Many years ago, at a time when I was fascinated with cooking and flavours, a very dear friend told me that I should devote myself to teaching people how to heal themselves from the inside out. Her premonition, at least a decade ahead of its time, made no sense to me. How could I care about that if I was just learning to enjoy blending flavours, textures and colours. Not for a second did I think that years later I would have to stop cooking the wonders I was creating by mixing gluten, sugar, fats and dairy. Life takes so many twists and turns, but eventually it all makes sense.
I had to go through the painful process of illness to become aware of the damage I was doing to myself and my loved ones.
And indeed there are many people who, through illness, manage to make drastic changes in their lives that they would otherwise not have done. The unfortunate thing, when dealing with the damage caused by some foods, is that when the disease starts to manifest, it means that the damage has been going on for many years, even decades, and during all that time, people are completely unaware of what is happening inside their bodies, they suffer symptoms and usually take painkillers or medicines that do not solve anything, it only covers a reality that they do not want to see.
So are we to blame for our own illnesses?
Well, yes and no. If you have smoked cigarettes all your life and then the doctor tells you that you have lung cancer or a tumor in your brain, it shouldn’t be a big surprise, even if it sounds terrible to say, because you are aware of having done something that we know today causes harm. But if, on the other hand, you have always eaten healthily, never abused tobacco, medicines or other drugs and the doctor tells you that you have cancer or a chronic or autoimmune disease, then are you really to blame for the disease you have? Today I believe that in the vast majority of cases you are not consciously guilty.
Today there are many people who are very well informed and aware of the harm caused by certain foods and the constant and permanent consumption of them. However, there is another great mass of people who are completely uninformed and totally oblivious about food. And it is understandable, life happens quickly, we have less and less time and food is there, at our fingertips, it is just a matter of buying and consuming it, no need to think any further.
And this is where I believe one of the main problems lies. The availability of food and even more so processed food today, especially in developed countries, is huge, the industrial revolution and the development of biochemistry for the preservation of food has reached a point where today we can eat a piece of meat that was packaged 6 months ago or milk that is 4 months old or vegetables that are more than a year old, let alone breads, biscuits and sweets. Only 50 years ago that hardly existed. And just as we talk on a mobile phone without caring about the technology behind its operation, we do the same thing with food, we open the bag, take out the meat, throw it on the grill, eat it, enjoy it and say “Mmm.. so tasty” without even looking at the label, even though the poor cow has been dead for six months. Our ancestors would be astonished.
Those who are a little more aware, who take the time and check the labels, would be suspicious of the packaging date and why the meat still looks so pink and fresh. And if they look more closely at the small print, they will see the amount of chemicals (colouring agents, anticoagulants, etc.) in the packaged meat, not to mention the antibiotics, hormones and stress to which the poor animal was subjected to.
And so we gradually enter into an unknown and quite terrifying world where we will discover that there is virtually no food today that is free of potential risks to our health. Just to mention a few, apart from meat, chickens with hormones, antibiotics in fish, chlorine and fluoride in water (both poisonous), pesticides in fruits and vegetables, genetically modified grains, bromide in flour (another poison), excessive chemical preservatives and stabilizers in all preserved food, fluoride in toothpaste, carcinogenic chemicals in make-up, creams, sunscreens and hair dyes, aluminum in deodorants, vegetable oils (highly harmful), excess sugar and salt, sulphites in wines and nuts, GMO soy, synthetic milks, chemical beverages,… and the list goes on and on.
Here I stop and apologize for this long introduction, but I cannot go straight to the subject of fermented foods without first going through the reasons why we need them today.
Well, what’s the point of knowing all these problems with food, if in the end we still have to eat something, and organic and sin-free foods are hard to come by and very expensive, far beyond the reach of most people?. It is true, and it is the answer I get from many people when I start talking about all these issues with food. However, it is the starting point of the conversation, as this leads us to talk about the effect of these foods on our health. While I am not a doctor, nutritionist or scientist, the information I share is the result of years of reading and I will always name some of the sources of information in the footnotes. The main harm that all these modified foods cause to our bodies, is that they create imbalances in our digestive system, in our metabolism, inflammation and finally damage to the tissues and organs, which eventually turns into diseases.
But why does this happen?
Well, it turns out that in our body there is something that science today calls “Microbiome” and that corresponds to the trillions… yes I said it right, trillions of microorganisms that live inside and outside of us, mainly in our intestines, on our skin, genitals and mucous membranes. These micro-organisms can be bacteria, fungi and yeasts and they are in charge of keeping us balanced and healthy. They are in charge of extracting nutrients from food, protecting us from external pathogens such as viruses, and keeping our immune system and brain informed about what is going on. Without these microorganisms, we simply could not live.
The problem arises when we eat, drink or use products in our body that causes damage to this flora of micro-organisms, and here I am going to refer especially to our intestinal flora. Every time we drink a glass of water with chlorine, every time we eat a fruit with pesticides, or take antibiotics directly or indirectly through meat and fish, or excess alcohol, or inhale the bleach we use to disinfect our bathrooms and kitchen or use a germicidal gel, what we are doing is killing millions, yes, millions of micro-organisms that work for us, often whole strands of microbes that we will never recover because we have them inside of us since birth. And if we do this damage permanently for years and decades, the result is something that science today calls “dysbiosis”, which is nothing more than an imbalance in our intestinal flora and which leads us directly to the zone of disease.
Contrary to what many people still wrongly think, having a healthy gut flora is not just about having good digestion and being able to go to the toilet on a regular basis. It is much more than that. Every time we eat something, food molecules are broken down by these microorganisms and essential nutrients are extracted from them and then transferred into the bloodstream through the walls of the intestine. Without this flora, there is no absorption of nutrients and people can become malnourished or have serious digestive problems because they do not have the microorganisms that process a particular type of food. Additionally, when we eat something contaminated, it is these microorganisms that detect the presence of pathogens and inform the immune system to initiate a counter-attack (creation of antibodies, inflammation and attack on the pathogenic elements), just to give a few examples. Gut flora is also related to our state of mental health as there is direct communication between the gut and the brain via the central nervous system. Check this link.
It is for these reasons that it is so important to have a healthy gut flora and microbiome, the absence of these microscopic friends leaves us exposed to a myriad of conditions and risks to our health. Science has found that those people with the highest populations and diversity of microorganisms in their microbiome are the ones who enjoy the best health.
This is why it is so important to be aware of what we eat, drink and use in our bodies. We must care for and protect these micro-organisms that take care for us. The best way to do this is not to expose ourselves to unnecessary risks, not to eat what we know is bad for us, and if there are not many options, to look for mechanisms to minimize the risks, for example washing fruits and vegetables with a 10% vinegar solution or with baking soda helps to eliminate up to 80% of the pesticides they may have. Using filtered water, using fluoride-free toothpaste, avoiding processed foods, minimizing the use of chemical toiletries and cosmetics, or replacing them with more organic alternatives. Any change, no matter how small, helps to prevent the death of our little friends.
Naturally fermented food
Finally, naturally fermented foods, come to strongly contribute in the recovery of our intestinal flora. Although it is not possible to recover the millions of microorganisms that have been destroyed by our bad practices, we can incorporate some strands of probiotics that can help us to repopulate our intestinal flora and improve many aspects of our health.
Fermentation is the ancient way of preserving food, there is data from as far back as 1600 BC when people were already preserving food in salt or drinking beverages such as kombucha. Today we have more information and much more scientifically proven processes to preserve food correctly through natural fermentation, without exposing us to the dangers of contamination.
Almost all foods can be fermented, however, this does not mean that they are all delicious. There are three main types of fermentation:
- Lactic fermentation. Where lactobacillus strands are the stars transforming food, here we have Kefir, Sauerkraut, Kimchi and all kinds of cheese and lacto-fermented vegetables.
- Acetic fermentation. Here, is the Acetobacter the one in charge of transforming ethyl alcohol into acetic acid. Here we have all kinds of vinegars and Kombuchas.
- Alcoholic or ethyl fermentation. Where microorganisms transform carbohydrates into alcohol (ethanol). Thanks to this, we have wine, beer, cider and many more.
Other foods that are produced through fermentation that you may not be aware about are: bread, sourdough, cheese, sausages, yoghurt, kefir, soy sauce, siracha, coffee, chocolate, miso, tofu, tempeh and many more.
Obviously, alcoholic fermentation, while it has given us drinks that we all enjoy and that are not so harmful if consumed in moderation, is not the type of ferment that will help us recover our intestinal flora.
It is the lactic and ascetic fermentations that provide us with the highest amount of probiotic microorganisms and organic acids that are healthy for our intestinal health and therefore for our general health.
Incorporating probiotic fermented foods such as kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombuchas and so many others, helps us keep pathogens at bay and rebuild the populations of good microorganisms that allow us to regain balance and health. Let us first heal our intestines so that our organs and then our systems and finally our whole body can be healed. In other words, “Heal from the inside out”. My dear friend was right, and here I am.
With great love and gratitude to all the sources of information and wisdom that have allowed me to come to this knowledge and to be able to share this information !
Did you like this article?
Please consider leaving a comment. Thank you
Dr. Tom O’Brian – The Autoimmune Fix
PharmD Izabella Wentz – Hashimoto’s Protocol
Dr. Will Cole – The Inflammation Spectrum: Find Your Food Triggers and Reset Your System
Dr. Robynne Chutkan M.D – The Microbiome Solution
Dr. Michael Ruscio – Healthy Gut, Healthy You
NOTE: When I wrote this article late on 2019, I still thought based on my readings and learning that the most important thing was to start with dietary changes to repopulate the intestinal flora, which in my particular case had been badly damaged by the excess of antibiotics I used as a teenager and then during my illnesses to eliminate Helicobacter Pylori. However I later learned that the first step is actually to heal the walls of the gut as in many cases of autoimmune diseases, the starting point is something known as leaky gut. Therefore I recommend you to read my post about how I healed my gut, I leave you here the link.