How To Ferment Foods For Your Kids

Here in the Raising Resilience Community we're looking for strategies to improve the health and resilience of our kids. We understand that food plays a big part of that because the health of the body influences how we function in the world.

But as busy parents we need strategies that will give us "big bang for our buck", so to speak. So it got me thinking.... what is the #1 thing we can do to help kids feel and function better?

Hard to say, because everyone is different, but I think if there were only one thing you could do I'd encourage it to be adding some sort of fermented food to your family's diet.

Now stop…  If you’re thinking,“there’s no way my kids will eat that” or “that will take too much time” or “what the heck? I wanted simplicity! This sounds advanced”  Calm down. It’s not as hard as you might think and I’m here to walk you through why this helps and how to introduce this into your family. 

First, here's why this is important...

The more I learn about the microbiome in the gut the more astounded I am at how we have let its health slide into oblivion.

It's getting a bit better now, with mainstream news and conventional medicine slowly catching on, but in general, we pay absolutely no attention to this critical part of our bodies. And that oversight is taking a toll on our collective health.

This is why I've made "Supporting Digestive Health" pillar  #4 in the 4 Pillars Of Resilient Health™ framework. 

Evidence is mounting that our microbiome is the driver of our health in so many ways so I want every parent to know how to support that microbiome in their kids. 

If you are thinking right now, “well, I my child doesn't get bloated, or have IBS, and isn't constipated... they must have good digestion”, please stick with me, my friend, and let's go deeper.

Digestive health goes way beyond the typical feelings we associate with digestion. 

Is  your child tired? Depressed? Have skin issues? Have hormone imbalance? Acne? ADHD? Insomnia? Anxiety? Mental illness? Headaches? Chronic pain?

Yup…. digestive… partly.

Here are a few things about the digestive tract that might bring it right up to the front and centre of your attention.

  • Anywhere from 70 to 85% of your immune system resides in the gut (depending on what source you rely on for your statistics).
  • Some of the hormones that regulate mood are created in your gut.
  • The surface of the gut is as big as a tennis court.
  • There are more cells in the gut than there are in the entire human body.
  • There is more genetic material in the gut than there is in the entire body
  • Gut bacteria partly control how genes are expressed.
  • The gut has its own brain for goodness sake. Yes! There are brain cells in your gut - more than in your spinal cord.
  • The gut and brain are in constant conversation. 
  • When we can reduce inflammation in gut we also reduce it in the brain.

Intestine… it’s time to stand up and be noticed!

Let’s back up a bit and take a look at the digestive system.

The digestive tract is actually considered to be “outside” of the body. Imagine it as a long tube. Food goes in, waste comes out.

The mucosal barrier of the intestine is the interface between the outside world and the inside of the body. After the digestive workers have done the job of extracting nutrients from your food, those nutrients are granted passage through the mucosal membrane and into the “inside” of the body, where they travel around through the blood.

It's no surprise then, that as a "borderland" the digestive system is teaming with immune cells; patrols ready to keep intruders from invading the body.

There are about 2kg of bacteria living in the gut. Among them are 500 known species of pathogenic bacteria and also a plethora of beneficial bacteria, viruses and fungi. 

All these little microbes live together and keep each other in check in a remarkable symbiotic relationship. 

Microbes are truly miraculous and we absolutely depend on them for our health. Here's some of what those microbes are doing. They....

  • digest food,
  • manufacture vitamins,
  • extract minerals,
  • create hormones,
  • absorb and neutralize toxins and heavy metals.
  • communicate with the gut wall and the rest of the body.
  • communicate and direct the immune cells in the blood

Every week, it seems, we learn more about how hard working and helpful these little bugs are. 

When the beneficial microbes are weakened, pathogenic microbes are allowed to proliferate and a cascade of damage ensues.  

Here’s part of what happens:

  • The little hairs that cover the intestinal lining which are responsible for digestion and absorption (called microvilli) start to deteriorate. 
  • The mucosal lining itself becomes damaged
  • The immune system patrols lining the gut can become hypersensitive
  • The gut lining can become irritated and inflamed
  • Food is digested by pathogenic bacteria instead of beneficial bacteria, which releases chemicals that pass through the compromised gut lining and into the blood where they can wreak havoc.

Essentially, the gut, which should be the heart of nourishment, becomes a source of toxicity (and remember, we need the beneficial bacteria to clear toxins as well… so this becomes a classic case of "the perfect storm" that I talk about over and over again - increased stress coupled with decreased ability to handle that stress. The double whammy that erodes resilience).

Given all the forces against us, unless you are already paying close attention to your digestive health, you likely have a damaged gut.

You can be eating the best foods money can buy, but you likely have a damaged gut unless you are taking steps to actively support it.

Here are just some of the things that cause digestive stress on a daily basis:

  • cigarette smoke (including second hand),
  • stress hormones,
  • chlorinated water,
  • contraceptive pills,
  • soft drinks,
  • heavy metal exposure,
  • antibiotics,
  • pollution,
  • sugar,
  • artificial sweeteners
  • additives like carageenan,
  • certain food compounds like gluten and lectin,
  • Tylenol, Naproxen, steroids…

So, back to the power of fermented food...

Learning to make (or source) kefir, yogurt, sour pickles, lactofermented sauerkraut, kombucha, water kefir, kimchi and fermented condiments is time well spent, as these are some of the best foods to nourish and support the beneficial bacteria living down there.

Does getting fermented foods into your child sound like a formidable task? Well, I’m on it.  I’m an official fermentation addict. My counter is regularly cluttered with jars and bowls and I’ll keep you posted about my lactofermenting successes and failures as things progress over in the Raising Resilience Facebook Community.

It’s not hard, there’s just a learning curve. A short one.

Lacto-fermenting is a time honoured culinary skill that used to be passed on from mothers and grandmothers, but we’ve totally dropped the ball on this one. I have seen the health benefits that occur when we bring this tradition back into our lives and assure you it is well worth your precious time and energy.  

You might start with this simple fermented ketchup recipe, or the fermented hummus recipe in my book (listen, hummus has a lemon-y taste anyhow! Fermenting it gives you the same zing. I bet your child won't notice). 

If you're wondering how the heck you're going to get fermented foods into your kids, I've got a strategy sheet for you... It covers some simple, kid-friendly ways to incorporate fermented foods, along with how to source good quality if you're not yet ready to make them yourself. Click here to get the strategy sheet.

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About Jess Sherman, M.Ed, R.H.N

Jess is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist™ and Family Health Expert, specializing in brain health & resilience for kids. She is the author of Raising Resilience: Take the stress out of feeding your family & love your life, a mother and an advocate for children’s health. Her book and online resources have helped families all over the world improve the lives of their children with learning differences, anxiety, ADHD, autism and mood disorders by fitting the food and feeding piece into their health puzzles. She is the 2019 recipient of the CSNNAA award for Clinical Excellence for her work helping families get healthier, and she continues to work at bringing an understanding of the power of good nutrition to the mainstream conversation about children’s mental health, learning, and overall resilience through her blog, courses and as a  contributor to print and online magazines. You can reach Jess at www.jesssherman.com 

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