The science behind traditional food

Modern science shows the health benefits of traditional foods.

Words Ben Warren. Illustration Janelle Barone

In the last few years there’s been a large swing back to traditional foods to maintain health such as bone broths, fermented vegetables, grains and drinks.

Why bone broth? Bone broth – or technically, stock – is a mineral-rich infusion made by boiling the bones of healthy animals with vegetables, herbs and spices. It provides you with gelatin, glycine and protein to support your gut and promote energy. Not surprisingly, it supplies the exact minerals your body needs to maintain bone health, in a high bioavailable form. Homemade, nutrient-dense bone broth is incredibly easy and inexpensive to make. It is also wonderfully warming for the cooler months and adds flavour to soups, casseroles and curries. If you don’t have time to make your own, there are some great brands on the market.

Why fermented foods? We’ve only recently begun to understand the extent of the gut flora’s role in human health and disease. Among other things, the gut flora promotes normal digestive function, accounts for approximately 80 per cent of our body’s immune response, and helps to regulate our metabolism. Dysregulated gut flora has been linked to diseases ranging from autism to depression to inflammatory bowel disease and has been linked to autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s and metabolic conditions like type 2 diabetes.

In our gut we have trillions of bacteria. Humans actually have 10 times more bacteria cells than we do human cells. I often say to clients that we are more bacteria than we are human! We come into trouble with our little microbes when the balance of good bacteria and bad bacteria becomes out of whack.

Fermented foods help restore the correct balance of bacteria by feeding and restoring the ‘beneficial bacteria’ in the gut.  ‘Beneficial bacteria’ are species of bacteria that have a known health benefit. These beneficial bacteria play an essential role in our health. They protect the lining of our intestines and ensure they provide a strong barrier against toxins and “unfriendly” bacteria; they limit inflammation, improve how well you absorb nutrients from your food and activate neural pathways that travel directly between the gut and the brain.

So what compromises our gut flora? Several features of modern living directly contribute to unhealthy gut flora:

· Antibiotics and other medications like birth control
and NSAIDs.

· Diets high in refined carbohydrates, sugar and processed foods

· Diets low in fermentable fibres, aka not enough veggies.

· Foods known to cause leaky gut: gluten, seed oils and refined sugar.

· Chronic stress

· Chronic infections

Antibiotics are undoubtedly necessary in some circumstances. They do, however, have huge implications on gut health. Research tells us it takes about 10 months for our gut bacteria levels to return to a similar condition as before the antibiotics, although it’s believed they never return to an identical state.

Fermented foods have been used for centuries as a nutritional powerhouse to support health and vitality. I’ve spent a long time researching ancestral societies. Interestingly, in winter months traditional communities increased their intake of probiotic-rich foods such as sauerkraut and fermented vegetables significantly. My research shows that traditional communities consumed between 12 and 15 serves of probiotic foods per day.

If you do require antibiotics, ensure you drink bone broth and eat a diet rich in probiotic foods including kefir, kombucha and sauerkraut. The other benefit of consuming fermented foods is that over time your sugar cravings decrease as you starve out the unfriendly bacteria which feed on sugar, refined grains and carbohydrates. Look to eat at least some fermented foods every day and if you’re unable to do this, take a high quality probiotic.

Ben Warren is a nutrition and holistic health expert. For more visit bepure.co.nz

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