Many of us have heard the benefits of probiotics on the body – especially the gut – and may even be taking a daily supplement to maintain the good bacteria needed. But there are also amazing probiotic foods that contain beneficial bacteria (much more than supplements) and these can be easily incorporated into our diets to revitalize all areas of health.
Cultured food expert, Donna Schwenk has dedicated her life to helping people learn how to do this! She joined Elevated Existence Magazine founder, Tammy Mastroberte, as part of the Living an Elevated Existence Mind, Body & Soul Summit to share the story of how she healed herself and her family with probiotic or cultured foods, and how others can do the same by making them easily in their own homes.
“Thirteen years ago, I was 41 and pregnant with my third child. She was born prematurely, and I had diabetes and high blood pressure after she was born, which made me feel terrible,” she shared live on the call.
After discovering kefir at a health food store, she began to give it to her baby, and found the baby gained 4 pounds in one month, the color came back into her cheeks, and she began sleeping through the night. So Schwenk began to drink it herself, and was even more amazed at her own results.
“I started drinking it and after three to four weeks I noticed my blood pressure had gone down to normal and my blood sugars had normalized,” she shared. “But it really wasn’t so much that which changed me. It was the way I felt. I felt a sense of wellbeing I had never known. It was like the world looked different to me. I felt different. I felt happier.”
She eventually began to research cultured foods, and found what she calls the Trilogy of Kefir, Kombucha & Cultured Vegetables. Using these three foods, she also helped her 16-year-old daughter heal from IBS and food allergies.
Cultured or probiotic foods are also known as fermented foods, but those in stores, like pickles or sauerkraut, are made with vinegar so they can stay on the store shelves longer. Therefore, they no longer have probiotic benefits to them, Schwenk explained, noting the process of culturing is known as lacto-fermentation.
“It’s where you put a culture in vegetables, milk products or non-dairy milk products, and it infuses them with good bacteria by submerging them underwater or putting the culture in the jar,” she said. “There is so much good bacteria in a culture that it dominates the environment and creates billions of probiotics, and then when you eat it, it not only preserves the food, it preserves you.”
We are made of 99 percent good or harmless bacteria, but most of us focus on the bad bacteria. When we begin to incorporate cultured foods into our diet, we can begin building up the good bacteria, which allows the body to do its job, including digestion and much more.
“When you eat these foods, it allows your body to work and do things like boost your immune system, heal your gut and reduce inflammation – which is what happened with me reducing my blood pressure. The things that started happening to me were so astounding that I spent the last 13 years really teaching people how to do it and watching the miracles it performed,” said Schwenk.
Schwenk told listeners she took probiotic supplement for many years, and sees a huge difference with eating the cultured foods. Not only do the foods have a much higher level of good bacteria, but also when made fresh, it ensures the bacteria is present.
“I don’t think [supplements] are bad, they are just not as effective. The reason is bacteria need food to stay alive, so depending on how much food is in the capsule that will determine the shelf life of that probiotic – and you never know that. You never know how long it has been sitting in the store, if it has been refrigerated, or how much food is in there,” she explained.
She also explained the body is designed so when we take probiotic supplements, there are acids in the stomach that kill bacteria, and there may not be enough that make it to all the parts of the body which need it. With the food, there are higher amounts, and they are protected so it effects the body more profoundly.
“I found foods were a million times more effective then the supplements, a lot less expensive, and I didn’t need as much because it really helped in a much more beneficial way,” she noted. “You have to take bottles and bottles to get what you can get by taking in small amounts of cultured foods, and I could tell that by what happened to me when I started eating them. I was taking probiotic supplements and was not seeing the benefits I did when I started eating fermented foods.”
Once Schwenk began consuming kefir, kombucha and cultured vegetables, she saw a huge difference in her life, and continues to see the difference they make for others because each one had its own good bacteria.
Kefir – This is referred to as the “champagne of yogurt,” said Schwenk. It is similar to yogurt, but creamier and pourable, depending on how long it sits in the fermenting process. But the biggest difference is how much more beneficial it is in terms of probiotics.
“The difference is yogurt is a left turning bacteria and kefir is a right turning bacteria. What that means is, yogurt is food for the colonies that live inside of you, but kefir is the colony,” she said. “Yogurt has 7 to 10 good bacteria’s and homemade kefir has 50 plus.”
Kefir can also be made with almond or coconut milk for a non-dairy option, and Schwenk has also made walnut kefir.
Kombucha – This is a fermented tea and has been around around for thousands of year, originating in China. It is very low in sugar because the sugar is eaten by the probiotics, and it’s available all over the country. There are more and more brands entering the market then every before, and many bottled drinks can be found in the refrigerated section of health food and mainstream grocery stores.
“It’s a powerful liver detoxer, and it’s really loaded with B vitamins and all kinds of good yeast,” Schwenk said. “People don’t realize good yeast is important. All we talk about is bad yeast like candida, but you need good yeast to help control the bad yeast.”
There is a special yeast in kombucha. which is the number one probiotic used worldwide in hospitals, Schwenk explained, and can help people get off of addictive things like soda. And because it is loaded with B vitamins, it helps with the adrenals, providing us with energy and detoxing the body from heavy metals and plastic.
“You may notice when you first start drinking it that you have symptoms of detoxification. One of the ways the body detoxes is through the skin, and it may produce more body odor, but it goes away,” she explained. “I don’t even use deodorant anymore because I have so much good bacteria.”
Cultured Vegetables – To create these, we need to cut up vegetables and put them in a fermenting or canning jar. Submerge them under water and put a culture in them. This creates good bacteria, and eats out the sugars. Almost any vegetable can be cultured, including cabbage, tomatoes, green beans and broccoli.
“A spoonful of cultured vegetables is a powerful thing. It helps you digest the other foods you eat, and helps you digest proteins because it has enzymes and bacteria that work like a SWAT team inside you to clean out pathogens and viruses,” Schwenk shared. “It’s such a wonderful thing for healing your gut if you have food allergies. All of these foods are good for that, but especially cultured vegetables.”
They can last for months in the refrigerator and just one tablespoon with lunch and dinner is enough to make a huge improvement, according to Schwenk.
“You start feeling good so you will reach for them again and again. You don’t have to believe me, you just have to try them. The foods will convince you. I’m just the messenger here,” she said.
In her book, “Cultured Food for Life: How to Make and Serve Delicious Probiotic Foods for Better Health and Wellness,” Schwenk shares information about how eating cultured foods has helped many people rid themselves of food allergies, and she knows first hand because this is what happened to her daughter.
“My 16-year-old daughter was getting allergic to every food on the planet and every week the foods were growing that she was allergic to. But it’s not the food. It’s not the wheat or the diary. It’s that our guts are so damaged, they don’t’ know how to digest them. Antibiotics have wreaked havoc, along with the processed foods we eat, so our guts don’t have what they need to do their job, digest the food and send it to the parts of the body that need it because our guts don’t have these types of bacteria in them anymore,” Schwenk explained.
However, eating these cultured foods and taking in the good bacteria allows the gut to heal, and within a year, her daughter no longer had food allergies. Schwenk also started seeing healing like this happen with a lot of her friends – many who had severe allergies.
“Food allergies is a symptom. We think sickness and disease means there is a problem, but really they are just symptoms. The body is trying to get your attention and say something is wrong, and we want to mask it with drugs,” she noted. “ It’s not bad to remove the things you are allergic to, but over time the body will heal and you won’t be allergic to them anymore.”