Go with Your Gut – Seriously

I’m sure you’ve been told time and time again to “go with your gut” and for good reason, too! Our gut bacteria – also known as our microbiome – support the healthy functioning of everything from our digestive tract to our immune system, all of which undoubtedly influence the appearance of our skin.

In fact, as S.W. Basics’ Adina Grigore notes in her book, Skin Cleanse, a healthy amount of bacteria just might be the key to clear, healthy skin.  She explains, “…people with healthy bacteria on their skin break out less often than people with less bacteria. Studies have shown that people with clear skin have 20 percent more bacteria production than those with acne.”

So, what is one of the best ways to cultivate and foster healthy gut flora, you ask? Eating plenty of bacteria – found in abundance in fermented foods.

Simply put, fermentation is the metabolic breakdown of yeasts and fungi into organic acids. Acids stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria, helping your body to better assimilate the nutrients it takes in. The probiotics present in fermented foods aid in digestion by helping your body to absorb the good stuff like vitamins and minerals, and get rid of the gunk that slows your system down.

Kefir in a smoothie, photo by Lizzy Ott

Before our lives were cushioned with freezers and preservatives, fermentation was used as the primary preservation method. Unfortunately in today’s ultra-pasteurized and bacteria-phobic society, the practice has become increasingly less common. Which is a total shame, as the benefits of consuming fermented foods are numerous; they help boost immunity, maintain regular bowel movements, stabilize blood sugar levels, and even ward off depression and anxiety. On top of that, there’s talk that high temperature cooking can kill off beneficial bacteria. In short, fermentation maintains the food’s integrity so you don’t miss out on any nutrients.

You can ferment most any vegetable; just grab some sea salt and a jar. You’ll put the veggie into a jar, add some salt, and pound the vegetable down to release its juices. Leave the veggie and salt in an airtight container for a few days, or up to a few weeks, as the salt will prevent harmful bacteria from forming. Some other fermented foods to include in your diet are plain (unsweetened) yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, and miso.  Fermented foods can even be fun: beer, wine, cheese, and sourdough bread are all probiotic-rich products. Just be sure you’re getting the pure and organic stuff (or make your own!).

If you’re a nutrition nerd like me and are looking for more information on the wonders of fermentation, I highly recommend checking out Sandor Katz’ book The Art of Fermentation, and Sally Fallon’s cookbook Nourishing Traditions. Plus, I’ve included the recipe for Adina’s Skin Cleanse Counter ‘Kraut, below. Dig in!

Adina Grigore’s Counter ’Kraut

Ingredients:

1 head cabbage
1 to 2 tablespoons sea salt

Method:

Cut a cabbage into quarters and cut out the core. Peel off the outer cabbage leaves and any leaves with black spots, and save one or two whole, unblemished leaves.

Finely shred the remaining cabbage. Put the shredded cabbage into a large bowl or pot and add 1 to 2 tablespoons of sea salt.  Note: do NOT use iodized salt. Iodine will kill your fermentation.

After you add the salt, start breaking up the cabbage by “massaging” it, meaning: grab fistfuls of it and squeeze it, punch it, and just basically manhandle it. After five or ten minutes, your cabbage will look wilted and reduced in size, and there should be quite a lot of water in the bottom of your bowl (this is your “brine”).

Counter Kraut in the making; photo Adina Grigore 

Once your cabbage is all mushy, get a clean fork to taste it for saltiness. If it tastes just a little too salty for your normal taste, then it’s perfect.

Once it’s ready, put it in a bowl or jar that’s small enough that you can pack it tightly with your fist and deep enough that the liquid can rise up an inch or so above the surface of the shredded cabbage. A wide-mouth Mason jar is perfect for this. Now, you’ll use the whole, unblemished cabbage leaves that you saved above to lay across the top of the chopped cabbage to hold down stray pieces under the liquid. Fill a smaller jar with water and tightly cap it (so the water doesn’t spill into your brine).

Make sure to wash the outside of this second jar because you’ll use it to weigh down the cabbage. The whole point here is to keep the cabbage submerged under the brine. This is an anaerobic fermentation, meaning it happens only when it’s not exposed to oxygen.

Now set your counter ’kraut aside. It’ll be slightly fermented in as few as three days. But if you want to be really hard-ore, you can leave it for two or three weeks.

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