Food & Drink

Don’t eat ‘dead’ pickles — fermented ones are what you need

Miami Herald File

My love of pickles began while hanging out in my father’s deli. The big wooden pickle barrel by the entrance called to me. The tasty, tangy mouth-puckering flavor was a great complement to a thick turkey on rye.

So it got me wondering what I had been eating when Dr. Andrew Weil, at the opening session of the University of Arizona Integrative Nutrition Conference, advised us not to eat dead pickles. Since my father never cleaned, heated or changed his brine-filled barrels, I feel confident his pickles were alive with healthy bacteria. Fermented and cultured food, such as kefir and yogurt, contain strains of bacteria that boost immunity, enhance nutrient absorption, aid digestion and prevent the growth of unhealthy bacteria. So what is a dead pickle?

Most pickles on the supermarket shelf have been pickled with vinegar. These pickles are not fermented and do not contain probiotic activity. They are in the words of Weil, “dead.” They are tasty but are not nourishing the gut bacteria in the same way a fermented pickle does. And each week brings a new study confirming how important it is to nourish the gut with foods that promote and maintain a healthy bacterial balance.

A recent study in Psychiatry Research looked at the impact of fermented foods on social anxiety. Young adults completed self-report measures of fermented food consumption, exercise, neuroticism and social anxiety. For subjects who scored high in neuroticism (a tendency to experience negative emotions), higher frequency of fermented food consumption was associated with fewer symptoms of social anxiety. This study builds on previous work that showed measurable and positive changes in emotional processing in the brain after consumption of probiotics. These authors suggest probiotics can be used in conjunction with traditional therapeutic approaches to social anxiety. Increased exercise also was associated with decreased social anxiety.

To make homemade fermented pickles watch Alton Brown’s video. It seems easy.

Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Follow her on Twitter @sheahrarback.