Story by Lisa Fischer
Photos by Jamison Mosley • Food styled by Andrea Patrick • Recipes by Julie Majors
Where do you say good health begins? Is it at the gym? With a vegan diet? By following a gluten-free diet? Science is proving something your grandmother knew — good health begins in the kitchen by nourishing your gut.
Julie Majors is a home cook who has studied the effects of diet on health. She is the antithesis to this generation’s fast food and packaged Lunchables. She teaches cooking classes in Little Rock along with educating people the benefits of home-prepared meals through her Instagram, @realfood.littlerock. Her specialties include bone broth along with fermented vegetables. Plus, she reminds people to reduce sugar and processed foods from their diets. Majors says, “[We know] inflammation is the root of all diseases.” And she’s right. According to research from Harvard University, “… chronic inflammation is associated with heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis and bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.”
So how does one reduce inflammation in his or her diet? It’s not from your doctor’s office. It’s from the room in your home that has the appliance that keeps the beer cold — the kitchen. But first, let’s talk about the simple operation of turning grocery store vegetables into lifesavers.
Fermentation is a metabolic process that not only makes food good, it helps keep us alive. It is a procedure by which microorganisms like bacteria and yeast chemically change carbohydrates into acids and alcohol. According to eatingwell.com, fermented vegetables “may improve digestion, boost immunity and help us maintain a healthy weight …Take care of your gut, and in turn, it will help take care of you.” And the trend is gaining momentum. People are turning to drinking kombucha, a fermented beverage you can even get on tap, and eating sourdough bread and kimchi, the delicious fermented vegetables that Koreans have been eating for generations.
Amy Beard, M.D., is a functional medicine physician in Central Arkansas with an undergraduate degree in dietetics. She and her husband, Paul, often ferment their homegrown fruits and vegetables. But if you can’t whip up your own sauerkraut, she recommends the store brand Bubbies. She says, “It is my favorite for sauerkraut or pickles.” That’s the brand that is naturally fermented. (“Bubbie” incidentally is a Jewish term for “grandmother.”) She adds, “Other pickled products are just made with vinegar.” It’s the process of fermentation that is the difference between the two.
Both Beard and Majors believe that your kitchen and your control over how foods are prepared are part of the solution for good health. Majors says, “The foods to make from scratch if people want to make [health] changes include homemade dressings with mayonnaise made with non-GMO [genetically modified organism] oil and homemade soups with broth.”
Back to your grandmother. She would simmer a whole chicken in water with onion, celery, salt and pepper, pull the meat off a few hours in, and then cook the carcass for at least 24 hours. This is the reason bone broth has risen to the health food of the 21st century. The cooked bones provide collagen that helps with aches, pains and inflammation, plus it plumps up your skin and heals your gut. Beard says until your gut is healed, you will be fighting an uphill battle. She was once told she had multiple sclerosis among “other itises,” and part of her colon was removed. She cleaned up her diet, cut back on crazy exercise and worked on her gut health. Now she’s on zero medicines except for what’s in her kitchen. She says,“My diet is my medicine.” She also paid attention to what she was eating by eliminating “gluten, whey and eggs.” She adds that other common offenders are “dairy, corn, soy, nuts and legumes, but it does seem that glyphosate and GMO foods may be the real issues.” This is what she tells her patients. She adds that getting good sleep and reducing stress are two other components to taming the health shrew. Beard was seeing patients via telemedicine before COVID-19, but as you can imagine, her practice has seen an uptick. People are now focusing on preventing disease, not just how to treat it, which is the mantra of functional medicine.
The emergence of a pandemic has brought our own personal health journeys under the searchlight. Research is emerging that claims people with certain foods in their diets do better with the novel coronavirus. According to a study of Europeans, diets high in “cabbage and cucumbers reduced the death rate of those fighting the virus.” One of the researchers said, “Nutrition should not be overlooked” as a factor behind lowering COVID-19 deaths. This brings us back to fermented cabbage and cucumbers as being potential lifesavers.
Beard adds that other things in your life contribute to an unhealthy gut. She says that over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen, along with antibiotics, birth control pills and artificial sweeteners are contributors to the breakdown of gut health and the microbiome. (The microbiome is the residence where the trillions of microorganisms and their genetic material live within your intestinal tract.) The microorganisms are mainly bacteria and are responsible for how your health and well-being are maintained. Sarah Ballantyne, Ph.D., says, “some probiotic bacteria (such as Lactobacillus species) are able to directly bind to and inactivate viruses before they attach to host cells, in turn inhibiting infection.” L. acidophilus is the good stuff found in your gut, and repopulating it with foods like yogurt and other foods helps keep the GI tract very happy. Start reading labels on yogurt. Look for high fat and good bacteria. Zero fat and no bacteria makes it akin to junk food because it will likely be high in sugar. Don’t forget Hippocrates’ famous quote, which means a cup of yogurt and some fermented veggies could get you on the path to a lifetime of good health. Beard is serious when she says, “An apple a day does keep the doctor away.”
Majors shares her top four inflammation-fighting recipes in the next few pages. They are fairly easy to prepare and are affordable, though they might take more time than grabbing store-bought options. We can bet your “bubbie” never complained about being in the kitchen knowing it helped her family’s health.
Food is Medicine Recipes: