The power of fermentation

Published on August 26, 2014


I had the pleasure of attending a talk on fermentation in Tatamagouche this past weekend presented by the fermenting guru, Sandor Ellix Katz. Over 50 people (babies to seniors) squeezed into a local's barn: we were all seated on bales of hay – some people standing in the back, and even a young boy perched on one of the barn rafters, his feet dangling above the people below – all to hear what Sandor had to say.

In his book Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods, Sandor Ellix Katz writes, "Fermentation has been an important journey of discovery for me. I invite you to join me along this effervescent path, well trodden for thousands of years yet largely forgotten in our time and place, bypassed by the superhighway of industrial food production."

Fermentation simply refers to an ancient way to prepare food which is then preserved by naturally occurring microorganisms, such as Lactobacillus (a good, health-promoting bacteria). These good bacteria help break down the carbohydrates and protein in the food and produce the final result – yogurt, miso, apple cider vinegar, kombucha, kimchi, and the more familiar in our culture, sauerkraut, for example.

According to Dr. Bowden, author of "The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth" states, "Sauerkraut combines one of the healthiest foods on the planet (cabbage) with one of the most healthy forms of processing on the planet (fermentation). The resultant food is a consistent winner in the health promotion sweepstakes."

So why are fermented foods so good for us?

The first is as I mentioned above: fermentation helps us to predigest our food. The good bacteria help break down food into a more absorbable form. For example, individuals who have trouble digesting the sugar molecule, lactose, may be able to tolerate other fermented dairy products such as kefir or yogurt.

Fermentation is also a powerful nutrient enhancer. Minerals such as iron and calcium become more available in our food, as do other vitamins (for example, yeast is rich in B vitamins).

And of course, I can't say enough about the benefits of adding healthy bacteria to our digestive tract. As I have explained in the past, adding good bacteria to our digestive system helps create a natural balance of gut flora that improves digestion, immune function, and the absorption and utilization of nutrients.

Research has shown that active cultures of good bacteria found in fermented foods have a stimulating effect on our immune system and can actually suppress H. pylori (the harmful bacteria known to cause stomach ulcers) says Dr. Pettersen, Naturopathic Doctor. "By maintaining good gut flora, you'll prevent all kinds of different diseases, especially chronic degenerative ones. Probiotics (live cultures) help control inflammation, which is a central feature of so many degenerative diseases, including heart disease."

If that weren't reason enough to start eating fermented foods, fermented foods help your liver to detoxify harmful substances, have anti-cancer properties and also help increase the amount of serotonin in your brain.

A whole new experience in dining awaits you in the fermented foods category. An easy way to begin is to add 1 TBSP of apple cider vinegar to a little water before a meal. Those who are prone to gas and bloating after a meal notice a reduction in symptoms. For more information on the health benefits of eating fermented foods or how to prepare your own fermented foods at home, talk to your local naturopathic doctor or holistic nutritionist.


Dr. Amy Punké, ND, has a naturopathic practice at Whole Self Wellness Centre, 106 Stellarton Rd., New Glasgow (above Healthy Selection). Visit or call 902-755-1210.