Are you sure you’re human?
Did you know we are more bacteria than human? We have more bacteria than cells in our bodies - mostly in our gut.
The microbiome and gut health has become a popular topic recently. Especially as we are discovering the gut and microbiome should be considered the centre of our health and well-being.
Which, when I think about it makes sense. The food you put in your body, and how your body breaks it down to be used is so key to achieving your best health. Getting the right nutrients out of food, how they are digested, processed and used in your body.... that is everything right? The centre of keeping you going! For example, if you think about a car and fuel, if you put the wrong fuel in, or the fuel isn’t going down the right pipes to be used correctly, things are going to go wrong with the car and how it is running.
The gut (the whole digestive system) is being talked of as a second brain; we are learning that it is connected to our brain and affects our emotions, immune system and even our bodies ability to regulate weight. Something that amazed me was the total surface area of our gut is like half a badminton court... which explains why diet has such an impact on our health!
Good vs Bad
It is important to feed you gut with good bacteria so that it can process food properly when digesting, absorb maximum nutrients and perform vital processes to keep you running smoothly.
To do this we must feed ourselves with a diverse range of prebiotics and probiotics to build up the good bacteria, and the help reduce the bad bacteria.
What you eat feeds not only you, but the bacteria too. Your gut bacteria are formed by the environment you are in. Based on not just what you eat and drink, but the quality of air you breathe and factors such as stress and antibiotics can (negatively) alter your gut microbiota.
Eating processed ‘food like’ items, especially those which include lots of sugar (that feeds fungi and bad bacteria), means you won’t have the best the bacteria to keep you healthy.
But if you eat a rainbow of whole foods, fruits and vegetables, and prebiotic and probiotics foods you will have a whole host of healthy bacteria to keep you thriving at your best!
Pro or prebiotic?
BOTH! They are different, and we need both to keep a happy gut:
Are sources of fiber that ferment in the gut which create beneficial bioactive compounds.
Sources: Leeks, onions, quinoa, chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes.
Are fermented foods (already partly broken down), with good bacteria growing on them.
Sources: Tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt and kefir.
Why should I feed these bacteria?
When we have a good balance of bacteria in our gut ecosystem we feel better, both emotionally and physically. Our bodies can function the way they are designed to, meaning we are less likely to be affected by illness and disease. Immune function increases. We are also at less risk from depression and anxiety, cortisol (the stress hormone) is at a reduced level and we feel happier. Furthermore we are at less risk from obesity, and feel more satiated with meals.
I hope that is a clear intro into gut health and why it is important... there is a lot to talk about and certainly more to come in the future... watch this space!
Now, shall we make a start to improving your gut health? After removing any possible irritants, a good next step is by adding something fermented, like homemade sauerkraut! So lets get to the delicious bit!..
A recipe for magic!
I've been making my own sauerkraut as below for a few months and love it! It adds colour, a bit of a tang of flavour and of course a super nutritional hit! Here I have started off with a simple recipe to get you started. But I encourage you to experiment with different flavours too (suggestions at the end of the recipe).
1 medium red or white cabbage
Salt (I use pink Himalayan salt)
Large glass jar, with an elastic band big enough to stretch the rim, plus a clean tea towel. (I used a 1 litre Kilner jar with sterilock lid.)
A sterile empty jar / weight that fits inside your bigger jar (Keeps cabbage submerged and protected from going mouldy).
Weigh your cabbage before you start - we need to know the amount of salt to use.
You will need 3/4tbsp-1tbsp of salt per 1kg of cabbage. This time my cabbage weighed 840g, so I used about 3/4tbsp of salt.
Finely chop your cabbage how you like (either in long fine spaghetti like strips or roughly chopped) and put into a large bowl.
Sprinkle on the salt and toss the cabbage so the salt is evenly distributed. Now the fun bit.... you get to massage your cabbage 😉 Massage the salt in for a few minutes then leave to stand for about 30 minutes. The salt will start to break down the cabbage and it will begin releasing water.
After its 30 minutes rest massage the cabbage again to break it down further. This releases even more juices. Keep squeezing and massaging and you will notice it changes state and become a bit softer.
When there are plenty of juices (brine) it is time to cram the cabbage into your glass jar. A bit at a time take a handful of cabbage and put it in the jar, pressing it down as much as you can. I've found using the end of a clean rolling pin is helpful. Keep compressing more and more cabbage into your jar until you have got it all in.
Quick tip: It is important to leave space for more juices to be released... so you need a big enough jar! (I have found one medium cabbage fills a 1 litre Kilner jar about three-quarters full = perfect, with plenty of room left for the juices).
Get as much of the air out as you can from the squashed-in cabbage, and ensure the cabbage is covered by its brine. This prevents any of the cabbage going mouldy while it is left to ferment. To do this you could find a weight or a clean glass jar filled with water to weigh the cabbage down. I managed to find a small glass jar that fitted inside the kilner jar with the 'sterilock' lid on. However if there is still not enough brine you can add in some salted water until the cabbage is submerged.
Next step is to cover the jar. If you have one put the sterilock lid on, or just cover with your clean tea towel and hold in place with an elastic band.
Now leave the sauerkraut in a warm-ish place for about a week. Somewhere that is a constant temperature is a good idea. Not too hot, or not too cold. Room temperature, 21 degrees, is ideal! Over the week you should see the sauerkraut change a bit. There might be more juices released, the colour might change and get more vibrant, it might appear to foam a little.... or it might not do any of these things!
Taste every so often as time goes on. Once you have found you like the taste put the lid on, and place in the fridge. This will keep for a few months.
How do I eat it?
The key with introducing new foods to your gut, especially bacteria rich ones like sauerkraut, is to add them in little by little over a few days. You are training your gut to digest them. If you're new to sauerkraut (or any other fermented foods) I suggest adding in a very small amount at a time. Maybe a teaspoon with your evening meal, the next day with your lunch and dinner, and then maybe a tablespoon size with your meals, gradually building it up.
You can serve over whatever you like! I love the fantastic vibrant colour and sour tang it adds to meals. One of my favourite ways to eat is mixed into a salad with all the green leaves and other vegetables.
As I mentioned earlier, you can also play with flavours. Like spice? Add chilli, or peppercorns, or mustard seeds.
More flavour? One of my favourites to add is caraway seeds! So aromatic and fragrant!
You could also experiment with:
Bay leaves (3-4 dried leaves)
Mustard seeds (1tsp)
Peppercorns (around 10)
Garlic (I'd start with 1/4 tsp or a few fresh cloves)
Dill & garlic (good combo)
Chilli - fresh, dried or flakes
Ginger - fresh or dried
Caraway seeds (1/4-1/2 tsp to begin)
Or any other herbs you like! Suggested measures are for one jar.
Let me know any good flavour combos below!