Wintertime Diet Makeover

fermented cabbage

fermented cabbage

Does your face look tired and grumpy?  Does the thought of keeping up with your daily beauty chores make you to crawl under a quilt for a few more months of hibernation?  Then maybe your problem is more than skin deep.

Rx for Seasonal Skin and Mood Disorders

What's the best way to  recapture your outer glow and inner fire at this time of year? A few months in the Caribbean sounds nice. But according to the latest thinking on nutrition, what you really need  may be my Romanian grandmother's  Old World wintertime wellness prescription:  regular doses of pickled cabbage.

homemade pickles

homemade pickles

fermented foods in winter

fermented foods in winter

An Ancient Recipe for Wintertime Wellness

Many holistic healing systems, including ancient Chinese medicine, have traditionally recommended fermented vegetables and other enzyme-rich foods to counteract the sluggish liver function and digestive complaints induced by fat-laden wintertime diets. In recent decades, worldwide epidemiological studies have validated the positive effects on health and longevity of routine consumption of foods containing live microorganisms.

Rediscovering the  Health Benefits of Fermented Foods

Old-style fermentation methods such as pickling and brining not only add valuable nutrients including B vitamins to our wintertime diet, but also make it easier for our bodies to absorb and use the vital proteins, amino acids, and omega-3 fatty acids in meat, milk, and plant matter. Emerging scientific research suggests that fermented foods may also help prevent colon and relieve irritable syndrome by restoring a healthy balance of bacteria in the digestive systems. These health benefits to our digestive tract—where the majority of our immune function takes place—have far-reaching effects on our overall wellness. By strengthening the mucosal lining in our stomach and intestines, gut-friendly bacteria help keep prevent the absorption of disease-causing microbes. The thriving colonies of good microorganisms in our gut also discourage the development of respiratory infections and other illnesses by starving potentially dangerous pathogens of vital nutrients. Some studies indicate that fermented foods can event help protect against dental cavities.

The Decline of the Typical American Diet

Although the natives of many European and Asian countries continue to treasure the nutritional benefits and the zesty flavors imparted by natural fermentation, the spread of industrialized food production in the United States quickly and radically transformed the average American’s palate, lifestyle, and beliefs about health and safety. By the mid-20th century, most Americans had learned to love commercially processed pickles, sauerkraut, and fermented dairy products, not just for their convenience but also because of misplaced concerns about “germs.” According to U.S. Department of Agriculture research service microbiologist Fred Breidt, fermentation actually reduces the risk of food-borne infections. “With fermented products there is no safety concern,” he says. “I can flat-out say that. The reason is the lactic acid bacteria that carry out the fermentation are the world’s best killers of other bacteria.” Unfortunately, the high-temperature pasteurization process and synthetic chemicals used to kill the bad microorganisms of mass-produced fermented foods destroys their nutritive value by killing all the good bacteria, yeasts, and enzymes, too. A Rising Wave of Green Values Improves U.S. Eating Habits Over the past few years, however, food and dietary supplement manufacturers have begun touting “probiotics” as nature’s cure for lactose intolerance and other gastrointestinal disorders. And now, if the November 22nd edition of The New Yorker magazine is any indication, a microbiotic revolution is already brewing on the American dietary scene. In “Nature’s Spoils,” author Birkhard Bilger links the growing cachet of fermented dishes among health-conscious, environmentally aware Americans to a variety of other back-to-nature dietary trends, including the raw-milk, eat-local, and slow food movements.

Re-energize Your Diet This Winter

The assortment of foods and beverages that that contain live cultures and beneficial bacteria and yeasts is varied as the diverse cultures where they originate. From the familiar to the exotic, the international menu of naturally fermented foods* includes a healthy and delicious choice for every taste. Here are just a few samples that can help winterize your skin and sustain your physical and mental energy in the challenging months ahead:

Bacteria Can Be Beautiful

As Bilger’s article points out, friendly microbes aren’t just a health boon—they contribute to the delicious flavor of some of our favorite treats, including chocolate, coffee, wine, beer, and aged cheeses. If I was surprised to read an ode to fermented foods in one of America’s most stylish and sophisticated magazines, my grandmother would have been totally shocked by another piece in the same issue: A description of pickling cabbage down to the caraway seeds! *The most reliable sources of genuine naturally fermented products are local health food stores and ethnic grocery stores. Or you can make them yourself.