Will eating fermented foods fix my gut issues?
Updated: May 21, 2020
There was a time in my life where I couldn’t eat anything without blowing up like a balloon and feeling like I was 9 months pregnant (not that I would know what being pregnant feels like – you women rock!) My poo’s were inconsistent, different colours and shapes, some days I pooped once, while other days close to 7 (impressive I know).
So I did what any responsible American without healthcare would do – I got on Google and boy did I find answers! From health professionals, to individuals claiming to be health professionals, to the people in between who had experienced something similar to what I was experiencing and were offering advice. As a result from my extensive ‘research’ I adopted pretty restrictive eating behaviours, popped a load of supplements and kept a poo diary, so I could ultimately get to the bottom (pun intended) of my health issues.
Much of the advice demonised sugar, touting it as the food for overgrown bad bacteria (just fyi there's not good evidence for this). Oh then there was 'the cure-all' of apple cider vinegar (ACV). My diligent research had me convinced I suffered from low stomach acid and a shot of ACV before every meal would perk it right up! (again...unlikely to work).
For the following 3 years I gave up coffee, carbs, grains, went vegan, then Paleo, tried a FODMAP diet, went vegetarian and spent a metric shit tonne of money on supplements like digestive enzymes, betaine HCL (stomach acid supplements )and probiotics. Not to mention countless expensive visits to the doctor’s office and series of antibiotic treatments.
Now this is the part of story where I tell you that nothing worked until I finally starting eating fermented foods and all my worries and problems went away while I shat rainbows and butterflies. Sorry to disappoint you, but that wasn’t the case... Here’s the thing: all the things I read and all the advice I followed didn’t help me. Though according to numerous testimonials it helped others?! So what gives? Why do some things work for some individuals, but not for others? Some potential answers to this question are..
1. We are all unique individuals with different bodies and genetics.
2. It’s likely (though not entirely exclusively) that it wasn’t just a single factor that fixed these individuals, but rather a combination of things that weren't even mentioned or considered.
Now let’s think about this for a second using our (made up) friend Donald ...
So Donald noticed that shortly after he took on a really important job he started to experience excessive bloating and inconsistent bowel movements. He works long days and is often kept up at night on Twitter responding angrily to people who don’t agree with his philosophies and ideals. One day he decides something has to change. So he starts to eat a more varied diet, exercising by playing a bit more golf, spends more time with family and instead of getting on Twitter he chooses to meditate in the evenings. He also did his own ‘research’ and read that eating fermented foods can be good for gut health and digestion. So he started including a serving of sauerkraut or kimchi every day. Suddenly Donald starts to feel better! And he immediately attributes it to the probiotics in fermented foods. (if you want to read more about whether fermented foods are probiotic click HERE).
With this example it is entirely possible that fermented foods did help some. But the fact of the matter is, good ol’ Donnie boy also started to take control of his health by following a more holistic approach. His health outcome is more likely due to ALL these factors combined rather than one single variable.
Will following his lifestyle changes help you?? I mean…. maybe? What I’m trying to get at is us humans are vastly complicated beings. Our bodies and bodily function continue to change as we age. We are overworked and lead more stressful lives. We strive for perfection and are often hard on ourselves when we don’t achieve it. The way we eat, the way we exercise, the way we sleep and the way we stress all contribute to our current health. Often times it’s not just one single factor that needs addressing.
So did I ever uncover my health issue and did I overcome it? To be honest I’m not entirely convinced I ever had a health issue to begin with. A big part of me believes that I was so restrictive and hyper-aware of my food choices (along with having to log every single crap I took) that this caused unnecessary stress and anxiety in my life. I think what did change was I stopped worrying about it all so much. I accepted the fact that following a meal of high fibre pulses and vegetables I was bound to be a bit farty and poo a bit more. Is this really so abnormal? We’ve known for a while now that the bacteria that live in our gut feed upon fibres that we consume through our diet. As a result, they can produce/release various compounds and gases that might cause a bit of bloating and make you feel a tad uncomfortable.
Now I’m not saying that there aren’t individuals out there who suffer from legitimate conditions that debilitate their lifestyle. Some of these ailments can restrict individuals from leading normal lives. So when I say, ‘just stop worrying about it,’ of course this doesn’t apply to you. I just want to point out that as my worrying and stress subsided so did my symptoms. This worked for ME, but this doesn’t mean it will work for YOU. Again, we're all unique individuals.
To put a lid on things, it’s always good to have a healthy dose of skepticism when looking for answers to your gut-health issues (yes that even includes this blog too!). Ask yourself, ‘is this really going to help me?’ OR ‘what else is going on in my life that could be making me feel this way?’ Don’t fall victim to these claims that a SINGLE ‘super-food’ (ugh, not a thing!) or supplement will solve all your issues, because chances are they won’t. So EAT UP those fermented foods if they make you feel good, but just know they aren't a panacea for all your health problems.
If you want to know more about the work we do sifting through the nutrition-nonsense out there check out Non-Diet Nutrition for a sensible approach to 'wellness' (*cringe*)
With Kimchi & Kisses,