Fermented Foods and Weight Regulation

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By Rob Archangel, 180DegreeHealth.com staff writer

Today at the Real Foods Summit, I listened to Jenny McGruther talk about the practice and benefits of fermentation. This is a topic near and dear to me. Around six years ago, I stopped eating a vegan diet and found the Weston A Price Foundation. Through them, I found a guy named Sandor Katz. Sandor is awesome.  He wrote a book called Wild Fermentation, and it inspired me to get into the practice of making things like sauerkraut, kimchi, sourdough bread and kombucha. Maybe it was psychosomatic, but I also found that as I started eating meat, especially fatty meats like sausages, having a like bit of ‘kraut or kimchi helped my belly like me more afterward.

A year or so later, I left the Big Apple, where I’d grown up, and decided I was going to go WWOOFing and learn some farm skills. I left with just a backpack on my shoulders, and a couple three books, and  Sandor’s book was one of them.  I dug it that much. I went on to try all sorts of other things, including dairy ferments like yogurt and kefir, lots of breads and veggies ferments, condiments, beer (including hopless gruit ales) and homemade sodas. I even hosted fermentation meet ups and held a few workshops.  Fun times.

Jenny’s talk is a good overview of why you might want to get into fermenting. It’s a good, old-school method of food preservation (the only one, in fact, that enhances rather than diminishes nutrient content), it helps make food more digestible, aids in inoculating our guts with beneficial bacteria, and makes delicious food.  Though we don’t usually make them at a home-scale, most of the artisanal food we think of as associated with fine cuisine is fermented: wine and cheese, chocolate, breads, cured meats, etc.

Another thing I like that she mentioned is the possible role in asthma, allergies and autoimmune disorders that our war on microbes has had.  The hygiene hypothesis says that we have created environments too hermetic when it comes to microbial life, and we don’t give our bodies adequate training to learn appropriate, measured responses to agents in our environment.  As a result, our bodies might freak out over pollen or cat hair, or even start attacking our own cells as in autoimmune disorders. Fermented foods, by broadening our exposure to microbes, might have a role in training our immune systems not to over-react to non-threats.

There’s also a talk by some dude named Matt Stone, covering things like the role of real foods in weight regulation, and the hormonal, psychological and neurobiological aspects of obesity and weight management. He seems like a swell enough guy- maybe check him out too.




    • Just made some whey and will be making some sauerkraut for the first time this week! Any good recipes?

      • I’ve rarely used whey. I guess around 1/2C per head of cabbage is what I’ve seen recommended.

        Have fun with it though- read around a bit, get a feel for what people recommend, then experiment yourself!

  1. I have the book Wild Fermentation too. I’d love to be able to ferment stuff cause I’m always having lots of digestive issues and first I thought it was bc of my previous refined food eating pattern but just as well on whole foods (I sometimes hardly can go to the toilet for about2days and my belly feels bloated&hard and I also experience a lot of fatigue&depressed mood bc of this.),however I’ve tried it 3times with different veggies (I unfortunately can only use salt,no whey) and they all tasted like shit!:( apart from sauerkraut I don’t even know how good fermented stuff tastes like.
    …..also I always got white molds on top and the veggies always started to drift to the top after a couple of days.

    Also I’m still confused whether to put the lid on the top or not, bc there are the ones who say it needs to be on top to prevent oxygen from coming to it and then there are the ones who claim the lid must not be put on but something like a towel must be attached on top to prevent dust&dirt going in.

    Then there’s the issue of having to cook the pot in boiled water afterwards in order to get it sterile again,in order to get rid off the bacteria&molds.
    Why does it always have to be so much work…..

    • Dutchie,

      No whey (haha)- don’t sweat it. I’ve only ever used whey once; it’s not necessary. I also never took high-level sterility seriously. Just wash with some warm water and soap.

      Here’s a good page with easy guidelines for kraut. http://ranprieur.com/misc/sauerkraut.html
      He uses two glass jar which can nest in each other to both allow air circulation (you don’t need a strictly anaerobic environment- long as the veggies are submerged, you’re good) and prevent your veggies from floating to the top and starting to mold. (Even if they do mold, just scrape it off- it’s not dangerous).

      As for taste, whey does seem to make it tangier, but again, I’ve only rarely used it. Generally the longer you let it go (a factor of both the duration and the warmth of the surrounds), the more sour it gets. I like mine pretty sour. I hear that with quicker fermentation in hotter weather, the flavor is maybe less complex, more one-note compared to slower, cooler ferments. Dunno- experiment with it. Have fun. And if it starts to stress you out, quit and don’t worry!

      Remember- people have been doing this stuff forever, with less equipment than you probably have already in your house. You can make it as simple or elaborate as you like.

      • Rob, Thanx 4 the link. The last I tried it I indeed also used the jar on top of the jar system,but the jar on top didn’t nicely close the gap.

        However,I think it’s too bad most ferment videos only are about kraut or pickles. I don’t want to eat kraut that much due to thyroid and the goitrogonic substances in the kraut.

        • Dutchie,

          The basic process is the same for kraut and any other b=veggies ferment you might do. I used to make a million different types of kimchi, which was my perhaps not strictly apt catch-all phrase for ‘mixed veggie ferment.’ (Kimchi is like curry- there are as many types as there are people making it. Still, I was probably stretching the term a bit much).

          All of which is to say- don’t be scurred. Chop stuff up that you like and/or have on hand, salt it and mash it like cabbage, then put it in a jar squeezing it’s brine above the veggie line, and let it go.

          h yeah, just remembered the other benefit of the double jar/lid/plate/loose-fitting over: you can stop some of the brine water from evaporating, thus keeping your veggies submerged.

          • Thanx Rob!
            Do you perhaps have a link to a video showing this quote from the article because I don’t really understand or can imagine how to do this? (Sorry,I’m really a noob)
            Here’s the quote from the article:
            “Add salt and work it into the cabbage with your hands, which will draw juice out of the cabbage. The best way to get the right amount of salt is by tasting.”

          • No worries- I don’t know any videos off hand. It’s pretty much what it sounds like- add salt and massage the cabbage (wash your hands first), until it starts to sweat. You’re pulling the water out of the cell walls, and that becomes the brine. I sometimes add salt, then let it sweat for a few minutes, then go back to it and start pounding it with a potato masher or something if I don’t feel like massaging it by hand.

            Poke around- I’m sure Youtube has some step by step videos.

          • Thanx 4 the link!

    • I have made (what I think is) a really nice sauerkraut with cabbage, grated carrot, apple (softens the cabbage taste), juniper berries, any other herbs and veges that looked likely. I have used salt only and whey (only a little required) with salt – that produces a fresher and less salty taste.

      I use a mason/preserving jar with a plastic ziplock bag containing some salty water as a weight. Make sure you put the main container on a plate or dish or you will have to clean the bench more frequently.

  2. Rob, do you ever think of lactic acid from fermentation being a possible issue for some?

    • Hey Tyler,

      I know Ray Peat has some negative thoughts about lactic acid. It is produced during strenuous exercise, so it could be stressful. I don’t know.

      My experience with ferments has been either neutral or positive, and I’m a fan so I haven’t let Peat-y ideas stop me.

      • Yeah good perspective to have. I don’t mind having some fermented foods and kombucha every now and then. I’m just way too lazy to make the stuff on my own.

    • Yes, lactic acid may be slightly carcinogenic, it is a byproduct of stress, and it has anti-metabolic properties.

      That being said, what isn’t a carcinogenic these days? The benefits of fermentation are far outweighing. With natto, the goitrogens are destroyed and Vitamin K is produced. In grains, anti-nutrients are deactivated. Fermented foods have been used for millenia to help digestion.

      Unless you rely on yogurt as a major source of daily calories, I don’t know that you can eat enough lactic acid to create problems.

      • Thanks bambam- that’s pretty much my thinking. People everywhere throughout time fermented, even when they didn’t have to for storage reasons. That’s a solid enough track record for me.

        Also, I remember Sandor in a talk saying something about veggie ferments that were also anti-carcinogenic, or maybe anti-radioactive. They figured this out after the atomic bombs were dropped in Japan. If anyone knows more, fill me in on the details!

        In any event, the possible downsides may be mitigated even within the ferments themselves.

      • Bambam. Thank you. That is an excellent reply. Probably everything is poisonous if you eat enough of it. It’s probably best to follow the age-old wisdom to eat a little of everything….or almost everything! Of course, a lot of diet gurus have a blind-side when it comes to their pet foods. And why behold the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but consider not the beam that is in thine own eye?

  3. I’ve watched all of Matt’s Youtube video’s, read many articles on this site and read the diet recovery ebook. There were a couple of new things in his talk that I don’t think I’d heard before. Or perhaps it was just presented differently. At any rate, I thought it was well worth listening to, even though I’m somewhat familiar with his material.

  4. My BFF is a home brewer. He makes some awesome mead and cream ales. I’m going to ask him about the hopless gruit ales you mention! Taste testing is a hard job but somebody’s gotta do it!! lol

    • Indeed- I wish you strength in your solemn task. :-D

      And I totally forgot mead! Probably my favorite brew. It’s been a while, but I’ve made more mead than anything else probably. It’s ridiculously easy and delicious.

  5. I love making ferments, but haven’t done a lot of it lately. I’ve made some of the Nourishing Traditions recipes. I love the salsa and I made my own version of bread and butter pickles from Eat Fat Lose Fat. I’m now motivated to get back into it. I find using whey produces a consistent result. I haven’t made my own yogurt in a while, but maybe it’s time to get back on board!


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