I have become increasingly cognisant of the importance of having an exceptionally healthy gut. Gut health has a very important role to play in the recovery from MS and the effective management of the condition. This is because a large portion of your immune system is situated in your gut. It stands to reason that if your gut is in an unhealthy condition, your immune system will be compromised and this can give rise to auto-immune activity. On the flip side, if your gut is in tip top condition, your immune system will be far more robust and less likely to go rogue and start attacking its own tissue.
I've spoken to countless women with MS who have gut issues in some shape or form. Most of them believe that years of poor eating has damaged their gut which eventually gave rise to their MS. I'm one of them. I definitely have a sensitive gut and have learnt, over the years, which foods make my digestive system work like clock work and which foods cause problems. When my gut is healthy, I feel clean, energetic and MS free. However, it's a completely different story when I've eaten something that my gut has reacted to. My energy levels are low, I feel moody, stressed and at times, old symptoms start to flare up.
What makes a healthy gut?
Simply put, everything you put in your mouth will have an impact on the health of your gut. Banishing refined and processed foods is a good start. It's also important to get rid of inflammation causing dairy, sugar, gluten and bad fats.
We all know that probiotics are extremely important to keep the good bacteria in the gut more dominant than the bad bacteria. If this balance goes out of whack, bad bacteria start to multiply and can cause damage to the gut wall. This can lead to leaky gut syndrome and further autoimmune reactions. The more probiotics you get can into your system, the better. I do take a pr0biotic but I wasn't convinced it was helping my immune system become robust. I started getting frequent viral infections that I thought my immune should have been stronger to fight off.
I've been exploring naturally fermented foods recently and the benefits they have for the digestive system. I'm loving coconut yoghurt and fermented nut cheeses however my all time favourite for a healthy gut has to be sauerkraut. I have heard about the health benefits of sauerkraut for absolute ages but the thought of eating sour cabbage wasn't very appealing. After a bit of research it became clear that I needed to try this highly acclaimed 'wonder' food. I came across a video by The Raw Chef. In this video he goes through the process of making sauerkraut and makes it look relatively simple so I decided to give it a try. It turned out brilliantly and I was so proud of myself!
After leaving it to ferment for 2-3 days, I gave it a tentative taste. To my surprise, it wasn't bad! It had a lovely savoury, tart flavour and the cabbage was still firm and crunchy. I could feel that it was powerful stuff and I knew that, at first, I couldn't have too much of it in one go. I didn't want my digestive system to work too well, if you know what I mean.
I built up from a couple of teaspoons to about half a cup. My gut responded almost immediately and digestion started to work like clock work. Even more interesting was that it seemed to help fight off cold and flu symptoms. On one particular day, I started to feel those telltale signs of an achy body and slightly sore throat. I promptly dished myself a bowl of sauerkraut, gulped it down and by the evening the symptoms were gone. Truly amazing! It also makes me feel more energetic and clear minded. I'm hooked.
How does it work to increase the health of your gut and immune system?
As cabbage ferments to produce sauerkraut, it produces a diverse population of live bacteria. This makes it super nutritious. One serving of sauerkraut has more probiotics than a whole bottle of probiotic supplements. Dr Mercola sent off a sample of sauerkraut to the lab to be tested. He found that in a 4-6 ounce serving of the fermented cabbage there were literally ten trillion good bacteria. This means that just a small serving of sauerkraut has more good bacteria than a whole bottle of supplements. I also love that I'm eating a whole food and not just swallowing a capsule.
Naturally fermented sauerkraut does not contain vinegar. The sour taste comes directly from the process of fermentation. The sugar in cabbage is converted into lactic acid, which gives the cabbage its characteristic sour flavor. The lactic acid also preserves the cabbage and prevents it from rotting.
The probiotics in sauerkraut replenish and enhance the good bacteria in your gut and help inhibit the growth of bad bacteria. They may also boost your immune system, synthesise B vitamins and relieve diarrhoea caused by taking antibiotics. However, heat kills live bacteria. If you cook it or buy pasteurized sauerkraut, you won't benefit from its healing probiotic properties. It needs to be raw. Raw, naturally fermented sauerkraut contains lactic acid and the living probiotic microorganisms that are the agents of fermentation.
Tips & Hints
- When you open the jar, always use a clean utensil to remove the sauerkraut. It's important to avoid introducing new bacteria into the jar.
- The sauerkraut should be crisp and feel clean. It should never feel slimy or smell rotten. Living sauerkraut has a distinctively fresh smell, which should remain the same down to the bottom of the jar.
- The cabbage needs to be packed down and covered in its own juice - this will help the fermentation process and prevent mould from forming.
I hope I have convinced you to give sauerkraut a try! It's an acquired taste and takes some getting used to but grows on you very quickly and before long you'll be wanting to add it to all your meals.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Ready in: 2-3 days
Makes: 2 medium jars full
1 small white cabbage
1 small red cabbage
2 large/medium airtight glass jars
- Remove a few of the outer leaves of both cabbages. Slice the cabbages in half and cut out the hard middle bit. Put it aside for later use with the leaves.
- Use a sharp knife to roughly slice the cabbage. The bits don't have to be too finely chopped. You can also use a food processor for this but I quite like eating roughly chopped sauerkraut. It has more texture, substance and flavour.
- Toss the shredded cabbage in a large bowl with a few sprinkles of Himalayan salt and start massaging it between your fingers. Squeeze it, punch it, rub it. After about 10 minutes it will start to wilt a little and produce juice.
- When you can actually squeeze juice out of a handful of cabbage, you'll know it's ready to put into the jar.
- After putting each handful into the jar, pack it down firmly with your knuckles so that the oxygen in between the the pieces is removed. You'll notice that as you push down, more juice will be released and will begin to rise to the top of the jar.
- When you reach about 2cm from the top of the jar, cover the cabbage with one of the large cabbage leaves you set aside and then use one of the hard middle bits to push the cabbage under it's juice. Force it down when you close the lid.
- Leave the bottle on the kitchen countertop for 2-3 days until it starts to taste sour. You'll notice little bubbles forming and the white cabbage should have turned a gorgeous bright pink colour.
- Put it in the fridge where it will last for at least 3 weeks.
Enjoy a healthy gut and immune system!