in the Stomach

Restoring the bacterial balance in the stomach is possible, but it can take time. The older a person is, the more difficult it is to reverse a lifetime of intestinal abuse. Eating a diet rich in fermented foods is one of the simplest and easiest steps to take to restore health throughout the entire body. Many traditional diets contain large amounts of fermented foods, including cheese, alcohol, vegetables, meat, and grains.

In comparison with the modern diet, ancient peoples consumed a large ratio of savory foods to sweet foods. Most regions also had relatively low-fat diets in comparison with today’s average diet. Sugar, when consumed, was in a more natural form and was eaten much less often. All of these diet differences also impacted the health of our ancestor’s stomachs.

Although today we are more medically advanced than ever, avoiding the ancient practice of eating fermented foods may be causing many of the modern illnesses we see today.

The Benefits of Fermented Foods

According to Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, creator of the Gut and Psychology Syndrome diet (often called the GAPS diet), adding fermented foods will provide the following benefits in the body:

Benefits of Fermented Food
Boosts the absorption of minerals and vitamins
Increases the vitamin content of food (a study published in the International Journal of Food Science & Technology in 1991 found that fermented dairy products contained more B vitamins, biotin, folic acid, pyridoxine, and riboflavin.)
Can prevent the spread of bacterial acne 
May prevent cognitive decline (some studies indicate a relationship between gut health and mental health- A 2013 study conducted by the University of Florida indicated a relationship between the presence of plaque and an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease, and a 2010 study conducted by Finnish researchers from University of Turku found that bacteria plays a large role in the development of plaque.) 
 Regulates fat absorption 
Supports the immune system  
Smoothes digestion

According to dietician Sheah L. Rarback, MS, RD from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, fermenting food is the first step in the digestive process. That is why many individuals who are intolerant of the original food (dairy, for example) can eat the fermented version.

According to Rarback, fermented foods, “are a way to put your colon back into balance. Also, the fermented foods even help your body digest, absorb, and get better use of the foods you’re eating.”

Rarback particularly recommends fermented foods for seniors who have fewer digestive enzymes.

How to Introduce Fermented Foods Into the Diet

Fermented foods are extremely beneficial, but eating too much of them at once could make you sick- or at least give you a bad stomach ache for several hours. The best way to introduce fermented foods is to start with a small amount and gradually increase the amount consumed each day.

Start with something like a small side of fermented relish or pickles for an easy transition into the practice of eating fermented foods. Nutrition experts recommend consuming about half a cup of fermented foods one to three times a day. If the taste of fermented vegetables, grains, and milk is distasteful, try consuming fermented beverages, like tea, cream, and yogurt.

Types of Fermented Foods

It is possible to ferment just about anything. Search online and you will find recipes for all kinds of fermented foods, from ketchup to fruit gummies for kids. If you are unsure about making your own fermented foods, most health food stores also stock a variety of fermented products. However, any food sold in a commercial environment is processed in some way, which reduces the benefit of the fermentation process. Additionally, maximum benefit is achieved when the foods are fermented in your own home.

Preparing your own fermented foods creates a unique balance of bacteria that is ideal for your particular environment and overall health. Think of it as similar to consuming local honey. Local bees collect pollen from local plants, and consuming honey can help relieve allergic symptoms present in your area. Fermenting foods at home provides a similar benefit.

Types of Fermented Foods 
  • Buttermilk
  • Sourdough bread- Note: most sourdough bread sold in stores is not fermented. Fermented sourdough uses fermented milk products in the dough.
  • Natto- fermented soybeans
  • Kombucha- a form of fermented tea
  • Kimchi- fermented and spiced cabbage
  • Poi- fermented taro root paste
  • Tempeh- fermented soybean cake
  • Fermented beer and wine 
  • Unpasteurized cheese
  • Lacto-fermented dairy products (like kefir, yogurt, and non-pasteurized sour cream)
  • Sauerkraut
  • Fermented olives and pickles (pickled with salt, not vinegar)
  • Raw vinegar- sometimes tagged as “with the mother”
  • Charcuterie sausage
  • Miso- fermented soybeans used in soups
  • Crèmefraîche- slightly less sour than American sour cream

Fermented Foods and Bowel Disorders

Dr. McBride believes that many cases of digestive disorders and diseases can be reversed. She states that the following diseases are influenced in the gut, and by healing the gut, many of the symptoms of the disease may be lessened or completely eliminated.

Fermented Foods Help With These Diseases
  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • Colon Cancer
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Celiac disease
  • Allergies
  • Inflammation
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases

According to studies from Dr. McBride and others, a series of cells called enterocytes, line the digestive system and promote healthy digestion while preventing the spread of bad bacteria. Every few days, these cells die off and are replaced by new enterocytes. However, the development of healthy enterocytes requires the right proportion of nutrients and the right balance of bacteria in the stomach. If the bacteria balance is off and the right nutrients are not present, the cells will be weaker- leading to the spread of disease and bacteria.

Luckily, fermented foods help with both problems- since they promote the absorption of vitamins and introduce healthy bacteria in the stomach.

Dr. McBride suggests that individuals with bowel disorders avoid fiber. A high-fiber diet can make Crohn's disease and other digestive disorders worse because the body cannot break down fiber without the right balance of healthy bacteria and enzymes in the stomach. When fiber is not digested properly, yeast, bad bacteria, and other pathogens feed on the fiber, which causes the bad bacteria to proliferate quickly, spreading disease and poor health.

Restoring the Nutrient Balance

Individuals with Crohn's disease and other bowel disorders often have difficulty digesting nutrients, which means they are often chronically low in essential vitamins and minerals. Without the right balance of nutrients, the body cannot produce a healthy enterocyte cell lining.

Luckily, by supplementing with vitamins and eating nutrient-rich foods, it is possible to restore the right balance of nutrients in the body. According to a 2013 study from St. James University Hospital in the UK, if you have suffered from a bowel disease or digestion problems, you may be deficient in the following nutrients:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • B vitamins
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Copper
  • Iodine
  • Vitamin E
  • Manganese

If bowel issues are severe, it may be necessary to take these vitamins in supplement form for several months in combination with the slow introduction of fermented foods. When the correct balance of nutrients and bacteria is reached, the body should recover from most, if not all, digestive and bowel problems.

Foods to Avoid While Healing

There are a variety of foods that can make bowel symptoms worse and can also prevent the absorption of nutrients. Consuming these foods can stall or prevent any progress achieved by consuming fermented foods. The worst foods to eat while healing the intestines and digestive system include:

  • Artificial sugars
  • Processed foods
  • High concentrations of sugar- even honey can cause problems if eaten in large amounts
  • Processed fats (most oils purchased at the grocery store are highly processed)
  • High concentrations of fiber
  • Non-fermented alcohol
  • Pasteurized foods
  • Yeast

You should also avoid the consumption of any known trigger foods.

Healing the Digestive System with Fermented Foods

Although scientists are just now exploring the link between the digestive system and the health of the entire body, all studies so far indicate that the health of the intestines and digestive system play a huge role in the prevention of many diseases, ranging from diabetes, to Alzheimer’s disease, to bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease.

The addition of fermented foods to the diet along with a diet free from harmful foods like high concentrations of fiber, processed foods, and large quantities of sugar can go a long way toward healing the digestive system and reducing the symptoms of bowel disorders- and even completely eliminating them. Fermented foods are a powerful form of healing that can benefit a person’s health in a multitude of ways.





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