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Get Cultured! Fermented vs Pickled

Some people on low-carb programs tend to shy away from fermented foods in order to keep their carbohydrate count low. This is absolute non-sense. The main foods to avoid on low-carb diet are sugar in all various forms including white and brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, other natural sweeteners, and even high-sugar fruits. Next on the list of foods to avoid are starches including all grains, most legumes, and starchy vegetables such as potatoes and beets.

Although fermentation was around long before refrigeration, home-made fermented foods lost their appeal due to the increased availability of industrially produced foods and convenience of refrigeration technology. Especially since the advent of modern refrigeration, significantly less fermented foods have been consumed. This is most likely another contributing factor for more chronic health issues people have been plagued with.

Nowadays, we are experiencing the rebirth of fermented foods because they are powerfully good for us. People are realizing that the fermentation process intensifies foods’ nutrient value by nurturing healthful bacteria, which then colonize the gut. It is now common knowledge that a person can maintain optimal health and nutrition, if he or she consumes regularly a tablespoon of fermented food with every meal.

Benefits Of Fermented Foods

The fermentation process creates lactobacillus - a beneficial probiotic - that feeds colonizes the gut, contributes to the natural balance of intestinal flora, improving digestion, immune function, and absorption of nutrients.

Lactobacillus is a type of "friendly" bacteria species (probiotic, aka "good" bacteria) that live in our digestive, urinary, and genital systems without causing any disease. Lactobacillus restores the intestinal flora, post-antibiotic diarrhea and for prevention of post-antibiotic vulvovaginal yeast infections (candidiasis).

For more info on Lactobacillus, please read this article by Ana Aleksic, MSc (Pharmacy).

It is remarkable that in the 1960s, 40 percent of the population had Lactobacillus reuteri as a part of their microbiome. Today, estimates suggest it is found in only 10 percent of the population. This undesirable drop is due to the lack of fermented foods in our modern diet.

Having a wide spectrum of healthy types of bacteria coming from fermented foods has been associated with a host of benefits — including weight control and reduced blood sugar. Another interesting aspect of "cultured dairy" is that the bacteria used are excellent at partially digesting lactose, which is a boon for those who are lactose intolerant.

According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, consuming probiotic-rich fermented foods provides you a number of other benefits, including:

  • Important nutrients: Some fermented foods are outstanding sources of essential nutrients such as vitamin K2, which help prevent arterial plaque buildup and heart disease.

  • Optimizing your immune system: It’s estimated that 80 percent of your immune system is located in your gut. Probiotics help the development of the mucus lining of your digestive tract, which plays a big role in a strong immune system.

  • Potent detoxifiers: The beneficial bacteria in fermented foods are highly potent detoxifiers.

  • Natural variety of micro flora: By varying the fermented foods you eat, you get a wider range of healthful flora than you would from taking a supplement.

Fermentation Lowers The Carb Count Of Foods

Fermentation process lowers the carbohydrate count of the food. The fermentation process is the feasting of the bacteria cultures found in a food on the carbohydrates (sugars and starches) found in the same. During this process, bacteria cultures convert carbs into lactic acid, carbon dioxide, and more bacteria.

For example, during the making of kombucha, sugar is eaten up as food by the bacteria. In making sourdough bread that food is the flour. In making sauerkraut that food is the carbohydrates in the cabbage. In making yogurt that food is the lactose naturally occurring in milk. So, by definition, fermentation is a process that lowers the dietary carbohydrate levels found in various foods.

It is difficult to determine the exact carbohydrate count of a fermented food, but there is general principle about fermented foods. The length of the culturing process controls the consumption level of carbohydrates by the bacteria cultures.

The longer the fermentation time line is, the more carbohydrates are eaten up by the organisms, the more sour the ferment becomes, the lower the dietary carbohydrate count is.

Low-carb Fermented Foods

Fermentation boosts the natural nutrient value of foods!
  • Kombucha Allow kombucha to ferment a bit longer and achieve a nice tang before consuming. A second ferment will further reduce sugars and develop flavor.

  • Yogurt To ensure that almost all of the lactose is used in culturing, the best practice is to allow yogurt to ferment for a full 24 hours (thermophilic cultures) or 48 hours (mesophilic cultures). To maintain the culture's viability, some of the yogurt should be removed and refrigerated after the standard culturing time.

  • Hard Cheeses While all cultured cheese will be lower in carbohydrates than the milk it started as, hard cheeses like cheddar will have almost no carbohydrates as opposed to a softer cheese like ricotta.

  • Fermented Vegetables Any fermented vegetable, including beets and carrots, can be considered low in carbohydrates. Examples include sauerkraut, pickles and salsas.

  • Kimchi Kimchi is a traditional Korean side dish of salted and fermented vegetables, such as napa cabbage and Korean radish. A wide selection of seasonings are used, including gochugaru (Korean chili powder), spring onions, garlic, ginger, and jeotgal (salted seafood), etc. Kimchi is also used in a variety of soups and stews.

  • Water Kefir Allow this also to ferment longer until good and tart. In order not to stress the grains, remove them after 48 hours, and continue with a second ferment to further reduce sugars.

  • Milk Kefir Allow to ferment for the full 24 hours or even longer. A second ferment without the grains will reduce lactose even further.

  • Chimichurri Chimichurri is an uncooked sauce from Argentina and Uruguay that is used as a condiment and absolutely stellar on grilled meats. Traditionally it is made with fermented parsley along cilantro and basil. Chimichurri is brushed, basted, spooned onto meat as it cooks, served as a condiment, or used as a meat marinade.

  • Tempeh This delicacy originated in Indonesia and is a fermented cake. Since the preparation of the delicacy involves fermentation, it is rich in probiotics and also removes anti-nutrients found in soybeans that can prevent the body from absorbing vital nutrients.

  • Fruit Chutneys While you might want to limit the amount of fruit you eat on a low-carb diet (due to the hidden fructose which does not spike insulin, thus effects are not easily detectable/measurable), fermented fruit chutneys are naturally lower in their natural sugars than their non-fermented counterparts. Try this fermented apple chutney.

  • Fermented dark chocolate Cacao beans are fermented prior to making the low acidity chocolate bar. The extra fermentation step reduces the amount of sugars and brings up more pronounced smooth-satin mouth feel and chocolaty notes, delicate spices and flavors. The fermentation also boosts the amount of antioxidants and vitamin B.

"Cheese", Another Fermented Food, Is Great For Low Carb Diet !

Although some dairy products like milk and yogurt are high in carbs, the fermentation process required to produce cheese significantly reduces the amount of carbohydrates it contains to make it suitable for a low-carb diet. If you are also trying to increase your protein intake, some types of cheeses may be better options to add to your low-carb high-protein diet to help you meet your macro-nutrient goals.

Carb Content of Cheeses

The longer a cheese is aged, the lower its carbohydrate content will be. During the aging process, the bacteria ferment the carbohydrates found in milk to produce cheese.

Fresh cheeses are less preferable for a low-carb diet as they are less fermented and consequently, still contain a significant portion of the carbohydrates naturally found in milk.

The cheeses that are high in protein also have the lowest carbohydrate content. Foods containing less than 1 gram of carbohydrates per serving are considered to be very low in carbs. For example:

  • Brie and goat cheese have 0.3 grams of carbs per ounce.

  • Blue cheese and cheddar cheese have around 0.4 grams of carbs per ounce.

  • Parmesan cheese has about 0.9 grams of carbs per ounce.

Protein Content of Cheeses

Low moisture (dryer) cheeses in general contain more protein per serving than moist cheeses.

  • Parmesan cheese has the highest protein content of all all cheeses, with 10 grams of protein per ounce.

  • Most cheeses contain an average of 6 to 7 grams of protein per ounce, including cheddar, Brie, Gouda, blue cheese or mozzarella.

  • Cheese spreads, cottage cheese and ricotta cheese have less than 3 grams of protein per ounce.

Less Desirable Cheeses For Low-Carb Diet

In terms of macronutrient ratios, even though their carbohydrate content is still low - 1 gram per ounce - , cream cheese, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese and cheese spreads contain less than 3 grams of protein per ounce, which is less than half found in most cheeses and less desirable for low-carb diet.

1 cup of cottage cheese contains 14 grams of protein, and 10 grams of carbohydrates. Their carbohydrate content is still low, at about 1 gram per ounce.

Attention! Fermented vs. Pickled

There is a difference between fermented foods and pickled or preserved foods. Foods packed in vinegar, such as cucumber pickles are not fermented.

Contrary to popular misconception, pickling is not the same as fermenting. A pickled food might not necessarily be rich in probiotics. Actually, pickling is done usually by utilizing vinegar and kills live micro-organisms. Fermented foods are the ones that have live bacteria with beneficial properties for health.

Until the 1940s, pickles were processed by means of natural fermentation. After the second world war, processors began using vinegar (acidic) and pasteurization (a heat process to stabilize the food). Pickled foods have long shelf life and are not easily/quickly perishable. However they have lost much of their nutrient value, including vitamin C and the live lactic acid bacteria found in raw fermented foods.

Every raw food has its own enzymes, meaning just about anything can be fermented. Done properly, fermented foods are also safer than cooked foods.

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