Fermented and Cultured Foods

Friends with benefits: Eating foods containing lactobacillus bacteria can help keep you healthy.

Monica Reinagel, M.S.,L.D./N
3-minute read
Episode #4

I try to eat bugs almost every day. I’m not talking about insects. I leave the sautéed crickets and batter-fried ants to those nuts on the Travel Channel. No, I’m talking about microscopic bugs—the beneficial bacteria that are naturally present in foods like yogurt or kefir.

A World Tour of Lactobacillus Bacteria

Every traditional cuisine has developed some sort of naturally fermented or cultured food. There’s Japanese miso, Bulgarian yogurt, Polish sauerkraut, Indian lassi, and Korean kim-chee. And each of these plays a central role in that culture’s cuisine … and for good reason. All of these foods contain lactobacillus bacteria, which are extremely beneficial to your health. In the days before antibiotics and other drugs, cultured and fermented foods were critical to staying healthy.

The friendly bacteria found in these foods actually set up housekeeping in your gut, where they do all kinds of good things for you: They help digest your food and produce certain vitamins for you. They keep the lining of your intestines slick and shiny. Most of all, they make it harder for unfriendly bacteria to take hold and make you sick.

Our digestive systems work best when they have a healthy population of beneficial bacteria on board, which is probably why every culture and cuisine features some sort of cultured or fermented food as a daily staple.  

Unfortunately, the traditional methods of fermenting cabbage in stoneware crocks, or burying salted vegetables in pits in the back yard, or culturing warm goat’s milk on the hearth are just not as common as they used to be. Instead, we have ultra-pasteurized milk that keeps for six weeks. Let me assure you that no beneficial bacteria survive the ultra-pasteurization process.

Now, if you’re a real do-it-yourselfer and you want to learn to ferment your own sauerkraut but don’t have a Bubbie to show you how, these ancient skills live on, thanks to the World Wide Web. I’ll post some links for do-it-yourself fermenters with the transcript of this episode.

For Best Results, Eat Some Bugs Every Day 

For most of us, though, the easiest way to get your lactobacillus fix is to eat yogurt or kefir on a regular basis. Even in our ultra-pasteurized world, these foods still usually contain living cultures. In fact, look for the brands that specify that they contain “living cultures.” But don’t bother paying extra for those fancy yogurts that are supposed to be specially formulated to promote digestive health and immune function. You get the same bugs in regular yogurt.

It’s pretty easy to work some yogurt into every day. In addition to making a great breakfast or snack, yogurt can also be used in dips or soups. Visit nutritiondiva.quickanddirtytips.com for a link to my recipe for Chilled Cucumber Yogurt Soup.

Get my take on sweetened yogurts right here.

These tips are provided for your information you’re your entertainment, they’re not intended as medical advice. Because everyone is different, please work with your health professional to determine what’s right for you.

This is Monica Reinagel, the Nutrition Diva, with your quick and dirty tips for eating well and feeling fabulous.  You can find a transcript of this episode, including links to the resources I mentioned, at nutritiondiva.quickanddirtytips.com. If you have a nutrition question for me, send an e-mail to nutritiondiva@quickanddirtytips.com.  Follow me on Facebook!  Or, send me a tweet on Twitter. You’ll find me at twitter.com/nutritiondiva.
Have a great day and eat something good for me!


Chilled Cucumber Yogurt Soup recipe

How to get Started Fermenting your own Foods