Dr. Kaycie’s Top Ten Detoxifying Foods

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Strawberries are high in bioflavonoids that protect the cells of the liver. The whole plant can also be made into a medicine that is good for restoring digestive health.

Spring has finally arrived!  I don’t usually find myself waiting until the end of May to say this, but I think the snows are finally behind us, and the garden is planted.  Now that the weather has warmed somewhat, our bodies are also starting to warm and be ready for the exercise and outdoor activities of summer.  In addition to getting our bodies into ideal shape for the summer through exercise, we can also help to boost vitality through cleansing.  For more information on what spring cleaning and detoxification is, you can look at my article “What is Detoxification?” from last spring. There are many detoxification protocols out there, and finding the right one will depend on your constitution, health status, and commitment to the program.  However, an easy first step is to start incorporating detoxifying foods into each meal using the basic theory of detoxification: improve elimination of waste through optimizing the function of the digestive tract, urinary tract, skin and liver.  Here is a list of my top ten favorites:

 

10. Garlic

Garlic can help to reduce blood triglycerides and improve circulation and sweating to remove wastes via the skin. It also helps stimulate digestion.

9.  Apples

Apples are a great source of insoluble and soluble fibers.  The insoluble fiber helps to move waste through the digestive tract. When cooked, the pectins found in apples help to absorb excess cholesterol, delay absorption of sugars into the bloodstream, and bulk the stool.

8.  Dandelion Greens

Dandelion greens, which are commercially available in many areas, act as a diuretic to help remove wastes through the urine.  The beauty of dandelion greens is that they also replace any minerals lost through the process of diuresis.

7.  Sweet Potato

Sweet potatoes are thought of as one of the least allergenic foods available.  Unless you have an intolerance to all carbohydrate, sweet potatoes are a good source of lower glycemic carbohyrates that help to soothe the digestive tract and decrease inflammation.

6.  Cilantro

Cilantro and its seed coriander are calming to the digestion and help to dispel gas.  Cilantro also helps to convert blood cholesterols into bile which can aid in reducing blood cholesterol levels.  Cilantro extracts have also been shown to remove mercury from a water solution, so there is speculation about whether cilantro could aid in mercury detoxification when consumed.

5.  Seaweed

Hijiki, Wakame, and Kombu (all types of seaweed) have all been shown to increase breakdown of fats in the body.  Seaweeds are also a good source of iodine, which is necessary for proper thyroid function.  These two actions together help to boost metabolism and removal of excess fats from the system.  Traditional Chinese Medicine also regards seaweed as a detoxifier which mobilizes heavy metals and turns them into inorganic salts that can easily be excreted through the urine.

4.  Lemon

Lemon and lemon juice are wonderfully bitter and sour.  Taken especially before meals, they help to start the digestive process early, which makes the digestive absorb nutrients and eliminate wastes more effectively.

3.  Kale

Kale and other members of the cabbage family contain indoles, which help the body metabolize and remove excess steroid hormones such as estrogen. Members of this family have also been found to repair damage to the liver.  Kale is also high in fiber and chlorophyll to increase energy and optimize digestion.

2.  Flax

Flaxseed is high in omega 3 fatty acids, which help to balance cholesterol and reduce inflammation.  Even more important for detoxification though is the high concentration of soluble fibers that help to trap excess fats and cholesterol, bulk the stool, and ensure effective elimination of waste via the digestive tract.

1.  Beets

There is extensive research supporting the protective and regenerative effect of beets on the cells of the liver.  This effect has even been seen with molasses derived from sugar beets.  The pigments in beets have also been shown to have a protective effect against the formation of cancer cells. Beets are also great for assisting with effective waste elimination through the bowels.

Muscle and Bone Health–What Calcium Should I Take?

The answer, of course, is that every person has different needs, so it is important to find a calcium supplement that is right for you. For anyone taking Calcium, I recommend balancing it with Magnesium, Boron, and Vitamin D, as all of these are critical for healthy bones. Many people also find Calcium to be constipating; Magnesium tends to help things move along so a supplement containing both can be beneficial to the digestion.

Although there are many Calcium supplements out there, I carry three basic types of Calcium ath the Golden Naturopathic Clinic. Liquid Calcium Magnesium is what I use most often because it is easy to take and easy for the body to absorb. In addition to bone health benefits, this formula can help with constipation, muscle cramping and can improve the quality of sleep. For this reason I usually recommend taking this at night before bed. For people with greater severity of these symptoms, I will often use a formula with equal parts Magnesium and Calcium; otherwise there is a formula with equal parts of these minerals.

Cal-Mag Chela Max is a chelated formula that is very easy to break down and absorb. It is formulated specifically for people who have difficulty taking other calcium supplements because they irritate their digestive tract.

For people with osteopenia or osteoporosis, I use a formula called Osteoprime. This formula contains Strontium, the only mineral found to help replace bone rather than just prevent further bone loss. Osteoprime also has a full complement of Vitamins and Minerals so it can substitute for your regular multi.

If you are wondering how much Calcium you need, this will vary somewhat based on your individual needs. Pregnant, lactating, and postmenopausal women, for example will have greater Calcium needs than other adults. That said, shooting for somewhere between 1000 and 1200mg/day is a good rule of thumb.

It is important to remember that Calcium ideally should come from food sources. The amount you take as a supplement is just that: supplementary. To get a feel for calcium amounts in food, assume that an 8 oz glass of milk (including non-dairy milks as long as they are fortified) contains 300mg of calcium. Beyond milk, 1 oz of hard cheese, 1 cup of broccoli, collard greens or spinach, ½ cup of almonds, ½ cup of tofu (made with calcium), 4 canned sardines, or 8 dried figs all contain about 200mg of calcium. For a longer list, a good source is this document from Harvard: click here to view

Happy Solstice! Tips for easy home gardening and what to do now!

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Hooray for March!  My favorite bipolar season.  In the past week we’ve had powder days at the ski resorts, hot days of rock climbing in shorts and a t-shirt, rain, sleet, and a foot of snow in my front yard.  We have been lucky and mother nature has been giving us some moisture in the past couple of months, so the garden is starting to awaken.  After the snow melted away this weekend, we discovered the garlic I planted in November is starting to poke out some green shoots.  This means it’s time to start thinking about planting.

I almost don’t need to even mention the health benefits of gardening.  Aside from getting the freshest, most nutrient packed foods that are grown exactly to your standards, gardening deepens our awareness of what’s in season (and consequently what foods are best for our bodies).  Having the kids help also encourages them to eat more fresh fruits and veggies and teaches them about where our food comes from.

If you haven’t done a lot of gardening, you live in a place with limited space, or you don’t have a lot of free time to spend in the dirt, here’s a quick list of things to try to optimize your production this year, plus a reminder of what you should be doing right now:

Plants with the best effort/output ratio:

Cherry tomatoes–these can be successful from indoor sprouting, buying a plant from the store, or direct seeding to a pot or garden.  Sun Golds are our family favorite for flavor and abundance.

radishes–Very satisfying for the impatient gardener.  Generally you can go from seed to salad in about 3 weeks

zucchini–if you have some room in the garden and a good water supply, zucchini wins for easy to grow and maximum poundage.

peas–if you have a place to trellis, peas are my kids’ favorite for direct snacking from the garden.

kale–One or two kale plants usually keeps my family eating greens (and kale chips!) from late may to late November.

Plants that are best for limited space:

potherbs: Plant a large pot on the back deck with oregano, basil, cilantro and thyme for added flavor to summer dinners.  Lavender and chives are also wonderful in pots because they come back year after year.

Cherry tomatoes–Especially if you get a “bush” variety, these are a great choice for pots.

strawberries–You can buy a hanging strawberry garden that will provide treats right from the patio.

baby greens–Many seed companies make a “garden mix” seed packet that you can harvest as they grow, or replant throughout the warm months for salads all season long.

 

Fun perennials that will come back each year:  These are all nice because with a bit of effort at the outset, you will have garden treats for years to come.

Rhubarb

Strawberries

Asparagus

Horseradish

Grapes

raspberries

mint

And here’s what you should be thinking about for your garden in March:

What to plant outdoors now:

Potatoes

onions

chives

carrots

radishes

kale

peas

spinach

lettuce

What to sprout now:

tomatoes

eggplant

cucumbers

peppers

 

Happy Solstice!  Enjoy!

Healthy Snacking

I have been thinking about snacks quite a bit lately. From the days of my pregnancies where I seemed to need some food what seemed like hourly, to my current days of trying to find something yummy and healthy that a 2-year old and 9-month old will be excited to munch on, I am always on the lookout for something convenient, portable, low-sugar, high-nutrition, and relatively allergen-free. In the past, common wisdom said that snacking between meals was unhealthy and promoted weight gain. However, healthy snacks can help to balance blood sugar and mood and can promote restful sleep; it also helps the body to use your calories properly and not store them as fat. So, with this in mind, and a bit of inspiration from The Shoshoni Cookbook, I came up with this recipe for a “cookie” that gets the toddler as well as an adult thumbs-up:
Oatmeal Banana Raisin Cookies
Makes about 6 dozen–you can halve this recipe!
2 cups bananas, mashed
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
2 eggs (can substitute 2 Tbsp flax meal mixed with 6 Tbsp warm water if egg sensitive or vegan)
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup honey
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup brown rice flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp xanthan gum
1 cup raisins
Optional: 1/2 cup of shredded, unsweetened coconut, sunflower seeds, or chopped walnuts (for added healthy fats and protein)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Mix banana, oil, eggs, vanilla, and honey in a medium sized bowl. In another bowl, mix oats, flour, salt, cinnamon, and xanthan gum. Combine wet and dry ingredients, then mix in raisins and coconut, seeds, or nuts. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto a parchment lined baking sheet–they don’t spread much, so you can put them close together on the sheet. bake 14 minutes until lightly browned.

Congee Takes Away the Chill of Winter

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In my first year of medical school, I had a delightful roommate who was of Vietnamese descent, born in China, and raised in her family’s restaurant in San Jose, California.  Lucky for me, she was a wealth of food knowledge and was happy to share.  From her, I learned about sticky rice steamed in banana leaf, hot pot, geoduck, how to efficiently dispatch a live crab in the kitchen sink, and the magic of congee.

During the winter, the body craves warming foods that provide optimal, easy to assimilate nutrition.  In Chinese medicine, there is a concept called “digestive fire”, which roughly equates to your body’s ability to break down food and absorb it properly.  The bigger the fire, the better you can digest.  I like the metaphor of fire because it seems to parallel how our bodies generally are able to digest:  in the summer when the weather is warm, we can break down much more complex foods and do better with raw fruits and vegetables.  In the winter, we lack that external heat source and so we must apply heat to our foods to assist our digestive fire. Congee is the ultimate digestive assistant.

So what is congee?  Well, more than a specific recipe, congee is more of a concept.  The basic rule of making congee is you take a pulse (most often rice, but millet, wheat, barley, sorghum, mung beans, or other grains or legumes can be used), add a high proportion of water, and cook it for a long time over low heat.  Congee is a traditional food all over Asia, India, and even Portugal, and has historically been viewed as a medicinal food in all of these cultures.  Depending on taste preference, regional specialty, and the specific medicinal quality desired, other foods, herbs, and spices are added.  It can be served for any meal, and depending on your preference can be served sweet or savory.  Many Indian congees are served with milk and jaggery (palm sugar) but many Asian congees contain meats, pickled vegetables, ginger, eggs or crispy fried onions. (for more information, Wikipedia gives a great description of traditional congees across the world).

In my practice, I often recommend making congee as a winter food to bolster nutrition.  However, it is an especially good food for people who are recovering from extended illness or have significant digestive problems.  For patients who seem to “get sick no matter what I eat”, congee is a great place to start.  In people who are needing the simplest, easiest nutrition possible, white rice congee is appropriate. If your digestion is rather intact, brown rice should be fine.

In his book Healing with Whole Foods Paul Pitchford talks about many foods that can be added to congee to boost its healing properties.  A few of the most useful options I’ve found are: Using chicken or mutton broth instead of water is recommended for wasting illnesses and injuries, and duck or fish broth are supposed to relieve swelling. Ginger is warming to the organs and improves digestive function.  Fennel and black pepper also assist in reducing gas and improve digestion. Brown rice is good for nursing mothers and general nutrition, while sweet rice is more specific for recovering from digestive illnesses.

Chicken and Ginger Congee
Use bone-in chicken for this recipe.  The skin, bones, and connective tissue are rich in hyaluronic acid, chondroitin, and other building blocks of a healthy digestive tract and properly functioning immune system.

1 cup rice
2-inch piece of fresh ginger root, sliced thinly
1 chicken cut into parts
1 onion or 2 shallots, thinly sliced
6 cups water
1 tsp salt
soy sauce, sesame oil, and cilantro for serving

8-10 hours before eating, place rice, ginger, chicken, onion, and water into a large soup pot on low heat or ideally a slow cooker on low. When you come back 8-10 hours later, you should have a thick porridge.  Remove chicken parts from the porridge.  Remove the skin, then remove the meat from the bones and shred.  Skim the top of the porridge if necessary.  Ladle porridge into bowls and top with shredded chicken.  Garnish with soy sauce, sesame oil, and cilantro to taste.

Hormone Testing

In my practice, I often see patients with a variety of symptoms that may seem unrelated but may all be somehow connected to either the reproductive (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone), stress (cortisol and adrenalin) or thyroid hormones. Some of the issues that are often related to hormone imbalance include menstrual problems, insomnia, migraines, anxiety, weight gain, fatigue, and menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and low libido. As a woman approaches menopause, the production of the reproductive hormones (estrogen and progesterone) will shift from the ovaries to the adrenal glands, which also produce our stress hormones. If the adrenals are already fatigued from a lifetime of other stressors, giving them this extra job can make this transition particularly uncomfortable. Additionally, shifts in the reproductive or stress hormones can also throw the thyroid out of balance.
Usually, just getting some good objective information is the best first step towards resolving the issue. Most of these hormones can be evaluated using a simple saliva test, with the exception of thyroid hormone which is best evaluated through the blood. Once we know which hormones are out of balance, either in excess or deficiency, then we have many natural options to help bring things back into balance and get you feeling better. Please feel free to call or email me if you have questions regarding hormone testing!

Inspiration to Cook Seasonally in January?

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What’s for dinner? Now that January is here, it’s getting a little less exciting figuring out what to eat.  We are firmly sandwiched between the festive excesses of December and the first exciting green things to emerge in March.  Additionally, many of us (myself included) are starting to long for a bit of “spring cleaning” after all the heavy foods of the holiday season.  However, despite our crazy see-saw we call Colorado weather, when it comes down to it, January is just a cold month.  With this in mind, true detoxification must be put off until our bodies are warmed enough from the outside world to feel good with the cooling action of cleansing foods (aka, you gotta wait a couple of months).

So, we have to find a way to feed ourselves in a way that is consistent with the season but respects our need for simpler, more wholesome foods.  If you take a look at my article from last year about the basic principles of supporting the body through food for the winter, there are three primary goals: Keep blood sugar balanced, support the endocrine system, and eat foods with bountiful stored energy.  Keeping this in mind, we can easily cut back on rich, refined foods while honoring the body’s need for nutrient density.  Here’s a few tips for jazzing things up a bit in the kitchen during the January lull:

Try Something New
This, of course, is a handy state of mind no matter what time of the year you’re cooking.  However, there are many ways to add variety by experimenting with different members of familiar families of foods.  For example, try out kabocha squash instead of butternut, mung beans instead of black beans, or a new kind of leafy green instead of spinach again.  Last week, my local grocery had a giant pile of a leafy green they called chicory.  Despite the checkers’ inability to even locate a PLU code for it, I brought it home and found some amazing italian recipes (thanks to Mario Batali) for this nutty, escarole-like green. It can also be exciting to discover a new way of preparing basic foods by exploring other culinary traditions.

Make a Kitchen Garden
There’s not many fresh fruits and veggies coming out the garden these days, but you can bring a little excitement to the table by growing something small in your kitchen window.  Herbs will do well in a pot in a window with good light, or you can use something like an aerogarden to grow vigorous greens, herbs, and even tomatoes.  My father gave me a grow-your-own oyster mushroom kit this year for my birthday, the picture above shows the unexpected and delicious meal that came of it.

Use Your Kitchen Tools
For the time-limited, cooking winter foods can be challenging because often they require extensive cooking times.  A good pressure cooker can cook beets in 10-12 minutes, a pot of dry beans in 20 minutes, or chicken soup from scratch in 25 minutes.  On the opposite end, a crock pot is a super handy way to spend just a few minutes in the morning and come home to a wonderful, rich and warming dinner.  A rice cooker is also a handy way to produce a side dish with minimal thought or effort.

Keep it Simple
Remember the basics:  vegetable, protein, starch.  In the winter it is important to focus on blood sugar supporting foods, so for starches stick to sweet potatoes, winter squash, beans, and whole grains such as quinoa, buckwheat and brown rice.  Choose veggies that are in season and look good in the store; deep green veggies such as broccoli, sea vegetables, or leafy greens are going to be high in minerals that support the endocrine system.  Make sure protein sources are high quality and responsibly raised. Generally, if you can get something from each category on the table you will be doing well to nourish yourself and your family without a lot of fuss.

Enjoy!

The dairy-free delight of Homemade Almond Milk

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After the holidays, there is often a lot of talk about detoxing, losing weight, reclaiming your health and more. While I don’t really choose to detox or make dramatic changes this time of year, I often find I am looking to lighten up on the amount of sugar, refined flours and dairy that seemed abundant in December.

Eliminating dairy is never an easy task in our home as we love cheese and a splash of creaminess in our morning beverages, on steamy oats or granola. There are certainly a lot of new ‘milks’ on the market including creamy more flavorful options for coconut, almond and soy milks.

During a detox a few years ago, my husband and I started making almond milk. In a pinch during that period, I grabbed a pre-made almond milk container and was shocked at how dramatically better in flavor my homemade option was. There wasn’t a subtle chemical taste in our almost sweet homemade version. The crazy part was it is annoyingly simple to make almond milk. Certainly easier than going out and buying a carton anyways. And even though I have yet to do the math I would say it is cheaper. But, my favorite part is if you buy your nuts in bulk with a reusable bag this is a completely waste free option compared to tossing out all of those milk containers. After my discovery, I was grateful for the new sense of freedom in making my own from scratch. Join me!

Almond Milk (about 4-6 cups)

1/2 cup raw almonds

1-2 dates, optional to add a bit of sweetness

1 splash vanilla or almond extract, optional (if you want to give it an extra spike of flavor, but try it without first)

cheesecloth

Soak the raw almonds overnight or at least 8 hours.

Drain the soaking liquid, rinse the nuts and place the almonds in the blender with about 3 cups of water. Blend away for a couple of minutes until the mixture is smooth. Strain the almond blend through the cheesecloth (or a nut milk bag, pantyhose, tight sieve, or a thin dishcloth). Dump the almonds back in the blender for more milk, if desired, and blend again with another cup or two of water. Strain the nuts again through the cheesecloth and this time squeeze and push out any access liquid. Nut milk is most delicious immediately but will last up to 3-4 days in the fridge. Just shake well before using.

Now… it actually gets better, because you have this lovely mash of almond meat leftover. Some folks spread it on a sheet in a dehydrator to make their own almond meal. That is a great option, but when we were making it regularly for our detox I made it the replacement for my oatmeal. I just tossed the almonds into a saucepan with a splash of the almond milk and warmed it until it was just steaming. Fresh fruit, a bit of dried fruit, extra almond milk, a crumble of different nuts & toasted seeds, all contributed to the toppings on this bowl of goodness. My favorite part is that the almonds’ protein levels kept me cruising a few hours longer than my higher-glycemic oatmeal breakfast.

Do not limit yourself to almonds, either! Hazelnuts, cashews, walnuts, pistachios and even a combination of nuts are all good. Seed milks work too and the recipe is the same with pumpkin, hemp, sunflower and sesame seeds all being great choices.

Heidi Swanson just posted about making her nut milks through a juicer… check it out!

Garlic to Prevent and Treat Colds and Flu

This Year’s Harvest

It’s garlic planting season again.  It catches me by surprise every year because I’m just simply not in planting mode in mid-October.  Which means that every year in February I’m out there trying to hack a hole in the frozen ground to plant some garlic, realize that’s a dumb idea, and then go back to it in late March.  This year I added to the dumbness by trying to mulch my garlic (embedded in half frozen ground) with hay rather than straw (in case you don’t know the difference, hay has seeds in it, straw does not) which meant I spent the entire spring and summer pulling grass out of my garlic patch.  And then when I pull the garlic up in October as I did last week it’s very nice but not as large as I was hoping for.  So this year I’m making a Halloween resolution to plant garlic this month, and perhaps scare away some vampires for good measure.

Why do we love garlic? Let me count the ways.  Garlic has been researched for its health promoting properties to regulate blood sugar, blood lipids, and even treat cancer, in addition to being an indispensable addition to almost everything I cook.  Today, however, I am going to focus on its role in preventing and treating infections.

As I’ve mentioned before, a primary health focus for the autumn months is immunity, and this year colds, flus, tonsillitis and all their buddies all seem to be starting up earlier than ever.  When fighting viruses such as cold and flu, garlic has been shown to help prevent these illnesses.  When taken internally (aka eaten), garlic activates immune cells called T cells and NK cells to help the body fight off viruses before we get sick.  The primary active constituents that help garlic be such a powerful immune booster are called alliin and allicin; these are also the source of garlic’s pungent and wonderful scent.  Alliin is enzymatically converted to allicin when garlic is crushed or chopped so swallowing whole cloves won’t do you as much good.

Garlic has also been shown to kill bacteria and fungi, which can be useful for strep and other forms of tonsillitis.  In open wounds, garlic helps to prevent the formation of what are called biofilms.  Biofilms are a handy little trick that bacteria have of banding together to make a wall around themselves and prevent our immune cells or antimicrobial agents from getting in–sort of like bacterial armor. Because it can prevent this, garlic applied topically can prevent a wound from getting infected.

In Chinese medicine, garlic is seen as a very hot herb; it gets your circulation moving and boosts your temperature to more effectively fight and get rid of bugs.  Generally in this tradition garlic is not recommended for kids to eat every day because they are so warm to begin with.  However, garlic is seen as a wonderful medicine for children with colds and flu.  In his book Healing with Whole Foods Paul Pitchford recommends making a sandwich out of thin slices of apple with a slice of garlic between to help prevent and treat colds for kids.

Because of this quality of heating the body and helping to move illness out of the system, garlic can also be used to treat coughs, particularly those that have settled in and been hanging around for too long.  One of my mentors Bill Mitchell, ND specifically used it for  “excessive, irritating, and persistant coughs.” His prescription in this case is to chop 2 cloves and swallow them in a slug of water four times per day for an adult.  This would be sure to exorcise any cough, demon, or vampire without fail.

With this in mind, get out there and celebrate at your local garlic festival, make a batch of pesto, or roast a head to spread on some crackers with brie.  Your immune system will thank you for it.  As for me, I will be in the garden digging and planning for next year’s harvest.

Health Benefits of Pickles

PIckle Night!

Pickle NIght!

Pickling is one of my family’s favorite yearly traditions.  It has been going on since my family came to Denver in the early 1900’s and I suspect long before they immigrated from Eastern Europe.  I can’t recall a meal growing up where meat was served without a pickle to accompany it.  I know it was much more commonplace in the past: there is a famous story of a family friend who used to hold a contest to see who was making the best pickles in the neighborhood.  He, of course, was the judge, and in the end I don’t know if he ever awarded any prizes, he mostly just ate everyone’s pickles.  The point is, at that time just about everyone on the block was making their family’s brand of homemade pickle.

Today, we still get together with my folks once a year and make enough pickles to supply our own pantries, give as gifts to friends, and serve as a favorite side dish at celebrations with the extended family.  Although this is a bit of a novelty in our contemporary culture, pickles have played an important role in many culinary traditions.  From German sauerkraut to Korean kimchee, pickled foods have added an extra zip to food and have historically been a handy way to bring a bit of summer into the winter months.  What we are also finding today is that pickled foods are also important for health reasons.

The health promoting aspect of pickled foods lies in the pickling process itself.  Today, much of what we find in the store that is labeled a “pickle” is actually preserved in vinegar.  A natural pickle, however, is generally placed in a salt brine and allowed to ferment.  This process is called lactic acid fermentation.  What happens during this process is lactic acid producing bacteria (generally in the lactobacillus family, which included our good friend l. acidophilus) “eat” the sugars in the cucumbers and turn them into energy and lactate.  We know this is happening properly when we go to open the jar (always over the sink!) and it starts bubbling–this is the moment when my dad shouts “It’s working mom! It’s working!”  From a chemistry standpoint, this process increases the acidity of the brine and kills any pathogenic bacteria that may be present.  From a culinary standpoint, this results is a tangy, probiotic-infused vessel of crunchy deliciousness.

In our family, there are several other important ingredients in pickle making, all of which play a role in making a delicious and healthy food.  Fresh dill is what is called a carminative, which means it helps to dispel intestinal gas.  The spices in pickling spice, including allspice, cinnamon, cloves, and black pepper, are also digestive aids.  Garlic is antimicrobial which helps to insure that the “bad” bacteria don’t get a chance to culture.  The result is a product that helps to break down heavy foods, dispel gas, and provide probiotic cultures to insure healthy elimination.

In today’s grocery stores, particularly those geared towards natural foods, there are more and more natural pickle options.  They will provide the benefits listed above and will probably taste pretty darn good.  However, they tend to be rather expensive; I’ve seen as high as $15 per jar, which makes them a bit cost prohibitive.  My recommendation is to pull out that ancient copy of The Joy of Cooking (or do a little internet search) and make your own! Start a new family tradition in your kitchen today!