The Lost Art Of Fermentation

(photo by Natalie Rhea)

I think we're all familiar with yogurt and pickles, some of the historically fermented foods that are still popular despite a decline in traditional diets. But there's a whole world beyond that jar of pickles in the grocery store aisle. From carrots to garlic, apples to cranberries, there's endless possibilities for foods we can ferment and create the nutritionally dense meals as possible.

What is it?
Lacto-fermentation is a natural process by which the bacteria Lactobacillus feeds off sugar and starches found in foods.  This produces lactic acid as a byproduct, and gives fermented food that signature acidic, tangy flavor.

A lost tradition
But sadly, with the abandonment of traditional food preparation and the rise of industrial food production, fermentation has become somewhat of a lost art. It's a practice that seems to become less popular with every generation.
Pickles were always traditionally fermented, but now the kind you'll find in a grocery store are just soaked in a vinegar solution to give it that classic sour flavor. They may taste similar, but in terms of health benefits, they're just a cheap copy. But fermented foods have always been a part of a traditional diet. From Cultures for Health,
The diets of every traditional society have included some kind of lacto-fermented food. Europeans consume lacto-fermented dairy, sauerkraut, grape leaves, herbs, and root vegetables. The Alaskan Inuit ferment fish and sea mammals. The Orient is known for pickled vegetables, sauces, and kimchi in particular. Farming societies in central Africa are known for porridges made from soured grains.

The benefits of fermented foods
In the past, fermenting food was more practical than anything. It was a means of storage and preservation. But we now know that there's an abundance of benefits that comes from the process.
Fermented foods...

  • Produce beneficial probiotics and enzymes, improving digestion and promoting a healthier gut flora. 
  • Act as a natural preservative. Refrigerators have only been around for so long, and people needed ways to keep and preserve food before then. By fermenting certain foods, you deter harmful bacteria and allowing food to be stored for long periods of time. 
  • Just taste better! They turn raw cabbage into zesty sauerkraut and milk whey into tangy yogurt. Sour pickles? Yes please. Foods are more fun when they're fermented. 
  • Break down lactose in dairy. So if you have issues with lactose-intolerance, full-fat, grass-fed yogurt might be your new best friend. 
  • Magically make soy healthy. Raw soy is a known hormone-disruptor, but when properly fermented (like traditional Japanese natto) it becomes a full-on health food. Although, I've heard it's a bit slimy in texture... just a heads up. 
  • Can be cheap when made at home. Eating "healthy" can sometimes be expensive, but making your own fermented foods at home is good for your body and your wallet. 

How to make your own
It's crazy and fascinating to me that there's possibility to increase the nutritional content of our food literally all around us. We just have to utilize it. Sally Fallon says: "These lactobacilli are ubiquitous, present on the surface of all living things and especially numerous on leaves and roots of plants growing in or near the ground. Man needs only to learn the techniques for controlling and encouraging their proliferation to put them to his own use, just as he has learned to put certain yeasts to use in converting the sugars in grape juice to alcohol in wine."
So let's take advantage of it! I swear homemade sauerkraut is literally the easiest thing to make in the world. (Right behind PB&J) Here's a running list on how to make your own:

I've also written a bit more about kombucha a water kefir hereAnd here's a whole archive of recipes for fermenting food.


(photo by Tanalee Youngblood)
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What Mindful Eating Is, And How To Practice It

Mindfulness is not just a buzzword. An adjective, yes, but more than that, a practice.
Its ironic, despite living in the most calorie-abundant place and era, we still act like everything on our plate could be swiped from us in a instant. I've seen people eating that more closely resemble a pack of wolves scarfing down their freshly hunted prey than a human sitting down to eat a civilized meal. Whatever happened to enjoying food, savoring food?
We eat while we drive and while we watch tv, opting for a drive thru window instead of a sit down meal. And I get it, life is busy. But we often don't respect the art of eating, giving it only the last of our time and attention. It's often something we have to do, not get to do. The drive-thru culture.

What is mindful eating? 
Mindful eating is eating without distraction, with your full focus on the meal before you. From the Center for Mindful Eating:
Mindful Eating is:
  • Allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food selection and preparation by respecting your own inner wisdom. 
  • Using all your senses in choosing to eat food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body.   
  • Acknowledging responses to food (likes, dislikes or neutral) without judgment.
  • Becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating.
Why we should eat mindfully 
When we're aware of what and how we're eating. Digestion is a complex process, and requires a plethora or hormonal signals in order to trigger the system. It takes about 20 minutes for the brain to recognize satiety (to tell you when you feel full). So how can we expect our bodies to work efficiently when we're scarfing down a sandwich within 10 minutes? It's easy to overeat when you're taking another bite every 30 seconds. Our bodies just aren't meant to keep up.

Digestion shuts down when our bodies are in the sympathetic nervous system (fight or fight). So we need to be in parasympathetic mode in order to digest efficiently. But that can't happen when we're distracted, rushed, or stressed. Ever eaten a meal when you're on a time crunch? You're left feeling unsatisfied, and maybe even nauseous or bloated.

How to eat mindfully 
Now that we know what it is, how do we practically implement some mindful eating practices into our daily routine? What may seem like a small, unimportant habit may actually be hindering your experience with food. Small steps can make big differences. So here's some simple tips that will surely make your mealtimes more enjoyable and beneficial experiences:

Chew more
In the West, we tend eat to fast. But did you know you're supposed to chew at least 25 times before swallowing? Yeah, seems like a lot. As Robyn Youkilis likes to say, "Newsflash: your stomach doesn't have teeth." Don't make things harder on your stomach than they should be! Digestion begins in the mouth, and saliva has an important role in the process. Don't by bypass it!

Put your fork down
In between taking bites, put your fork down. Really. Just do it. It's actually much harder than it sounds. If you're constantly looking for your next bite of food, how can you enjoy what's already in your mouth? Take a bite. Put your utensil down, (no, not to grab another forkful) and focus on what you're currently eating. Let go of your food for a moment. It's okay. It's not going anywhere.

Eat with your left hand...
...if you're right-handed. If you're a lefty, try eating with your right! The point is to eat with your non-dominant hand. This practice compels you slow down, to be aware of the fine motor skills it takes to simply take a bite of salad. It literally forces you to be mindful of how you're eating.

Eat without distraction
Ever sit down in front of the TV with a bag of chips, only to look down a few minutes later and realize you've eaten the entire thing? Yeah, me too. Humans don't multitask well, and if your brain is focused on whatever Netflix show you're currently bingeing, it's way too easy to just mechanically shove food into your mouth without giving it a second thought. Be present with your meal. Whether you're enjoying it alone, or it's family dinner or a meal with friends.

One of the easiest way to implement mindful eating is to simply make your own food. It's easy to rip into a bowl of microwaved nuggets without a second thought, but when you've taken the time to prepare your own meal, it makes it easier to savor. As much as technology has advanced, someone, somewhere is still making your food. Food production and preparation is not without the human hand. So, even if it's just boiling pasta, work toward making your own hands a part of that preparation.

Which tip are you going to try implementing in your routine? Let me know!

Good luck,

(photo by Ali Inay)

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