you are what you eat

-by Sue Ann Gleason, Culinary Nutritionist

Did you know your skin is a window into your digestive health?

I picked up a magazine this morning. In it was a very clever ad: Reform School for Aging Skin: Reducing the Signs of Aging through the Science of Cellular Water. Now the marketing strategist in me wanted to nab that title for a teleclass or workshop, but the magazine was promoting a skincare product. I added the advertisement to my “bunk” pile, saddened by thoughts of all the women who will run right out and purchase that sixty-dollar promise in a BP-laden bottle, but scoff at the idea of paying more for organic produce. You see, glowing skin is an inside out affair. If you have a healthy gut, you’ll have healthy skin. If your diet is high in water-rich, chemical-free foods, you’ll reap the rewards in glowing skin.

Traditional societies across the globe have some culinary tradition of fermentation handed down, parent-to-child, for thousands of years prior to refrigeration. Japanese miso, Bulgarian yogurt, Polish sauerkraut, Indian lassi, and Korean kim-chee. Fermented beets feature widely in the culinary traditions of eastern Europe with dishes like rossel and tonics like beat kvass. Earthy, salty pickled eggplant graced the shelves of my grandmother’s pantry.

So why do we need them? Cultured foods are filled with enzymes and living bacteria that are extremely necessary to good digestion and assimilation. They protect us from foreign bacteria. By eating cultured foods, we increase the strength of our immune system and the nutrient absorption in the body. New cultures, both helpful and harmful, enter our body through the foods we eat. When we create an ideal healthy environment for positive cultures, they grow and proliferate. Healthy bacteria produce vitamins, particularly folate and vitamin K2. Healthy cultures protect us from disease by standing guard in the intestines and ushering harmful cultures out. Cultured food represents the element of fire: energizing and protecting. Our digestive system works best when it has a healthy population of beneficial bacteria on board, which is probably why every culture and cuisine features some sort of cultured or fermented food as a daily staple.

For most of us, the easiest way to get our lactobacillus fix is to eat yogurt or kefir on a regular basis. Even in our ultra-pasteurized world, these foods usually contain living cultures. Look for the brands that specify “living cultures.” Don’t bother paying extra for fancy yogurts that are “specially formulated” to promote digestive health and immune function. Why not have a conversation with your grandmother or great aunt, Alice to find out if there were fermented or cultured foods in your culinary history? You may want to reclaim a nourishing tradition.

Sue Ann Gleason, founder of Conscious Bites Nutrition, is a Washington, DC-based culinary nutritionist, dynamic eating psychology coach, speaker, and writer. Her entertaining, fact-filled articles on nutrition, healthful living, the psychology of eating, and the blissful benefits of chocolate have appeared in various publications as well as her own eco-friendly blog.

Sue Ann’s recipes, radiant life tips and reflections embody the concept: Dancing with Delicious. Her mission is to show people that a radiantly healthy lifestyle can be easy to achieve and delicious.

When not working with private clients, Sue Ann can be found sampling exotic chocolates or building broccoli forests in her mashed potatoes.

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