Last time, I wrote about the power of garlic for boosting immune system function as a way to help avoid colds and the flu. Continuing on that vein, let’s talk about supporting your immune system naturally this week with probiotics, specifically the ones found in fermented foods. Lately, I have been enjoying homemade sauerkraut as I try to include the goodness of fermented foods in my diet regularly. Before modern modes of refrigeration, fermenting foods was a practical (and tasty!) way to preserve them for later use. It meant that foods like fresh vegetables could be preserved to be eaten outside of the growing season. Many cultures have been enjoying the tangy and salty flavours of fermented foods for centuries passing down the wisdom that fermented foods are helpful in supporting good health, without really needing to know the specifics of why.
Today, we tend towards tangible proof through scientific research supporting the anecdotal evidence that has proved true for years. Scientists have long been curious about how fermented foods support our health at the cellular level. Recent studies have found at least 2 main reasons why lactic acid fermented foods support our health, specifically immune health - 1) increased vitamin C, and 2) increased immune system response. Firstly, researchers at Cornell University evaluated the vitamin C content in raw and fermented cabbage and found that after fermentation, the vitamin C content had increased exponentially, in some cases by 12 times! Vitamin C is critical in supporting the immune system at the cellular level as it helps to strengthen the cell barrier against pathogens, and it directly supports activity of immune killer cells in their defeat of bacteria and viruses so that they don’t have a chance to take hold and cause illness. The second reason fermented foods support our health was found in a study concluding that consumption of lactic acid fermented cabbage boosted immune function by activating immune receptor cells found in the human intestine. These immune receptor cells then send a message to the immune system to ramp up against incoming inflammation and invaders. The researchers propose that the reason humans have these special receptor cells in the digestive system goes back to our long-ago ancestors. They believe it allowed them to eat foods that may have been a bit past their prime, when the fermentation process had begun, like fruit picked up from the ground after it had fallen from a tree!
The key to getting these benefits from lactic-acid fermented foods is to eat foods prepared in a manner which allows lactic acid fermentation as this will produce the many strains of Lactobacillus bacteria species that will then populate the food. When vinegar or other preservatives are added like in commercial production of sauerkraut, the fermentation process is not quite the same and does not provide all the beneficial bacteria.
If you want to know that your fermented food has the best beneficial bacteria, make your own sauerkraut - it’s like a science experiment that results in delicious food. It really is simple, it just takes some patience.
Red Cabbage Sauerkraut
(as picture above)
Antioxidant properties of raw and processed cabbages
Vitamin C and Immune Function
Metabolites of lactic acid bacteria present in fermented foods are highly potent agonists of human hydroxycarboxylic acid receptor 3
Science of Sauerkraut