We all hear about probiotics and generally reach for the yogurt as a result. Truth be told most commercial yogurt has very few strains of live bacterial culture and we can do much better with other foods. As a result of learning of this I changed a few things in my diet. When I went vegan a few years ago my taste buds changed and I found myself enjoying foods I'd previously disliked. So I thought maybe this was a time to revisit sauerkraut. As it turns out I do seem to like it. I also learned that a lot of the store bought pickles and such that we buy are no longer done in the traditional way but use vinegar instead. One brand of pickles I can buy locally called Bubbies Pickles is fermented traditionally and I bought a jar discovering just how delicious they are compared to say Bicks. Apple Cider Vinegar (with "mother") is another fermented food that I've been using a while without realizing just how good it is for you. Generally with pickles and sauerkraut that you buy in the store you should look for one refrigerated and without vinegar as an ingredient as a clue that it is made properly.
My daughter and I have also become obsessed with Kombucha a fermented drink that is not only delicious but full of probiotics. In fact part of the class involved learning to make our own and my first batch (made from a donor "scoby" that was given to me in class) turned out amazing. You can see it pictured above during the brewing process.
On a final and related note about fermented foods I should mention a new interest of mine in Vitamin K2. This was a vitamin I hadn't even heard about until recently. It is completely different than K1 (which is involved in blood coagulation, binding calcium to bones and synthesis of some proteins). K2 is very important in preventing osteoporosis and is involved in the transport of calcium in the body. Our large intestine makes K2 which of course is dependent on our gut health. You might hear omnivores say they get plenty of K2 in animal foods and they may be correct. Unfortunately for them K2 in animal foods (called mk-4) isn't highly absorbable and even if it were isn't present in many animal foods today as animals aren't normally grass fed or left to graze. It's the bacteria in soil that animals eat while grazing that puts the K2 in their body (same with B12 but I digress). Animals nowadays are typically grain & corn fed then quickly fattened before slaughter. The most absorbable form of K2 comes from mk-7 and is highly present in natto, a traditional asian fermented soy food. That isn't a food I've been exposed to (nor have most North Americans) but mk-7 is also present in many fermented foods provided it was made with the right starter. I think we'll be hearing a lot more about Vitamin K2 in the near future as it is a very hot topic among nutrition folks at the moment. If you take vitamin D as a supplement you may want to consider taking it with a K2 supplement as it may help the vitamin D actually deposit calcium in your bones rather than places you don't want it like your arteries.
Fermented foods are going to be a major focus going forward for many people as it becomes known that health doesn't just come from the food nutrients, but the food that feeds the friendly bacteria in our gut. Fermentation has been part of food cultures in most societies in one form or another for centuries from tempeh, to sauerkraut to Ethiopian Injera Bread. It's only recently that industrialization of food has stripped our "fermented" foods from any actual fermentation by making fake sourdough, vinegar pickles and yogurts devoid of any probiotics. It's my thought that it would pay for all of us to consume small amounts of a variety of fermented foods each day. It shouldn't take long for the studies to begin to accumulate to support that idea, but in the meantime there certainly is no harm in trying.