Yogurt is officially on the map. Ask people why it’s a healthy food and most know that it contains beneficial bacteria like Lactobacillus acidophilus
. Is yogurt the only food that offers us good bacteria? History tells us that our recent ancestors ate a variety of fermented foods like cider, cheese, sauerkraut, and pickles. In the 20th
century, however, pasteurization removed these foods from the American diet, removing with them specific healthful benefits.
Nutritionally speaking, fermented foods are more easily digested than unfermented foods and contain billions of beneficial bacteria that colonize the digestive tract. These bacteria increase immune function and reinforce the gut against pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria. They inhibit disease-producing organisms like E. coli and Salmonella, and increase nutrient absorption while reducing colon cancer risk. Regularly eating fermented foods can help reduce the incidence of all gastrointestinal disorders, including those caused by medications.
Fermented foods are coming to a store near you. “Live” sauerkraut, pickles, and kimchi (fermented cabbage spiced with ginger, garlic, hot peppers, and onions) are available in the refrigerated sections of most natural foods markets. Want to give them a try? Rejuvenative Foods makes a variety of raw organic sauerkraut and kim-chi products (). Bubbies produces Kosher Dills, Dill Relish and Pickled Green Tomatoes () without heating. The Bubbies sauerkraut packaged in a jar, however, is pasteurized (a raw sauerkraut is just entering the market on the west coast). Several books on the market have prompted a renewed interest in fermented foods, including Wild Fermentation (see below), and are making it easier for people to make their own ferments.
Have you seen the headlines that supplemental vitamin E may be unhealthy? A recent analysis of 19 clinical trials (9 tested vitamin E alone and 10 tested vitamin E with other vitamins and minerals) came to a startling conclusion: Mortality risk from all causes increased when vitamin E dosage exceeded 400 IU per day. Some researchers theorize that high doses of vitamin E create a pro-oxidant effect in the body instead of the desired antioxidant effect, causing tissue damage instead of protection.
Can it be that simple? It’s worth noting that the studies were conducted on older individuals with existing medical conditions. There may be no adverse effects to vitamin E supplementation at a dose of 400 IU per day in healthy individuals. Another possible explanation is that the majority of studies used a single form of synthetic vitamin (listed on supplements as dl-alpha tocopherol) whereas food contains a complex of eight compounds loosely classified as vitamin E. These eight compounds tocopherols (alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocopherol) and tocotrienols (alpha-, beta-, gamma- and delta-tocotrienol) are found in a variety of plant fats and oils. Research shows that gamma tocopherol (found mostly in foods) and not alpha tocopherol (found in most supplements) is more strongly linked to lower cancer risk than any other. It is likely that in time we’ll find benefits to several of the different vitamin E compounds that occur naturally.
What to Do:
Food: Regularly consume a variety of healthy foods and oils (oily fish, avocado, nuts, seeds, extra-virgin olive oil) that are good sources of vitamin E. Learn more about how almond butter is a great source of natural vitamin E (and other compounds) in The Best Natural Foods on the Market Today.
Supplements: Choose a natural vitamin E supplement with the words ‘mixed tocopherols’ on the front of the bottle. A general health recommendation is 200 IU. Avoid synthetic alpha-tocopherol supplements (dl-alpha-tocopherol).