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Wild Fermentation

Cultures throughout the world have been fermenting foods as a preservation method for thousands of years. This was necessary before the advent of refrigeration. Kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, yogurt and kefir are traditional examples of foods fermented by humans around the globe.

But fermenting foods does more than extend their shelf-life. Today, we understand some health benefits fermented foods have to offer. Hint: some benefits are similar to those expensive probiotic supplements you may take!

Contrary to popular belief, we are not meant to be sterile beings. Bacteria are crucial, even in a COVID climate!

Today, I’d like to discuss a method of fermentation known as lacto-fermentation. This method is used to make sauerkraut and can be applied to nearly any vegetable.

What is Lacto-Fermentation?

Lactobacillus is a type of beneficial bacteria found on the surface of most fruits and vegetables. When placed in an oxygen-free environment (ie: under water), this bacteria multiplies while turning glucose (or sugar) into lactic acid. Lactic acid gives fermented foods their signature tangy flavor.

Benefits of Bacteria

The process of fermentation increases the digestibility and nutrient content of some foods while introducing meaningful amounts of beneficial bacteria to consumers.

The presence of beneficial bacteria gives fermented foods unique health benefits and acts as a preservative by preventing the growth of harmful bacteria.

Beneficial bacteria live alongside “bad” bacteria all throughout our bodies. They can be found on our skin as well as within our digestive, urinary and genital systems. The foods we eat,  medications we take, the environment we live in and the products we apply to our skin impact these fragile bacteria. When in balance, these organisms promote harmony in our bodies.

“Pickled” vs “Fermented” Foods

It is a common misconception that pickled and fermented foods are the same. While both  are sour, this flavor is achieved using very different methods.

  • Pickled foods rely on vinegar. They are most often heated and, therefore, do not contain live beneficial bacteria.
  • Lacto-fermented foods rely on lactobacillus bacteria and its byproduct, lactic acid, to develop a sour flavor. Heat should be avoided during and after the fermentation process as it kills these volatile bacteria.

Methodology

Warning: Sanitary practices are imperative during the fermentation process. Always use clean hands and utensils.

When lacto-fermenting vegetables with a high water content, such as cabbage, it is unnecessary to make a saltwater brine. Instead, thinly-sliced cabbage (core removed) is massaged with salt (1-1.5 teaspoon unrefined salt per pound of cabbage) until enough water is released to keep it submerged when packed tightly in a jar.

But for most vegetables, a saltwater brine will be necessary.

The Brine Method

Warning: Sanitary practices are imperative during the fermentation process. Always use clean hands and utensils.

  1. Wash ingredients with water.
  2. Cut ingredients uniformly to ensure everything ferments at the same rate. If you wish to peel your vegetables, preserve the peels.
  3. Add ingredients to sanitized glass jars. Start with optional aromatics and any peels you preserved.
  4. Fill jars with saltwater brine, leaving approximately 1″ of headspace. *See brine recipe below.
  5. Keep ingredients submerged with a weight or cabbage leaf. Anything above the water is likely to mold.
  6. Cover jars with a cheesecloth, coffee filter or a clean linen and secure with a rubber band. Do NOT use a lid unless it is a specialized fermenting lid.
  7. Store at room temperature in a cool, dark area. Fermentation occurs more quickly in warm environments.
  8. After 3-6 days, begin tasting until desired sourness is achieved. For a more sour product, continue fermenting! Personal preference, type of vegetable and environmental temperature will dictate how long it takes to achieve desired results.
  9. When veggies are to your liking, remove the weight and store in the fridge with a secure lid. Remember: heat destroys these volatile beneficial bacteria. To reap the full benefits, eat them raw!

For the Saltwater Brine: Dissolve 1-3 tablespoons of salt per quart of purified water. Keep in mind that various salts will measure differently based on their granular size (eg: Kosher salt versus table salt).

Social Distancing: A Collective Approach

Estimated Read Time: 2 minutes 30 seconds

What a crazy time we’re in, no? Whether your work has been affected or not, most of us are spending much more time at home.

…and we should be! While those of us in good health may not be particularly concerned with COVID-19, it is important that we all do our part in preventing the spread of this very contagious virus.

Regardless of your current health status or your opinion on social distancing, I urge you to be considerate of those in the “at risk” population. This group goes beyond your obvious suspects—many of these individuals are young and their illnesses invisible. Undoubtedly, this demographic includes some of your loved ones.


Inconvenient as social distancing guidelines may be, I immediately took them to heart after considering:

  • My stepfather, Ted, who just completed what we hope to be his final round of chemotherapy!
  • My mom, Brenda, who has suffered from asthma since childhood.
  • My sister, Larissa, who is an autoimmune warrior. (Read her story here.)
  • My dad, Peter, a veteran’s hospital nurse who works long graveyard shifts. (I can’t WAIT for him to retire!)
  • My stepmother, Enid, who has an unresolved heart condition.
  • My grandpa, Gilbert, who lives in a skilled nursing facility.
  • Those who habitually smoke any substance, including cigarettes and/or cannabis. 
  • Every person I know over the age of 60, including my current and past clients, previous employer and next-door neighbor.

This infographic displays the powerful positive effect that social distancing can have on flattening the curve of the COVID-19 outbreak. It is based on research done by the University of San Diego’s Signer Laboratory.

Similarly, the Washington Post created simulations of four different scenarios that are quite interesting to watch: a free-for-all, an attempted quarantine, moderate social distancing and extensive social distancing. You can watch them here

There is still so much we can do during this time. I encourage you to practice self-care and continue supporting those in your community.

Warning: Vegetable Oils Unfit for Human Consumption

By Mallory Nowak, NTP
Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes 30 seconds

Though most everything we consume is ‘Generally Recognized As Safe’ by the FDA, much of what modern humans eat is simply unfit for human consumption.

Industrial seed oils, more commonly and deceivingly referred to as vegetable oils, are one such substance. Most often, these oils are not derived from vegetables but from the seeds of plants we would otherwise not ingest. Canola, cottonseed, safflower, corn and soybean oils are amongst the most popular. With an abundance of time-honored, species-appropriate fats available to us, when and why did we develop a preference for these highly processed oils?

Researchers in the 1960’s and 1970’s were eager to find what was clogging American arteries in the nation’s latest epidemic: heart disease. Saturated fat—thick, dense and solid at room temperature—was a seemingly obvious suspect. Saturated fat was put in the hot seat and hastily named the villain. Hence, the introduction of “heart-healthy” vegetable oils ensued.  These seemingly new-and-improved oils were liquid at room temperature and contained essential fatty acids. They must be superior, right?! 

However, vegetable oils are not easily cold- or expeller-pressed the way olive, coconut and palm oils are. They are not a byproduct of rendered-down animal fats the way lard, tallow, or duck fat is. No—in order to extract oil from these plants and seeds, high heat, chemical solvents and industrial methods are often employed.

The problem is the “high heat, chemical solvents and industrial methods” bit. These vegetable oils consist primarily of polyunsaturated fatty acids, or PUFAs. One often overlooked property of PUFAs is that they are extremely fragile, making them prone to damage when exposed to heat, light and air. These volatile oils are not to be cooked with, but taken as a dietary supplement or used as an ingredient in cold applications such as salad dressings. This explains why quality PUFAs (such as hemp, flax and fish oils) are cold- or expeller-pressed, stored in tinted bottles and refrigerated.

Sadly, most vegetable oils are oxidized before even hitting the grocery store shelves. In fact, canola oil is so damaged that it must be deodorized to mask its rancid stench! Watch how canola oil is made here, taking note that this video is actually promoting canola oil. The blatant damage these fragile oils endure throughout their extensive processing is cause for concern, especially considering the average person’s intake. 

Luckily, there are safe alternatives for high-heat cooking: saturated fats. Compared to PUFAs, saturated fats are able to withstand significantly more heat, light and air. Prior to the demonization of saturated fats, cooking with lard or beef tallow was normal. In fact, beef tallow filled McDonalds’ deep fryers up until 1990! The vilification of saturated fats and subsequent endorsement of vegetable oils has greatly contributed to the modern health issues we are plagued with today. Let’s get specific.



Free Radical Damage

Damaged oils contain harmful free radicals—that’s right: those pesky, antioxidant-stealing antagonists responsible for premature aging, macular degeneration, cell damage and other forms of physiological decline. Trust me: our bodies have more important roles for antioxidants than the busy-work of scavenging free radicals from vegetable oils! 

We can counteract free radical damage by consuming antioxidant-rich foods or supplements. Antioxidants include Vitamins A, C, and E, carotenoids, zinc, selenium and glutathione. Foods high in antioxidants include dark leafy vegetables, berries, citrus fruits, nuts and seeds, eggs, liver, oysters and orange-hued fruits and vegetables. 

Inflammation

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids have some opposing roles in the body, the former being anti-inflammatory and the latter being pro-inflammatory. Vegetable oils happen to be a potent source of omega-6s. While most experts consider a 1:1 ratio ideal, the average US citizen consumes a 1:20 ratio in favor of inflammatory omega-6s! This discrepancy is largely due to frequent consumption of vegetable oils. 

We can improve our omega-3:omega-6 fatty acid ratios by increasing our intake of omega-3s through foods and supplements (fatty fish, nuts and seeds, fish oil, flax seed oil and algae oil) while decreasing our intake of omega-6s (especially vegetable oils!). 

Gallbladder Issues & Nutrient Deficiencies

Bile, produced in the liver and stored in the gallbladder, ensures that we are able to digest fat and absorb fat-soluble nutrients. Healthy bile requires regular consumption of healthy fats. 

When replacing healthy fats with unrecognizable vegetable oils, bile can get old, thick and viscous. This is known as “biliary sludge” and it can lead to the formation of gallstones. In turn, the gallbladder can lose its ability to efficiently contract, resulting in biliary stasis and/or gallbladder attacks. Beyond painful gallbladder issues, insufficient bile and poor gallbladder function can lead to deficiencies in fat-soluble nutrients like CoQ10 and Vitamins A, D, E and K. 

One can improve the health of their bile by consuming healthy fats, adequate fiber, choleretics and cholagogues. Choleretics are foods which stimulate the production of bile and cholagogues are foods which stimulate the release of bile. These foods should be consumed cautiously by individuals with active gallbladder dysfunction. Individuals who have had their gallbladder removed may find supplemental ox bile to be a helpful digestive aid.


These cheap, toxic oils have replaced traditional fats in nearly every US kitchen, restaurant and ingredient list. In fact, they are so prevalent it is hard to find prepared foods without them! 

While it may seem intuitive to believe that solid fats clog arteries and that liquid fats do not, this is simply not the case. Human metabolism is much more complex than that! The misconception that saturated fats cause heart disease is based on unsubstantiated, poorly-constructed, popularized science. This misinformation made its way into the US Dietary Guidelines, the American Heart Association and nutrition education programs across the US.  

Fortunately, modern science is now disproving many of these mainstream theories. Unfortunately, it’s hard to rewrite the books. This means your healthcare providers and educators could still be endorsing harmful vegetable oils. 

The takeaway message? Bad science goes mainstream all the time! Prestigious entities share misinformation on a daily basis—not because they are malicious, but because they are misguided. It is important that we learn from quality science rather than popularized science. 

To receive a free chart I’ve created with appropriate cooking temperatures for various fats, please click here.

Unrefined Salt Versus Table Salt

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes
by Mallory Nowak, NTP

Salt: a seemingly simple ingredient with bold flavor and an infamous reputation.

Salt was deemed an ingredient of concern when hypertension and heart disease became the widespread health crises they are today. But human consumption of unrefined salt can be traced back thousands of years, some evidence indicating as early as 6,000 BC. 

Key words in the above paragraph? Unrefined salt. A naturally-occurring, unprocessed food ingredient. One could even go so far as to say a beneficial food ingredient thanks to the broad spectrum of up to 84 trace minerals contained in unrefined salts. It is these trace minerals that lend to the beautiful hue of pink, grey, blue or black found in various unrefined salts. Himalayan, Celtic and Redmond’s Real Salt are all popular options.

The snow-white, free-flowing table salt that fills nearly all salt shakers across the US is vastly different from the unrefined salt our ancestors ate. The processing of table salt strips it of its many beneficial minerals, leaving consumers with isolated sodium chloride. The final product is nutrient-depleted and white in color. To add insult to injury, table salt is often laced with anti-caking agents. This type of salt has become an insidious staple in the Standard American Diet, found in the vast majority of home kitchens, restaurants and, of course, processed foods.

Why is the removal of trace minerals from salt so alarming? Minerals have synergistic and antagonistic relationships amongst one another in our bodies, making ratios important. When one mineral is isolated (sodium, in this case), an imbalance is created. Sodium and potassium have an important partnership in regulating blood pressure via the sodium-potassium pump, but this process is hindered when we remove the potassium from salt.

Furthermore, guess what electrolytes are…? Minerals! Muscle cramps and spasms, anyone? Heart arrhythmias? Dehydration or thirst unresponsive to increased water intake? These are often symptoms of an electrolyte deficiency—in fact, electrolytes are required for proper cell hydration. A popular remedy is to add a pinch of unrefined salt to drinking water; this replenishes minerals that have been removed during water’s purification process.

One caveat? I would be doing a disservice not to mention the importance of iodine in the human diet. In order to address widespread iodine deficiencies due to iodine-depleted soils, the US government began fortifying table salt with iodine in 1924. While this has effectively reduced the prevalence of goiter and other symptoms of iodine deficiency, there are certainly more nutritive ways one can meet their needs for iodine (given they do not have an autoimmune thyroid condition). Regular consumption of sea vegetables and/or supplementation are two such options I would recommend over iodized table salt. As always, discuss dietary changes and the addition of supplements with your doctor.

Philosophies of a Farm-to-Fork Nutritionist

by Mallory Nowak, NTP

People often ask what I eat. Am I vegetarian? Vegan? Paleo? Do I subscribe to the keto craze? My response: “I eat real food.” 

I realized early-on that people usually assume I’m joking.

“Opposed to fake food?” they often chuckle.

To answer their question, yes: my primary emphasis is on real, unadulterated food. My overarching philosophy on nutrition is that all animals (including humans) should adhere to their native diets. Seems intuitive enough, right? Most of my philosophies on nutrition and wellness are! 

Living in the farm-to-fork capital makes clean eating an easy feat. From an agricultural perspective, the Central Valley of California is one of the most abundant regions in the world. Sacramento’s collective of local grocers (I love me some Corti Brothers!), real-deal butchers (Taylor’s Market, anyone?), slow foods restaurants (hi, Magpie!) and daily farmer’s markets make for quite the bountiful food scene. It’s easily my favorite attribute of the area. 

We have a lot of responsibility surrounding our food choices. The creation of all food (whether plant- or animal-based) requires sacrifice; it requires the use of resources. Food waste and food packaging are important concerns and we ought to give them the recognition they deserve. Fostering creativity in the kitchen and finding ways to utilize food in its entirety are ways to prevent unnecessary food waste. In addition to sporting reusable shopping bags, we can opt out of foods with excessive packaging (including pre-packaged produce) to lessen our burden on the environment. 

And then I have some rather unconventional beliefs: my stances on sun exposure, dietary cholesterol, salt and saturated fat all come to mind instantaneously (but we’ll save those for a future discussion!). I believe gut health is of utmost importance and water is under-rated. I believe ‘health’ embodies so much more than the absence of dis-ease. I wholeheartedly believe in the functional medicine model, which aims to address the root cause of disorder as opposed to symptom suppression. I believe food can be medicine, but our society is largely confused about what “food” is.

Broadly, I believe our bodies have the innate ability to self-heal when given the raw materials to do so. I look forward to sharing time-honored nutritional wisdom, local resources and earth-loving tips with my community! 

In health,
Mallory Nowak, NTP

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