Meghan Telpner is my homeslice. We had met a few times in passing before we had a chance to sit down (in front of a camera) and talk food in 2013. We instantly hit it off and quickly found ourselves laughing to the point of near tears.
By trade Meghan is officially a Nutritionist. But she’s far beyond that – she’s runs her own program to certify culinary nutritionists, is a vocal advocate of cooking with whole ingredients and inspires people with her energy and passion for food as a healing force. Since that time Dana and I have become friends with Meghan (and her husband, Josh) and love seeing her ‘do her thing.’
When we first met Meghan she had just finished her first book, Undiet: Eat Your Way to a Vibrant Life. To be candid, we were initially a little skeptical of the book and it’s promise of an ‘8 week transformation.’ It didn’t take long to figure out that Meghan’s message was the opposite of a fad diet or a quick solution. Her writing is informed, passionate and will make you laugh. She pulls no punches in challenging and inspiring readers to question what they eat and why.
Two years later Meghan is back with The Undiet Cookbook. The book offers healthy takes on 130 recipes that are gluten free, vegan friendly (though options exist for us meat eaters) and is full of great pictures and inspiration. Of particular interest to you guys will be are several fermented recipes (including one for fermented cashew cheese) and dehydrated Dijon Dill Kale Chips.
To celebrate the launch of her new book, we interviewed Meghan and asked for her take the the health benefits of fermented foods. She answered in her trademark punchy style that once again had me chuckling (it’s not every day you get to hear about rat poo, after all)…
HEALTH BENEFITS OF FERMENTED FOODS WITH MEGHAN TELPNER
JOEL: LET’S START WITH THE BASICS – WHAT ARE THE GENERAL BENEFITS OF EATING FERMENTED FOODS?
They’ll reverse the aging process, make you lose weight and you’re guaranteed to find your soul mate.
Okay- that’s not completely true but if it convinces people to start eating them, I’m okay with the white lie.
The real health benefits of fermented foods is that they help to reinoculate the gut with the good bacteria- the bacteria that keep our immune system humming. Fermented foods support optimal digestion and that, in turn supports healthy hair, skin and nails. We live in a pretty sterile world with all of the antibiotics and hand sanitizers that it’s become imperative as a part of a healthy diet, to include fermented foods.
JOEL: HOW MUCH OF A FERMENTED FOOD WOULD I HAVE TO EAT?
We live in a culture where we think if a little is good, more is better. When it comes to fermented foods, more might just cause you to lose all of your friends if you’re confined to a small room with them.
Your best approach is start with small amounts- 1 tablespoon of sauerkraut, ¼ cup of kombucha and slowly work your way up to larger amounts as your gut acclimatizes.
JOEL: WHAT EXACTLY IS A ‘PROBIOTIC?’ DO ALL FERMENTS HAVE THEM?
Biotic means life, so pro-biotic is pro life. Similarly, antibiotic is anti life. Probiotics in short, are live bacteria and yeast that work to rebalance our gut ecology in our favor. When this ecology is out of balance with the ‘bad guys’, we start to experience symptoms associated with allergies, IBS, and inflammation throughout the body, to name a few.
All traditional, lactic acid or anaerobic ferments will have some probiotics in them. Often however, we see what we think are fermented foods in the supermarket like pickles and relish which traditionally were made through fermentation processes and are now made with cooking.
Typically you’ll find your probiotic-rich ferments made by the people at your farmer’s market and found in the refrigerators at your supermarket or health food store. I’d also recommend asking Joel to make you some, or learning how to do it yourself. I have taught myself how to make loads of fermented foods including Kombucha, Kimchi and even a fermented nut cheese (so good!)
JOEL: ARE ALL PROBIOTICS EQUAL? ARE THE PROBIOTICS IN YOGURT THE SAME AS THOSE IN SAUERKRAUT?
Good question. All probiotic containing, naturally fermented foods are equal and awesome. The key however, is that every food contains its own unique set. Further still, the bacteria will differ based on where you live too, given that there are different wild yeasts in the air. Your best bet for getting the full spectrum of probiotic magic is to include a variety of fermented foods in your diet.
Have a little ‘kraut or kimchi with your eggs, some miso paste in your soups, sip on kombucha, dollop some coconut kefir on sliced apples. There are loads of easy and delicious ways to incorporate fermented foods into your life.
JOEL: DOES ALL YOGURT HAVE PROBIOTICS? WHY OR WHY NOT?
No. No it doesn’t. Again- you want to look at the maker and what’s in your yogurt. A lot of yogurts that you find in the supermarket are just glorified pudding. Check the ingredients and ideally the only thing in your yogurt is the milk product and the culture. You also want to be mindful of the culture that’s being used. Some popular brands have been shown to culture yogurts with questionable bacteria sources (um- like rat poop).
JOEL: I’VE HEARD THAT FERMENTED FOOD CAN LOSE SOME OF IT’S HEALTH BENEFITS OVER TIME – AT WHAT POINT DOES THIS HAPPEN?
I actually haven’t heard this. It was my understanding that they can actually continue proliferating in fermentation power, and sometimes go too far and the bacteria fully take over and things get mouldy. You definitely want to avoid cooking your fermented foods- as that would kill off the living bacteria that lend to the health benefits.
JOEL: ARE HOMEMADE FERMENTED FOODS AS GOOD FOR ME AS THE ONES I BUY?
Even better because:
- You made them and put a lot of love into the process! You are awesome.
- You’re likely to have the bacteria cultures from your own environment which will invite your body to build strength in that environment.
- They’re really delicious and you can customize them to suit your taste and level of fermentation you love.
- Again, because you made them and that’s so awesome that it’s worth saying it twice.
JOEL: WINE IS FERMENTED. IS IT GOOD FOR ME?
It depends. Are you drinking one or two glasses in the spirit of celebration with friends? Or are you drinking the whole bottle in your third day in a row wearing the same pajamas and lying on your couch alone?
Wine in moderate amounts has some health benefits owing predominantly to the resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant. However, owing to the sugar and alcohol content, it actually works against the digestion benefits of a fermented food and is best avoided by people working to restore digestive health or rebalance immune function.
JOEL: WHEN I MAKE PICKLES OR SAUERKRAUT, I NEED TO ADD SALT. ISN’T THAT BAD FOR ME?
Hopefully you’re making your ferments with sea salt or celtic salt, which has the full spectrum of minerals. Unlike table salt which is mostly sodium (and creepy bleaches and anti-caking agents), whole, real salt has the full array of minerals which can actually, in moderate amounts, help support your adrenal glands. If salt is an issue for you due to blood pressure, it’s always best to consult directly with a nutritionist or culinary nutrition expert.
JOEL: WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE FERMENT AND WHY?
Since I can’t have dairy, the fermented cashew cheese (and I share this recipe in The UnDiet Cookbook) has been a bit of a game changer since I started making it two years ago. I also love my homebrewed kombucha. I don’t love a lot of sugar in my beverages so I ferment it extra long. You can only have small amounts of it and we sip it and use in place of booze as a cocktail mixer (what I call mocktails).