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New research, ancient practices

The past 10 years has seen an explosion in gut microbiome research. This community of 100 trillion bacteria residing in our intestines does more for us than we ever thought. Although we haven’t discovered all of the ways they benefit us, we do know that microorganisms produce substances that stimulate immune cell activity, reduce inflammation, and help regulate blood glucose and cholesterol levels. Additionally, the microbiome is thought to play a role in brain, skin, lung and reproductive health.

It turns out that supporting our gut health with food is something that humans started doing long before we were aware of the microbiome’s existence. Preserving foods through fermentation is an ancient practice for many cultures. “You can ferment pretty much any vegetable,” says University of Minnesota microbiome researcher Kylene Guse. The process produces bacteria, termed probiotics, that we then consume and reap the benefits. We can feed the bacteria in our gut with fiber-rich plant foods called prebiotics.

Extension educator Noelle Harden does an outdoor cooking demo on a market stage.
Extension educator Noelle Harden teaches an outdoor cooking demo about fermented foods.


Young child peeling garlic
Berry Hayner, then aged 4, helps mom Noelle Harden peel garlic for garden kimchi.
A glass jar filled with carrots, radishes and herbs fermenting.
​Enjoy summer's garden year round and support gut health with fermented food, like curtido. ​

Fermenting foods at home is easier than you might think. Extension health and nutrition educator Kelly Kunkel recommends learning about fermentation by, “Talking to people that make fermented foods. Look to UMN Extension to provide food safety guidelines.” 

Fermenting can double as a way to preserve produce, especially if you have an excess, “It's a great way to extend the nutrition we get from the garden all the way through winter,” notes Extension Educator Noelle Harden who teams up with her nine year old son to prepare fermented veggies. Extension has some recipes to get you going on pickles or sauerkraut. If you want more ideas try the book Fermented Vegetables by Christopher and Kirsten Shockey or search the Fermentation Association. Support your gut, the old-fashioned way.

Aaron Day, dietetic intern 

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