Hostess with the Mostest… Time for a Dose of Culture
The midday meal is quinoa with roasted beets, some pumpkin seeds, and a generous handful of parsley. It catches the bright sun that’s flooding through the windows. A spectacular sight. The vibrant colors dance together in the light.
Appreciating this sensory feast is part of the digestive process. It really tunes me in and gets me deeper into receptivity mode.
But I realize something is missing…
I go to the fridge. Return with a jar of sauerkraut ~ of the small-batch, organic variety. So very tasty. I garnish with a spoonful.
This completes the picture. Adds just the missing elements. And truly takes it to the next level.
Et voilà. Lunch is served. It’s a simple, edible, masterpiece.
As you read these words, communities of microbes within your digestive tract are engaged in a wild dance of transformation. Extracting nutrients from food. Making energy. Undergoing sophisticated communications with your immune system…
For many of us, it’s strangely easy to lose sight of this staggering level of coordinated, mutually supportive, life-promoting activity taking place within. A good reminder is always in order.
I’ve just finished reading (and rereading) a chapter on fermentation from Cate Stillman’s latest book: UNINFLAMED: 21 Primal Habits to Heal Chronic Inflammation and Restore your Microbiome.
In the chapter FERMENT, Cate leads us on a behind-the-scenes tour of fermentation… and introduces us to the microscopic world of bacteria, enzymes and micronutrients that are at play in the process.
Along the way, she plainly connects the dots between consuming a diversity of fermented foods, nourishing our microbiome, experiencing optimal nutrition, and establishing an internal landscape of efficiency and longevity.
She shares research that underlines our ability to “remodel,” strengthen and diversify our microbiome by introducing an array of fermented foods into our diets.
In these pages, she’s giving us both the keys to the car and the roadmap for fighting inflammation and disease.
When we eat fermented foods, we simultaneously introduce more beneficial microbes into our system AND nourish our existing microbiome.
In short, we take direct action to protect our health.
Here’s an impressive highlight reel:
“Fermented foods kill the bad guys, from free radicals which cause oxidative stress to carcinogens, thus earning the following heavy-weight titles:
Those eight anti-pathogenic effects point to how fermented foods benefit you, the host.” (UNINFLAMED p. 93)
Your mission, should you choose to accept it?
Become a better host. Adopt a few simple habits that tip the scales towards greater balance in those microscopic populations teeming within. Help them help you.
So what’s the big deal with fermentation, exactly?
First of all, it’s a process that’s stood the test of time. It’s one of nature’s elegant pathways towards greater efficiency and higher order. A sophisticated form of upcycling.
Microbes have been in the business of fermentation since long before humans arrived on the scene.
Here’s the gist: microbes in our gut direct a process of breakdown. They use enzymes to make it happen. Through this team effort, a transformation occurs. Material we otherwise would not have the means to break down becomes vital nutrients, signaling molecules for our cells AND fuel for their own communities to boot.
The remainder? That’s our poop. Daily evidence of the wild process of fermentation that’s happening within you as we speak. Thanks to bacteria and enzymes. Amazing.
Fermentation is a process that lays the groundwork for optimal nourishment, absorption, and energy production. It supports tissue growth and repair. And it helps fight disease by removing non-nutrients.
Sign me up for that, please!
As Cate explains, making and consuming fermented foods ramps this party up by several notches.
Humans have had their hands in this process for many thousands of years. Fermentation is one of the oldest methods of food preservation. It’s a through-line in culinary traditions across the globe. Every culture, nearly every region, boasts its own special type of fermented food.
Universal themes like these are not a coincidence, folks. When there’s a habit that basically everyone’s ancestors took part in, it’s a good indication to sit up and take note.
If your digestion is not great; if your health is lackluster or worse, it’s time to get involved. The FERMENT chapter lights a path. It’s simple and clear.
How to provide your trusty microbes with what they need to flourish?
Think of it as becoming a 5-star hostess to your invisible guests. Getting plenty of plants in the diet is a major first step. Shifting away from processed foods ~ which lack the magic of enzymes and don’t contain the fiber that microbes require ~ is also key.
And, as Cate inspires us to do in this chapter, ferment!
A.k.a. bring on the culture.
It’s all about the living foods. It’s also about diversity.
Sauerkraut and miso are just the tip of the iceberg. Skip the big-batch, industrial jars. They don’t have the good stuff. Get involved. Read the labels. Go for small-batch, or homemade ferments. Turn the leaves of the humble cabbage into medicinal gut shots in your own kitchen. Cate gives all the deets in this chapter.
It turns out that when we ferment foods, their nutrient content skyrockets. They also boast loads of enzymes. With small amounts of living foods, we introduce “magic ingredients” back into our system. Our inner communities thrive. The lining of our gut restores itself. And we reap the benefits.
The state of our microbiome is the number one indicator of our health. And we have agency to repair; to upgrade; to optimize it.
The more diversified our intake of plants and fermented foods, the more robust our microbiome will become. And that’s our foundation for resilient health.
When the number of species we consume dwindles, our microbiome suffers, along with our health. In a sense, this is akin to our daily interactions. If we’re only tuning into the same few people ~ the same stories on repeat ~ our own development stagnates. Our awareness shrinks.
Interestingly, gut flora populations are completely different for people who live in isolation than for people who are connected to communities. Perhaps these microorganisms are trying to teach us something about the depth of awareness ~ and resilience ~ that’s possible when we embrace diversity. When we honor and lean into our interconnectedness.
The microbiome is now considered an organ in its own right. All wisdom traditions revere the inherent intelligence of our organs. They guide us to learn from and tap into their unique powers. I’ve come to appreciate that the microbiome is an organ that builds strength through diversity. It illuminates how broadening our horizons and broadening our health span go hand in hand.
Research about the microbiome ~ and its malleability ~ is painting a new picture of our health. And it is a fantastically empowering one. The communities of microorganisms to which we serve as host are not genetically determined. They are certainly not set in stone. And they hold powerful keys for developing resilience and longevity.
In looking at the microbiome, there is a beautiful opportunity to retell the story of our health; our communities; our interdependence.
It’s high time to get ourselves more cultured… to “tend and befriend” our invisible allies. May we all embrace the practice of becoming better hosts.