My Story with Fermented Foods
Learning the diet of my ancestors after my health left me no choice
Ferments from the beginning
I was born and raised in Ukraine in a quaint town by the name of Bar which is located on the Riv River in the province of Vinnytsia Oblast. It is a multi-cultural town with influences from Italy, Poland, Russia, Germany, and the Ukrainian Jewish community. All these cultures brought their traditions and even those of food preparation. I grew up knowing about fermented foods and drinks. It was a way of life in Bar to ferment your vegetables so that you would have them to eat during the winter months. I grew up on fermented drinks too, but my life and way of living changed at age 15.
Even though 15 is a young age, it was then that I began eating as I chose verses our traditional ways of eating. Processed foods were more readily available, plus I was young and determined to do things my way. As a result, I began to have digestive issues. However, I ignored these issues and concentrated instead on my calorie intake and being thin. I had no idea how much my actions were taking a toll on my body. By age 21, my digestive issues had become worse.
Forgetting the past
As time progressed, I continued to suffer with digestive issues, and my poor health increased with the changing of my hormone levels. In addition, another issue arose: Bloating of my belly! The bloating made me look as though I were pregnant! Truly, I had no idea that my diet was causing all of the problems I was experiencing. I continued with my lifestyle way of eating and the desire to stay thin. There is nothing wrong with being thin, but the way that I was eating, was not healthy. I had left the ways of eating and drinking with ferments behind me.
By the time I came to America, I had some pretty serious health issues. After meeting with a doctor in the US and having blood work done, my doctor said to me, “Inna you are close to being pre-diabetic. “ At that time, I was only 25 years old. This was such a scary time for me. My doctor stated that since my mother was diabetic, that I would probably be diabetic too. I didn’t want to believe the words of my doctor. Even though I was thin, I knew I was addicted to sugar and realized that how I was eating was a problem.
I was desperate for help and in 2011; I went a doctor in Framingham, MA. This doctor concluded that I had an overgrowth of H. pylori bacteria. I had no idea what this meant but was I willing to do whatever it took to get well. I do remember that my doctor stated that she too probably had the same bacterial infection, but it didn’t bother her and she wasn’t interested in fixing herself. This sounded strange to me because I was suffering and I couldn’t imagine why someone would be willing to continue to live unhealthy. My doctor was a middle-aged Russian and I thought, “Why wouldn’t she desire to fix her own body”?
It had taken me over ten years to understand what was going on in my gut. Unfortunately, as the doctor prescribed, I took a high dosage of antibiotics. The treatment was hard on my body especially my liver and I had difficulty processing the antibiotics. After taking the round of antibiotics, my test results for H. Pylori bacteria should have showed that everything was ok and my health had been restored. The antibiotics did kill the presence of H. pylori bacteria, BUT it also killed all the good bacteria too!!! In no time at all, my symptoms returned and became worse. I remember going to Winchester Hospital several times to take different tests to determine what was wrong and every test came back negative. I was miserable and didn’t realize that my gut was completely unbalanced. I didn’t understand after taking the antibiotics that reestablishing my gut with new good bacteria was crucial. No one told me. In addition to using antibiotics to kill the H. pylori bacteria, I was also going to the dentist for installation of implants and he too was prescribing antibiotics to fight infections. Neither the doctor who treated me for the H. pylori bacteria nor the dentist ever mentioned that I should be using probiotics to create a balance in my gut.
Rediscovering the ancestry diet
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During this time that I was receiving all these antibiotic treatments, we lived in a house located in the woods. It was a beautiful big house and in the middle of nowhere. I had a lot of time on my hands and spent it drinking cups of tea and reading books. I found myself reading an interesting book, which I borrowed, from a Russian friend called “Nourishing Traditions” by Sally Fallon. This book was such a revelation and I began to learn about fats, salts, sugar, broth, raw milk, and all types ferments. In Ukraine, ferments were a way of life, but there was no understanding of their health benefits. I had no idea that I needed to use these methods of fermentation in the US like we did in Ukraine. My mom never knew the benefits of ferments; it was the only way to survive winter. The pages of information from Nourishing Traditions opened my eyes as to what can be determined as quality dairy, salts, and fats. I also learned about the addiction to sugar and the havoc it creates within the entire body. This set me on a path to learn as much as I could about ferments and how to better take care of my body.
In reading and gaining more knowledge, I began to realize that the gut is our second brain.
A healthy gut means that you have a healthy body, full of energy, zero food cravings, hormone balance, no brain fog, no inflammation, normal blood pressure and normal sugar levels. Being well is almost a luxury in our new modern world. Due to the ingesting of processed foods, which contain things like plastic, pesticides, and antibiotics in meat, dairy, and fish, no wonder our food is making us sick and is killing us!!!! I believe we should be living healthy, happy lives independent of medication and possess clear and sharp minds.
As I had been going through the process of taking medications, taking time to read and learn more about fermentation, I was also praying and searching for answers. At the same time, we moved to the South in an area known as the Lowcountry. I began meeting new people and acquired new friendships. It was one of my new friends who recommended that I begin drinking Kombucha, the fermented tea. In 2013, kombucha wasn’t readily available in every store, only in health food stores. At the time, kombucha was pricey so I stopped drinking it to save money. Even though I had been gaining in the knowledge of the health benefits of consuming fermented products, I still hadn’t put all the puzzle pieces together regarding my own body and its issues.
A few years later, when my husband and I were trying to get pregnant with our second child, my internal doctor discovered the mystery of my digestive and other health issues. I had SIBO, which is small intestine bacterial overgrowth. The puzzle pieces of my issues started to come together and my prayers were being answered for God was listening. My doctor put me on the FODMAP diet that I naively thought was temporary. However, the doctor informed me that this was a permanent diet. What? I thought: “Live my life without any joy from food and with all my love for cooking? How could this be even possible?” He also said NO to ferments, no kombucha, no cabbage and no sauerkraut. I thought, “What kind of life was this is going to be?”
Putting Faith in Ferments
I was shocked, upset and frustrated. After much research about FODMAP diet and trying it, I came to this conclusion: I was going to take back my life and health but by using what I had learned about ferments to assist the body in functioning properly. I decided that my life should be without PMS, thyroid medications, brain fog, sugar cravings, afternoon crashes, etc. I knew there was a way to live without these difficulties, and I was determined to make ferments work for me.
One day I was listening to a podcast about probiotic foods and it all made sense to me. The old way to preserve food by way of fermentation created other benefits than just preservation of food. I made a plan to live not one day with out ferments. That year I began drinking homemade kombucha, which is better than store bought, and cheaper, too. It was then that I started experiencing changes within my body. Next, I started making homemade kefir and then all kinds of fermented veggies, such as kimchi, pickles and began making sourdough bread, etc. Within a few months, I was a different person and became passionate about making and eating fermented foods.
When I first began creating fermented food and drinks, my husband didn’t believe me at first and made jokes about my “lab projects” in the kitchen. Often he would say, after a jar made a sizzling noise, “Inna, that’s creepy!!!” After being married for over 10 years, I knew he had IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), which he thought was normal. After supplementing his diet by incorporating probiotics every single day from my fermented food and drinks, he stopped complaining about his own digestives issues, as well as joint pain and seasonal allergies. Those problems disappeared! He still believes he doesn’t drink kombucha or kefir, and please don’t tell him!!!
Why not start now? Life is too short to live with pain and discomfort. God didn’t design you to be sick, He designed you to be healthy. I’m here for you and want to help you get started. I can teach you how to make everything from fermented teas to sourdough bread and everything in between. I can give you tools and show you how to use ferments in your daily diet. I firmly believe that the consuming of fermented foods and drinks is something that can help you to lose weight, control inflammation, regulate blood pressure and provide you with many more health benefits.
I have spent years exploring the realm of fermentation. I have no academic background in microbiology or food science; I am a food-loving enthusiast who is obsessed with fermentation, and a sincere desire to maintain good health for myself and for others. I have experimented widely, talked to numerous people about the subject, and read extensively. The more I experiment and the more I learn, the more I fall in love with this process and I desire to help you fall in love with it too.
With Love Inna