Great Gut Blog

Are Pickles Good For Gut Health?

Posted by Brad Dennis, Ph.D. on

Are Pickles Good For Gut Health?
The answer is... it depends. Pickles are made in two ways; fermenting or pickling. Fermented pickles are, pickled pickles aren’t. What’s the difference you are surely asking yourself now? Well, pickling typically involves brining the cucumbers then preserving them in vinegar. This process discourages the growth of any probiotics which could promote gut health. On the other hand, if your pickles are made by fermentation and not pickling, the growth of the good bacteria is encouraged as part of the process. Both of these techniques are used to make your pickles less vulnerable to spoilage by “bad” bacteria.

What are Probiotics?

Probiotics are the good bacteria we add to our diets to promote gut and overall health. Almost everybody by now has heard of or taken probiotics in capsules or pills, but in terms of sheer amounts, the best source of probiotics are from fermented foods. A typical serving of a fermented food like sauerkraut could contain several bottles worth of probiotics from a pill. Fermented pickles are another easy, and yummy, way to get extra "good bacteria" into our guts without all the hassle and added expenses of probiotic supplements.

What is Fermentation?

Fermentation is a natural process humans have been using for centuries to preserve food. When we ferment foods, we encourage good bacteria to chemically break down the starches and sugars found in the fruits, dairy, or vegetables we are fermenting. The bacteria thrive and convert the starches and sugars to lactic acid. This lactic acid production is why you often see this called “lacto-fermentation.” This highly acidic environment is inhospitable to the bacteria that cause spoilage, and therefore your fermented food is preserved. It’s this starch and sugar eating, lactic acid producing, good bacteria that ingest with our food that is the natural source of probiotics that promotes great gut health.

Fermented pickles have been shown to promote:
  • Better regulation of bowel movements
  • Better calcium and mineral absorption
  • Stimulation of digestive enzymes
  • The growth of healthy gut flora
  • Better regulation of our metabolism
  • Better protection of our gut lining
  • Protection from infections

What a wonderfully yummy addition to our list of gut health superfoods!

How To Buy Probiotic Pickles

The only widely available commercial brand of fermented pickles that I am aware of is Bubbies. Bubbies is my go to brand for pickles. Fermenting crisp pickles is an art that I have yet to master, so for my pickle fix its Bubbies. They are spiced perfectly with a crisp and crunchy texture. If you don’t have Bubbies in your area, don’t worry. The artisan and craft food movement is booming right now, and you might be able to find some local or regional producer at your farmer’s market or local grocery store. The key things you want to look for on the label are terms like “naturally fermented” or “no vinegar.” If you see vinegar added anywhere on the label, then the pickles are pickled and not fermented. You also need to make sure it wasn’t heat processed, that would kill any probiotics too.

How To Ferment Probiotic Pickles At Home

The recipe I keep trying is a dill pickle recipe from Cultures For Health. The dill and garlic flavors make for that great pickle tasting pickle. These flavors are also prominent in the Bubbies kosher dills that I love. When you look at that recipe you might be shocked to see the grape, oak or horseradish leaves added to the recipe. While it might seem odd, these leaves provide tannins which are what keeps the pickle crunchy. If you aren’t familiar with Cultures For Health, take a few moments and look around their site. They are a great source for starter cultures and fermentation supplies if you decide you want to ferment at home.

Fermented pickles are a cost-effective, great tasting, gut health superfood. Adding fermented pickles into your diet is an easy way to promote great gut health. If you don’t have Bubbies available near you, I encourage you to try and make your own. While it might take a while to master that perfect crunch, fermenting at home is one of the best ways to live a gut healthy lifestyle.

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