Fermented foods can boost healthy digestion

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By: AJ Hughes

Jenny Rusnell, owner of The Moringa Tree in Elkhart, is a firm believer that a person’s health is dependent on eating food and drinking beverages that are packed with nutrients. And for Joe Gady, owner of Farming for Life in Argos, consuming nutrient-dense foods starts with growing plants in nutrient-dense soil.

Gady and Rusnell also share the belief that fermented foods are an important component of eating healthily. Gady ferments much of what he grows, including sauerkraut, kimchi, lentils, spicy Mexican beans, carrots, dill pickles and more. Rusnell serves up pizzas (limited availability) on a sourdough crust, and she makes and serves kombucha (fermented tea), pickles, kimchi and sauerkraut.

Fermenting food dates back to ancient times. Greeks came up with both yogurt and sourdough bread, and workers building the Great Wall of China ate fermented cabbage (which later became sauerkraut). Many cultures utilized fermentation to preserve their food in times of floods and droughts.

“If your gut’s not healthy, you’re not healthy.”

Gady utilizes live organic lactic acid for the fermentation process. During lactic acid fermentation, lactobacilli (bacteria present on the surface of all living organisms) converts starches and sugars into lactic acid, which preserves the food while inhibiting harmful bacteria. Lactic acid also promotes growth of healthy flora in the intestines. Gady says the abundance of lactobacilli in fermented vegetables aids in digestion, increases vitamin levels, and produces many helpful enzymes.

His fermentation process involves mixing vegetables with sea minerals and herbs and pressing into an air-tight crock. The unrefined sea minerals inhibit spoiling, and over several days to a couple of weeks, the vegetables are preserved through fermentation.

Gady finds it impossible to separate the nutritional value of food, fermented or not, from the soil in which it is grown. Fermented, nutrient-rich foods add to the variety of beneficial bacteria in our intestines, but growing vegetables must be done in soil that is equally rich in nutrients. “I’m a fanatic about building soil,” he said. “I try to do it right, with plenty of cover crops.” (Cover crops are grown when the soil is not actively producing a crop of vegetables).

His cover crops represent a polyculture (many kinds of plants rather than just one). “This attracts different microbes, and each microbe produces different enzymes,” he said. “This increases bioentities in soil.”

Rusnell and her fiancé, Andy Weaver, ferment everything in-house at The Moringa Tree. Like Gady, Rusnell espouses the health benefits of eating fermented foods.

“Probiotics are added by fermentation,” she said. “Fermentation builds friendly cultures.”

Rusnell is a certified nutritional counselor, and her mother is a naturopathic doctor and master herbalist. When her brother died of cancer at age 33, she viewed this is a wakeup call to change her lifestyle and eating habits. “I have a passion to save people’s lives,” she said. “Whatever we eat fuels us, or kills us.”

Five years ago she started fermenting by making kombucha, which she said sells “like crazy.”

A self-described foodie, Rusnell said she picked up her gourmet tastes at a Grand Rapids, Mich. country club where she worked. At The Moringa Tree, which opened April 1, 2013, she uses fermented foods as part of an overall healthy and gourmet menu.

A proper sourdough, according to Rusnell, needs plenty of time to ferment, and she allows two to three days per batch. And since a proper sourdough has no gluten, it can even be consumed by customers who must steer clear of gluten.

Gady and Rusnell both strongly believe that health begins in the gut, and that eating fermented foods as part of a healthy diet strongly aids gut health. “If your gut’s not healthy, you’re not healthy,” Rusnell said.

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