By Eileen Persike
America’s collective gut has been the topic of extensive scientific studies in recent years. Not the “gut” made famous by consumption of a popular beverage, but the real gut which is the gastrointestinal tract. Gut health can be responsible for more than just how you feel; it can be associated with serious health conditions as well.
Increasing the gut health of folks in the Northwoods is something one local woman is passionate about. Chelsey Baranczyk is a natural resources biologist who is also interested in health. Fermented food, she says, is one key to healthy gut.
“I like to study plants and how they are used for food and medicine,” said Baranczyk. “[Fermentation] is a fun topic where I can teach my friends and family. I figured if they are interested in it, others would be, too.”
She was right. Baranczyk has taught several School District of Rhinelander Community Education classes on the topics of digestion and fermentation and has a couple more on the schedule for this winter. The process of fermentation happens when natural bacteria eat the sugar and starch in foods, creating lactic acid which preserves food and creates bacteria that is beneficial to the gut.
Upwards of 80 percent of the immune system is located in the gut, and can impact weight, cognitive function and cause inflammation which can lead to other diseases.
“Our guts are lined with a mucous membrane that prevents germs from food or the environment from entering our bloodstream and creating inflammation, arthritis and even mood swings,” Baranczyk said. “Eating probiotics (yogurt with live cultures, tempeh, fermented fruit or vegetables) and prebiotics (onions, bananas, berries) that feed probiotics keep the gut flora healthy.”
“A lot of the foods we eat aren’t prepared properly and we can’t always digest them,” Baranczyk said.
For example, some people have a reaction when they eat bread.
“That’s because the grains contain phytic acid which can cause digestive issues and irritations,” she explained. “When the grain is fermented it breaks down the phytic acid layer and the body is better able to absorb the nutrients.”
Fermented bread is also known as honest-to-goodness sour dough bread, and is only one of many healthy options.
Baranczyk also makes her own Kombucha, which is a black tea with added sugar that is allowed to ferment on the kitchen counter.
“You add a SCOBY, a starter culture, which is rubbery and looks gross but is a healthy bacteria and yeast that is used to ferment the tea,”
Baranczyk said. “They eat the sugar and that increases the pro-biotic content and nutrient content, which makes it really easy for your body to digest.”
The Kombucha becomes carbonated, is consumed cold and can be a healthy alternative to soda. Another easy way to a healthy digestive tract is though fermented raw vegetables.
“Chop raw vegetables with salt, cover with water and cover with a loose lid and let it sit for a week,” said Baranczyk. “Home fermentation of vegetables preserves them without the use of any pressure or heat.”
It’s really simple, Baranczyk added. Want to improve your gut health, but don’t want to take the Kombucha leap? Avoid processed foods, add more fruits and vegetables. “They all impact your gut health!” she said.
See the Jan. 1 edition of the Star Journal for a schedule of Chelsey’s and other Community Ed classes. For more information on digestive health, visit rootedessence.com.