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The Amazing Health Benefits of Fermented & Cultured Beverages & Foods

In modern society, one of the things we don’t do much of is eat real cultured and fermented foods. These foods have been staples of the human diet all over the world for thousands of years. Since the Industrial Revolution, the advent of packaging, processing, and convenience foods have seen the disappearance of these highly beneficial, nutrient-dense foods.

Throughout time, cultures all over the world have created cultured foods and beverages out of necessity. When a dairy cow produced a surplus of milk and all of it could not be consumed at once before spoilage, fermentation was born. Fermentation allowed the food to be preserved so it could be consumed later, and it was done simply by using the naturally-occurring healthy bacteria in the food.

Because this process improves nutrient content and increases the beneficial bacteria of the food, it is not only healthier but also made easier to digest. Other foods were produced in a similar manner such as kombucha (a feremented tea generated from a scoby or mushroom) or kvass using cultures, bread, and water. Kvass can also be made using vegetables such as beets. It was also customary to culture and ferment many of the vegetables people ate through lact0-fermentation with whey from dairy products or salt.

Today on the consumer market, you will find many foods and beverages which are labeled as healthy and full of nutrients. Because the bottom line in the consumer market is profit, over time the integrity of many of these traditional foods and drinks has been lost.

Even though the label claims otherwise, you will not in fact find dense, probiotic activity in a cup of commercial yogurt or non-dairy cultured foods like sauerkraut because of two main reasons:

  1. Commercial dairy is subject to pasteurization, which destroys and denatures probiotics, fats, proteins, enzymes, and other elements critical to creating a real probiotic food.
  2. Even though commercial companies add back in cultures to the food after pasteurization, the culturing process simply isn’t long enough to generate the diversity and numbers of beneficial bacteria which our bodies need for health.

Many other products are subjected to high-heat temperatures or pasteurization. By the time you open the bottle, package, or container, you are essentially eating a dead product with no live foundational enzymes, nutrients, or bacteria.

Sports and energy drinks like Gatorade, Vitamin Water, Red Bull, and Rockstar rely on caffeine, sugar, chemicals, artificial colors and flavorings to sell their product and make it “taste” appealing. Even higher-priced “professional” grade products such as Heed or Accelerade which contain synthetic vitamins and minerals or herbal ingredients are inferior because they lack the real nutrition found in long-fermented foods and beverages.

Most probiotic supplements on the market except for an exclusive small percentage do not contain the bacterial count listed on the label, and also have other undesirable ingredients which can be harmful to health.

Fermentation of real food uses either whey from dairy foods like milk, yogurt, or sour cream to produce a lacto-fermented food, a scoby culture or mushroom as when making kombucha, or preparing a brine with salt, or wine for culturing vegetables.

Here are just some of the many benefits of preparing and consuming cultured and fermented foods and beverages:
  • Improves or eliminates gastrointestinal issues such as heartburn, bloating, gas, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, and constipation by eating a small serving with each meal.  Your overall diet, should of course exclude processed foods and incorporate real, whole foods with healthy fats and proteins, organic fruits, grains, legumes, and vegetables. Processed foods eaten on a regular greatly contribute to digestive problems and other health issues.
  • Deepens and broadens vitamins and nutrients like magnesium, calcium, zinc, iron, B Vitamins, fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K2, K1, and beta carotene. Fermented dairy imparts increased amounts of folic acid, pyroxidine, B vitamins, riboflavin and biotin, depending upon existing bacterial strains.
  • Raw fermented vegetables are useful in reducing inflammation and lowering the risk of degenerative disease like cancer.
  • Strengthens immune system function to stay healthy and avoid flu and colds.
  • Promotes weight loss.  In a study from 2008 at Stanford University, Dr. John Morton, M.D., associate professor of surgery at the medical school, showed that “patients who take probiotics after the gastric-bypass procedure tend to shed more pounds than those who don’t take the supplements.” Since supplements are usually much lower in bacterial counts than live cultured and fermented foods, it would be easy to conclude that higher bacterial counts would promote weight loss and the ability of the body to balance your normal weight.
  • Provides probiotic support to the digestive system. 85 percent of our immune system is located in the digestive tract, and having a proliferation and diversity of friendly bacteria is critical to immune health.
  • Reduces the proliferation of harmful bacteria such as salmonella, E.coli, salmonella, and yeast or candida overgrowth
  • Fermenting sulphur-rich foods such as sauerkraut produces antioxidants like glutathione and superoxide dismustase, which remove free radical activity
  • Assists in breaking down difficult to digest lactose from dairy foods to create lactic acid, which is easier to digest
  • Although lactic acid fermentation does not necessarily raise mineral content, it lowers the effects of phytic acid found in grains, legumes, and vegetables. Phytic acid is a nutrient inhibitor which prevents absorption of minerals in the body. This process allows the body to absorb more minerals from grains, vegetables, and legumes.
  • Helps to pre-digest and allow for better absorption of nutrients
Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride who developed the GAPS diet, talks about the benefits of fermented foods in her book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome. I have been on GAPS since early May of 2011 and have found great improvements in my health as well as disappearance of problems that have bothered me my whole life such as anxiety and panic-symptoms.
Read my post about how I eliminated panic, anxiety, and sleep disorder symptoms I have experienced since my late teens with GAPS.

Cultured dairy foods:

These foods are in no way, shape, or form like what you will buy in the store.  With few exceptions, most commercial products are pasteurized which destroys enzymes, proteins, fats, and probiotics. These foods are also not cultured long enough to produce high numbers and diversity of necessary beneficial bacteria.

Cultured dairy foods you make at home from raw milk that comes from healthy cows on pasture are superior in every way in terms of quality and amount of diverse bacteria produced which our bodies need to support digestive, immune, and total health.

  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Buttermilk
  • Sour cream or creme fraiche

Cultured, dairy-free foods

Like commercial dairy products, most commercially produced sauerkraut, pickles, and other non-dairy foods you buy in the store have only been processed with vinegar as a base, and subjected to high-heat temperatures. This does not culture or ferment the food, but rather destroys enzymes and bacteria.

If you have issues with dairy, which are often caused by digestive compromise from poor lifestyle and diet, there are a variety of cultured and fermented foods which are highly beneficial in the process of healing the digestive tract. Consuming these foods can be integral in helping you to be able to once again digest real, raw dairy foods. Casein, a protein found in dairy, can irritate the digestive tract lining which has been compromised from poor diet and lifestyle, and which then penetrates the walls of the intestinal lining and enter the bloodstream to cause super-immune response. This is why many individuals have “dairy allergies” or sensitivities when they consume dairy products.

Here are sources for buying culture starter for culturing your own vegetables as well as quality dairy cultures.
Caldwell Biofermentation
Cultures for Health
It is a great idea to make your own fermented vegetables and cultured dairy foods at home. If you find that you don’t have time for these preparations, here are a few good store brands which contain live probiotic bacteria:

Farmhouse Culture Brands

More information: 

How to make sauerkraut
with Wild Fermentation expert Sandor Ellix Katz
My adventures in making yogurt
Buttermilk and cream cheese
Time and money saving tips – getting the most of your vegetables  – with ideas for how to make your vegetables delicious and easy-to-digest by eating them with healthy fats and also some cultured vegetable recipes from Sally Fallon Morell’s Nourishing Traditions

This post is part of Sarah The Healthy Home Economist’s Monday Mania Carnival

8 replies on “The Amazing Health Benefits of Fermented & Cultured Beverages & Foods”

Sad that we’ve lost this tradition of culturing vegetables. The Koreans haven’t, though! Check out this article:

I like the special fermentation fridges. Wonder where I can get one of those? Interesting to hear that they just don’t feel right after a meal with no kimchi. It must be really helpful to their digestion.

My parents live in Korea and tell me it’s all completely true — kimchi is provided as a free side dish at every restaurant, and they even have a kimchi festival where the kids got to make their own kimchi! Pretty neat!

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