Now that was fun! Somewhere between a presentation on the theory of body ecology and a cookery class, this workshop gave us all we need to know to improve our own health by preparing and eating our own fermented vegetables at home.
So what's body ecology?
A quick look at Wiki defines ecology as 'the branch of biology that deals with the relations of organisms to one another and to their physical surroundings'. Body ecology is therefore concerned with the community of little creatures that live inside our bodies, some of them 'friendly', some of them harmful.
Our intestines are filled with at least 2 kilos of friendly bacteria. Two kilograms! We call them friendly because they help us to metabolise and digest food but we could also call them essential bacteria. We can't live without them. They are an essential component in the gut and we can't metabolise without them.
They also physically displace 'unfriendly' microorganisms from the gut. When our friendlies are teeming, there's just no room for these nasties.
Then came anti-biotics
Anti-biotics kill bacteria. No one could dispute that this in an immeasurably useful class of drugs. Without them we'd all be dying of the simplest injuries, procedures and infections. Sadly, however, anti-biotics don't discriminate between good bacteria in the gut and bad ones. They kill everything.
This may cure our infections but it also has long-term effects on our body ecology. If you reduce the population of the essential friendly bacteria in the gut you allow non-friendly micro-organisms to grow. One of these in particular, a yeast called candida , can cause serious problems.
Candidiasis (yeast overgrowth)
We all have yeast in our gut. It's kept in check by our friendlies. It's when they become depopulated that yeast can quickly grow throughout the gut, sometimes beyond, becoming a serious problem. This is called candidiasis and is linked to food allergies, digestive problems, skin rashes, constipation, headaches, mental fuzziness, depression, ashthma, eczema, sugar cravings and poor immunity.
Yeast weakens the immune system, creates hormone imbalances, causes insulin resistance, lowers thryroid hormones and has a huge effect on longevity and quality of life.
It seems as if modern life is designed to help candida proliferate. Anti-biotics are a primary cause, as are birth control pills. Candida loves sugar, so a high sugar diet full of cakes, cookies and soft drinks will feed it. It also likes an acid environment, so a diet high in meats and coffee will make things worse. Stress affects the immune system and allows candida to proliferate.
It's estimated that one in three people may have candidiasis. Given the above dietary reasons, it's obvious why. Who of us has not taken anti-biotics or eaten such a diet at some stage in our lives? Our typical high sugar, high meat diet feeds candida. Our stressfull lives reduce our immunity and our medications destroy the ecological balance that once kept it in check.
The cure is to roll back the changes in the internal environment so that candida can't thrive. It likes an acid environment. So we need to turn that more to alkali. It likes a mineral poor environment so we need to eat more minerals. It likes to have little competition so we need to bring back the friendly bacteria that can control it.
And the easiest way to do all of that is by eating fermented vegetables!
What are fermented vegetables?
To ferment foods we stick them in a jar with a starter pack of friendly bacteria and salt. Fermentation iencourages bacteria that are found naturally on the surfaces of vegetables and deep inside them to proliferate. As they do so they pre-digest the vegetables, making them much easier for us to absorb when we eat them. Not only that, but they become so rich in friendly bacteria that they help to populate our guts when we eat them.
The vegetables that we ferment tend to be leafy or cruciate vegetables like kale or cabbage which are not only naturally alkalising but also rich in minerals. The special bacteria formed in fermentation, called LAB's, have a huge range of beneficial effects, including affecting the immune response and making us less allergic. So fermented foods, across the board, are a hugely potent dietary method of restoring our body ecology and combating candida.
The fun part
The best part of the workshop was of course the food! Mary demonstrated how to make fermented vegetables it's very easy and you don't have to be Jamie Oliver to do it. Penny brought out samples of fermented veg, dips and drinks to show us the breadth of delicious flavours available in the fermented foods repertoire.
Preparation takes a bit of time but it's easy. Even I can do it! And the results have been delicious.
So this was a fantastic workshop. Anyone who has been to a workshop can come again for free to subsequent ones. We hope to have a repeat visit from Penny and Mary in July.
Would you like to hear more?
Here's a radio interview with Mary and Penny on KL's BFM station.