2. The Myths Of Fermented Foods
Fermented foods have been used and have been recommended in the diet for basically four reasons:
- Fermented foods are a healthy way to preserve food.
- Fermented foods can replace beneficial bacteria in the intestines.
- Fermented foods can aid digestion.
- Fermented foods are necessary for a long life. All of these reasons are false.
2.1 Fermentation Is NOT A Healthy Way To Keep Foods
Once a food has begun to ferment, it usually continues to do so until it has completely rotted. To halt the fermentation process, either salt, vinegar or extreme cold is used to inhibit the growth of the bacteria living in the food.
Many fermented foods are heavily salted. Salt is a biocide. It kills and inhibits life. The salt in fermented foods prevents the native bacteria from multiplying to the point where putrefaction occurs.
Salt is a useless and harmful inorganic chemical that should never be eaten. Pickles, sauerkraut, cheese and other fermented foods are very heavily salted. Foods preserved with salt should not be included in the diet.
Vinegar is another popular additive to various fermented foods. Vinegar itself is the result of fermentation and is used in concentration to halt the continual decay of fermented foods.
Vinegar, however, disrupts the digestion, kills healthy blood cells, and irritates all the membranes. Pickles and other foods which have been soaked in vinegar are rendered totally indigestible. Many times the digestive juices cannot penetrate and break down the food preserved by vinegar, and so the fermented food passes through the system just as it was swallowed.
A few fermented foods, such as yogurt and beer, are not salted or preserved with vinegar. These types of fermented foods are usually held at low temperatures or bottled to inhibit the continuing growth of the fermenting bacteria ?
2.2 Fermented Foods Do NOT Replace Beneficial Bacteria
One of the reasons most often given for eating fermented food is that they replace beneficial bacteria which naturally live in the intestines. These bacteria aid in the breakdown of food particles and are a part of our native intestinal microflora.
By eating foods rich in bacteria (such as fermented foods), it is believed that our own native bacteria will be enriched and re-established. It sounds reasonable, but this is also a myth.
The effects of fermented foods on the intestinal bacteria are only transitory at best. For example, one of the major so-called beneficial bacteria is called Lactobacillus bulgaricus. It’s found in yogurt and other naturally fermented foods.
This bacteria, however, is not a normal inhabitant of the intestine, and it does not survive long in that environment. In fact, as soon as the foods containing this bacteria are no longer eaten, this “beneficial” bacteria packs its bags and leaves your intestines with the next bowel movement.
Still, there is the persistent insistence that fermented foods can somehow re-establish the needed bacteria in the intestines. People are often advised to drink buttermilk or eat some yogurt or take a swig of acidolphilus after taking antibiotics which have killed the “beneficial” bacteria along with the so-called “harmful” bacteria.
This is quite humorous. First, some bacteria are deemed bad or harmful and a pill is taken to kill them. But the pill works too well, and bacteria we call “good” are also killed. So now we must eat foods full of bacteria to get the “good” bacteria back into our system!
Because of these claims made for fermented foods, much research has been done to see if they can indeed reestablish beneficial bacteria in the intestines. According to a study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the influence of “dietary microflora (bacteria) on the large intestine microflora is unsubstantiated.” The researchers also discovered that even eating two pounds daily of true Bulgarian yogurt “failed to elicit a response in the fecal flora.”
2.3 Myth: Fermented Foods Aid Digestion
When a rotten or spoiled food is eaten, the body hurries it to the nearest exit in an effort to protect itself. If the food is extremely putrefactive, diarrhea may result. If the food is fermented, an increased motility of the intestines occurs. This increase in intestinal motion is wrongly associated with beneficial digestive or laxative properties of the fermented food. In reality, the body is trying to speedily eliminate a substandard food.
The idea that fermented foods could somehow make digestion easier probably came from the observations of people who could not tolerate whole milk but could eat yogurt or some other fermented milk product.
Over 70% of the world’s adults cannot digest milk. They lack a digestive enzyme called lactase that is needed to digest milk sugar or lactose. Undigested lactose results in diarrhea, cramping and abdominal pains. Fermented milk products are low in lactose, and cause less discomfort than unfermented milk.
Two things should be obvious from this discussion. First, fermented foods (in this case, fermented milk products) are not aiding digestion, but instead are just low in one of the factors that may cause digestive distress (lactose). Digestion is always and entirely under control by the body. Foods cannot “aid” digestion anymore than they can aid breathing or circulation. True, unsuitable foods can disrupt digestion (like milk and its products) but it is fallacious to say that foods which do not disrupt digestion are in fact aiding it. Food is inert. It can do nothing. It is acted on by the body. It cannot perform or abet an active, organic process.
The second thing to be learned is that obviously milk and its products are not good foods for the human body. If a food cannot be enjoyed in its natural and unprocessed state, then it is not a suitable food for the human diet. If milk must first be fermented (or partially decomposed) before it can be tolerated, then why should it ever be used in the first place?
Remember that foods cannot improve digestion, be they papayas or yogurt or sauerkraut. Digestion is improved by allowing the body to rest from this process (fasting) and letting it regenerate its own capacities—not by swallowing a fermented and rotted food.
2.4 Eating Rotting Foods For Longer Life?
The most romantic myth about fermented foods is that they can prolong your life. We are given images of 100-year-old Russians dutifully swallowing their yogurt or we’re told about how every long-lived people include at least one fermented food in their diet.
Here is a recent promotion for eating yogurt, perhaps the most popular fermented food: “Yogurt can cure ulcers, relieve sunburn and forestall a hangover. It can be used as a facial or as a remedy for malaria. It confers long life and good looks, prolongs youth and fortifies the soul….”
Stay young, live long and have your soul fortified—quite a claim for a dish full of soured milk. If only it were true.
The idea that fermented foods can prolong life is totally unsubstantiated. This belief got its start around the turn of the twentieth century when an over-enthusiastic researcher named Uya Metchnikoff visited the Bulgarians in Europe. He discovered they had the greatest number of people who had lived past 100, and most of these people also incidentally ate yogurt. He seized upon these two coincidents and tried to present them as “cause” and “effect” without any real research or facts.
Other health writers since that time accepted Metchnikoff’s speculations as truth and let their imaginations run wild. The truth is this: There has never been any validated research which indicates that yogurt or any other food has “life-prolonging” properties. One nutritional researcher, Beatrice Trum Hunter, states that “the yogurt in the long-lived Bulgarians diet was by no means the entire reason. The generous quantities of home-grown vegetables and their stress-free lifestyle played the vital roles in health and longevity of these people.”
It’s always tempting to think you can eat yourself into a long life, and for those people who fall prey to that kind of thinking, the yogurt manufacturers can find a ready market.
A long life, full of happiness and well-being, has as one of its requirements that wholesome, natural foods in an unprocessed state make up the diet. In any case, fermented and rotting foods could not be termed wholesome or natural. In no way, should yogurt or any other fermented food be given “magical” properties by over-enthusiastic promoters and writers.