Old Foods and New Hope for Gut Health


Fermented foods, such as sauerkraut and kombucha, host billions of gut friendly bacteria. Learn why Dr. B suggests you include fermented foods in your everyday diet.

The first time I submerged fresh cabbage in a mason jar of brine and left it on the counter for three weeks, my wife thought I was nuts. And when I ate it, she thought I was even more nuts, not to mention dangerous. But instead of succumbing to food poisoning or worse, we both fell in love with fermented foods. The sauerkraut was delicious, and we soon found ourselves addicted to its complex, vibrant flavor. We soon reached the point that my home fermentation couldn’t keep up with demand and we had to start buying it at the store.

Whole Foods Market listed fermented foods as one of the top food trends of 2016, and not a moment too soon from my perspective. Perhaps you’ve tried brine-based pickles or sauerkraut, Bulgarian yogurt or kombucha. I believe fermented foods are one of the missing pieces in the modern diet, and that we should all strive to consume them every day.

Fermentation harnesses the power of billions of invisible, friendly bacteria. For thousands of years, fermentation was an integral part of every culture in human history. It solved a preservation problem, so that crops harvested in the fall could be eaten throughout the winter.

The development of modern food preservation techniques such as canning, refrigeration and artificial preservatives eliminated our reliance on fermentation. When we moved away from the foods that we had evolved to eat over those thousands of years, we didn’t fully realize what we were giving up.

The process of fermentation unlocks hidden nutrients in food, creating beneficial enzymes, B vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids. And my favorite part is the healthy bacteria found in unpasteurized, fermented foods.

Homemade Fermented Raw Kombucha TeaThis “forgotten food” nourishes the “forgotten organ,” meaning the gut microbiota. These healthy bacteria perform critical functions such as processing our food, creating vitamins, training the immune system and flipping genes on or off.

In the last 10 years we’ve started to better understand the importance of gut health. Many modern scourges (obesity, asthma, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, Alzheimer’s and even autism) have been linked to changes in the gut bacteria. In short, the modern diet with chemical pesticides and preservatives, chlorinated water and hormones and antibiotics in our animal products has decimated gut bacterial populations. When they can’t do their job, we suffer the consequences.

Fermented foods are a “missing piece” to help restore order to the gut, and this is why I recommend that people try to consume them every day.

By Dr. Will Bulsiewicz  a gastroenterologist with Lowcountry Gastroenterology Associates. You can follow him on Instagram @happygutmd.