Spring has sprung …well there are pockets of it here and there! I can feel life emerging around me and I always find this time of year both exciting and rewarding. The longer days, for me, equates to more time outside and evening walks – one of my favourite pastimes. It is also a great time for foraging and reaping the many treasures that nature provides. I’m especially excited about the spring nettles and wild garlic which make fantastic soups and pestos. These woodland and hedgerow delights are incredibly nutrient dense and nettles are particularly good at warding off some of the seasonal allergic conditions, such as hay fever.
“70% of your immune system is in your gut”
We’ve all heard of spring cleaning your house, but why not use this time of rebirth and new beginnings to focus on rejuvenating your digestive health? Did you know that over 70% of your immune system is in your gut? Over 2 thousand years ago, Hippocrates made the connection between the gut and overall health when he said “All disease begins in the gut”. There is now more recent evidence to back up this theory. It makes sense therefore that, if you are kind to your gut, your overall health will benefit.
“If you are kind to your gut, your overall health will benefit”
In my opinion the answers to good health lie, not so much in looking forward, but referring back to some of the wise culinary traditions and practices that have gone before us.
One of those I am particularly interested in is fermentation. Fermented foods are rich in beneficial bacteria which provide your gut with some excellent health benefits. We are in fact about 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells! We need bacteria to thrive. Our guts are coated with a layer of beneficial bugs that contribute to our health immensely; they play a vital part in the immune system, by helping to control the influx of pathogens. They break down and absorb nutrients from the food we eat and help synthesize some of the B Vitamins and Vitamin K. In short we have a lot to thank our bugs for!
“Fermented foods are rich in beneficial bacteria which provide your gut with some excellent health benefits”
We live in a culture (excuse the pun!) where we are conditioned to see all bacteria as ‘bad’. We arm ourselves with anti-bacterial sprays to wage a war on bugs. We buy pre-packed washed salads, our carrots are so nicely polished and preened that you can almost see your face in them! These factors along with less time spent outside, diets high in processed or sugary foods, antibiotic therapy and stress, upset the balance of our micro-flora in one way or another.
But all is not lost! We can all take control of our own health and make decisions around food and produce that nourishes and supports us and promotes a healthy community of gut flora. For thousands of years we have eaten fermented foods such as sauerkraut, fermented vegetables, kefir and kombucha. These foods are not only exceptional bug bearers, they are also inexpensive to make. A healthy diet low in processed foods and sugar will also be of benefit. Beneficial bacteria likes to feed off ‘probiotic foods’ such as onions, leeks, chicory, asparagus and other veggies, so a diet high in vegetables and low in refined sugar will keep your bugs happy!
“Good quality probiotic supplements… may also help support and replenish your gut flora”
There are some good quality ‘probiotic’ supplements containing beneficial bacteria on the market now. They may also help support and replenish your gut flora.
Here are some to name a few of the best quality ones on the market:
- Bio-Kult (our best-seller – a good strength, multi-strain formula – our broadest spectrum probiotic – shelf-stable)
- Mega Biotix / Platinum Biotix (a strong, broad spectrum probiotic – shelf-stable)
- Biocare (perennially practitioner recommended – reliable, simple and strong – must be kept in the fridge)
- Symprove (a natural liquid probiotic – food-based – must be kept in the fridge once opened)
I recently made some red cabbage sauerkraut and it is so delicious, you will not believe how simple it is to make! I love a side serving of sauerkraut with stews and salads or my favourite organic, locally produced sausages – yum!
Do give it a go, it’s an easy to make, low maintenance food and tastes utterly delicious!
1 medium – large size cabbage (red or white)
1 tablespoon salt
1 litre glass jar
- Wash the cabbage and take off the outer leaves of the – you will need those later
- Finely slice the cabbage and place in a large bowl
- Add the salt and massage into the cabbage for a few minutes until lots of water is released. You can leave the salt and cabbage for 30 minutes or so to release more liquid if needed. Do not throw away any of the liquid!
- Make sure the glass jar is clean and rinse it our with boiling water
- Squash the cabbage down into the jar, squeezing out all the air bubbles
- Cover the shredded cabbage with the outer cabbage leaves and help keep them under the liquid. There should now be a layer of liquid on the top of the cabbage in the jar
- I use a smaller glass jam jar filled with water as a weight to keep the cabbage under the liquid
- Cover the jar with muslin cloth and a rubber band and leave in a suitable place in the house at room temperature. The colder the temperature the longer it will take to ferment
- Check the sauerkraut a couple of times a day for the first few days just to check the liquid is submerged and the air bubbles are released (you can use the smaller jam jar on top to press the cabbage down with)
- You can keep testing the sauerkraut to your taste. I normally leave mine for around 4 weeks
- You can then decant the cabbage into smaller jam jars and store them in the fridge. Try to make sure they have sufficient liquid from the ferment covering them. Sauerkraut will keep in the fridge for a long time providing they are covered in liquid*** Don’t eat the sauerkraut if it goes mouldy! You may find mould forms during the ferment, this is normally because some of the leaves have become exposed to the air. Try to make sure the cabbage is pushed under the liquid – the outer cabbage leaves on top help with this.