Skincare Nutrition: Fermented Foods

As we covered last time in Skincare Nutrition, gut health and skin health are inextricably linked. Actually, the state of your gut determines a lot more than just your glow. The good bacteria that populates your gut keeps your whole body healthy -- from your immune system to your mood to your hormones, cholesterol, and weight -- your whole body requires a happy and healthy gut. Unfortunately, we come into contact with a lot of things that deplete that good bacteria: chlorinated water, antibiotics, stress, and processed foods (to name a few). A lack of good bacteria can lead to allergies, digestive issues, asthma, mood swings, and yes, skin problems. But the good news is that this healing bacteria is easily replenished -- all you need is the right foods.

Enter fermented food. Fermented foods have been getting a lot of buzz lately but - like most practices that heal the body - fermentation has been around for centuries.

What is fermentation?

Lactofermentation (as opposed to ethanol fermentation used to make wine and beer) occurs when natural bacteria feeds on sugar and starch to create lactic acid. Fermentation naturally preserves food and its nutrients, while also creating beneficial enzymes, b-vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and strains of probiotics. Fermented food is easy to digest and leaves a trail of gut-healing good bacteria in its wake.

Fermented foods improve digestion by helping the body absorb and use nutrients, and flush out toxins. They also help to decrease inflammation, strengthen the immune system, and balance hormones. Since skin problems are usually a symptom of a deeper issue (typically one of the issues listed above) the likelihood of fermented food clearing up your skin as it works wonders on the rest of your body is very, very high.

You can ferment a ton of things: cabbage, carrots, beets, tea, coconut milk, the list goes on. Probably one of the most well-known fermented foods is sauerkraut; it’s light, refreshing, and tastes good on top of pretty much anything. You can find sauerkraut and other fermented goodies at your health food or grocery store. But there are somethings to keep in mind if you’re buying premade fermented foods. 

  1. Shop in the refrigerated section: shelf-stable products have typically been pasteurized, which kills all the good stuff.
  2. Choose one that comes in glass: fermented food lasts a long time and if it’s stored in a plastic container, the acid from the fermentation can leach out toxins from the plastic.
  3. Keep it in the fridge: avoid heat and contamination. Good bacteria is still bacteria. Take care not to expose fermented food to prolonged heat and avoid contaminating your fermented food with other foods. Always use a clean utensil to ensure that your good bacteria won’t have to share its space with bad bacteria.

Sauerkraut is also super easy to make, so if you’re ready to try your hand at fermentation, here’s a super simple recipe to start you off:

Ingredients

1 head of cabbage, thinly shredded  

4 tablespoons of Kosher salt (pickling salt works too if you have some on hand)

Mix cabbage and salt in a large bowl. Allow to sit for 10 minutes. Massage cabbage for 5 to 10 minutes to release liquid. Save liquid.

Pack cabbage into a glass jar and pour served liquid over top. Place a cloth (cheese cloth if you have it) over top of the jar and secure with a rubber band. Leave in a cool place.

As the cabbage releases more water, it will start to rise up. For the next 24 hours, push the cabbage down every few hours. If the liquid does not rise above the cabbage in the first 24 hours, dissolve a teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of water and pour over the cabbage until it is covered.

Allow the cabbage to ferment 3 to 10 days (or longer), pressing down on the cabbage if it starts to float above the liquid.

After 3 days, give it a taste. Depending on how tangy and sour you like it, either continue the fermenting process or cover and store in the fridge. It will stay good for approximately one month.

Get creative and add spices and/or aromatics such as caraway, dill, garlic, or hot peppers (add after you massage the cabbage.)

For more fermentation ideas, check out MindBodyGreen’s Beginner’s Guide to Fermentation.

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