New research is coming out daily about the impact of gut health on almost every aspect of human health, from immune function to mood and brain health. A PubMed search for “microbiome” (the term used to describe the collection of 100 trillion bacterial cells that inhabit our bodies) returns over 60,000 results!
Needless to say, our gut bacteria play an important role in our health. and keeping a healthy population and diversity of the right bugs is key to optimal performance in every area of your life.
One of the best ways to support a healthy microbiome is to include both prebiotic and probiotic foods in your diet. Prebiotics are the food that feed the good bacteria. Probiotics are the good bacteria themselves.
Put quite simply, foods high in fiber are good prebiotoics (think fruits and veggies). Examples of probiotic-containing foods include fermented and cultured foods such as kimchi, yogurt, kefir, miso, and the focus of today’s post: sauerkraut.
If you’ve never heard of the microbiome, including gut-healthy foods may feel intimidating to you. But, fear not!
It can be incredibly simple, tasty, and affordable.
While you can purchase your fermented foods at the grocery store, you can save money by making your own ferments at home. An easy place to start is with sauerkraut.
Below is a basic recipe from which you can create many variations!
- 1 large head green or red cabbage
- 1/8 cup sea salt
- Cut the cabbage in quarters, cut out the stem, slice finely, and place into medium bowl.
- Sprinkle the salt over the cabbage.
- Squeeze the cabbage with your hands until it begins to break down and ‘wilt’.
- The cabbage will eventually begin to release liquid. When this happens, pack the cabbage into a clean Mason jar. Push the cabbage down hard to remove most of the extra space.
- Pour remainder brine from the bowl into the cabbage jar.
- Be sure to submerge the cabbage below the liquid.
- If there is not enough liquid, add salt water until the cabbage is completely covered. To do this, mix 1 cup of water with 1 teaspoon sea salt.
- LOOSELY place the cap on the mason jar, but do not tighten it.
- Keep jar at room temperature, out of direct sunlight. (e.g. on a counter top).
- For the first few days, check on the cabbage and add extra liquid to keep the cabbage submerged. A bit of white foaminess is normal. However, be on the lookout for anything that looks or smells moldy.
- Taste the cabbage after 6-7 days. It should be tangy, but will probably still be quite crisp. Speed of fermentation depends on the ambient temperature in your home.
- Ferment your kraut until taste and texture meet your preferences. I like to ferment mine about 10 days. At this point, cap the jar and store in the refriegerator.
- Enjoy a dollop daily with meals!
For variations, I add different spices, such as caraway seeds or peppercorns. You can use this same method to create kimchi or ferment any other vegetable easily at home!
The days are growing longer and if you haven’t already started getting back outside and getting after it again, it’s time.
It’s easy to understand how what you eat and drink can impact your body’s performance, but did you know that you can optimize your active lifestyle with certain herbs as well?
Herbs can aid in reducing inflammation, improving stamina, and increasing speed of recovery, among other benefits. Include the following herbs in your daily routine to help your body perform better, whether your preferred style of movement is running, biking, backpacking, yoga, or a stroll in the park.
Adaptogens are a class of herbs which promote homeostasis and increase a person’s resistance to stress. Some key adaptogens to consider for an active lifestyle include Rhodiola, Eleuthero, and Ashwagandha.
Rhodiola (Rhodiola Rosea)
In regards to athletic performance, Rhodiola has been shown to reduce both lactate levels and parameters of skeletal muscle damage after an exhaustive exercise session.
Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus)
Eleuthero, also called Siberian Ginseng, has long been used by athletes to improve endurance. This study showed that 8 weeks of supplementation (800 mg daily) “enhances endurance capacity, elevates cardiovascular functions and alters the metabolism for sparing glycogen”.
Ashwagandha (Ashwagandha Somnifera)
Ashwagandha is another herb that has been shown to improve aerobic capacity. Eight weeks of supplementation (500 mg twice daily) significantly improved VO2 max and time to exhaustion.
Turmeric (Curcuma Longa)
Turmeric is well-known for its anti-inflammatory effects. Studies indicate that the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin, the active component in turmeric, may offset some of the performance deficits associated with eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage.
Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis) & Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
This 2014 study indicated that athletes supplementing with Cordyceps and Reishi mushrooms showed an increased capacity to quench free radicals, thereby protecting them from oxidative stress and over-training symptoms.
Maca (Lepidium meyenii)
In addition to its hormone-balancing effects, research suggests that Maca root, taken daily for as little as 14 days, has the ability to improve endurance in athletes.
In addition to considering these herbs to facilitate an active lifestyle, support a healthy, balanced body by including a mix of strength training, aerobic training, and stretching into your physical routine.
With a little planning, supplementing with high-quality herbs can enhance and optimize your active, healthy lifestyle!