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What are the benefits of lactofermentation?

by | 25 Mar 2021

Lactofermentation is a safe way to preserve plant-based foods. It is eco and budget friendly. It allows you to make the most of all your vegetables when you have a glut of them, making them last all year round, reducing food waste. And more importantly, it maximises the nutrient availability as well as enhancing the therapeutic property of the food.

Vitamin Production

When digesting the fibre and the sugars in the foods, bacteria produce many compounds that are highly beneficial. They produce many vitamins; Vitamin B5, B6, B12, niacin,Biotin, Folate and Vitamin K. Vitamin K is particularly important in the physiology of Vitamin D. Together, these are crucial for a healthy immune system.

Lectins

Bacterial fermentation also disables plant toxins known as lectins. Lectins are part of the immune system of the plant, they are poisons that are designed to deter predators. They also act as a nitrogen storage for the seed, allowing the seed to grow until roots are formed and the seed can now get its nutrition from the soil. Levels of lectins in a plant vary depending on the type of plant. Pulses are particularly high in them and food poisoning caused by poorly prepared pulses is well known. Levels also vary according to the season and how ripe the plant is. The levels will be at their lowest when the seed has just started to sprout, they then rise steadily until the next seed is ready to grow. when the seed is ready, the lectin level suddenly drops to attract predators, they eat the seed and recycle it into the ground somewhere else. The cycle can then start again. This is why it is important to eat plant seeds when they are ripe to minimise exposure to lectins. For plant foliage, the same applies, foliage will have less interfering chemicals such as Oxalic acid when the plant is young making spring an ideal time for foliage and autumn a time better for roots rather than foliage. Fermentation, soaking, sprouting and cooking all reduce lectin content.

Antimicrobials

Some plant foods contain substances called glucosinolates. All the brassicacae family is particularly rich in them. Plants from the cabbage, mustard, radish, garlic and onion family all contain lots of these compounds. Through the bacterial fermentation process, these compounds are converted into Isothiocyanates (ICT’s). ICT’s have very strong antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, anti-fungal properties. They are also known as quorum-quenchers, they prevent pathogenic bacteria from building biofilms. It is because of these ICT’s that this family of foods is excellent at fermenting. Because of the natural antimicrobial compounds, they rarely go wrong when fermented, provided you get the temperature right at the beginning of the fermentation. They also become a useful addition to any jar of vegetables you want to ferment, particularly when fermenting sweeter vegetables such as carrots and peppers. Because of the sugar, these can sometime attract a benign yeast called Kahm yeast. The yeast is not dangerous but rather unsightly.

Flavour

Bacterial also means flavour, and wild fermentation is always an adventure. You will discover new intensified flavours.

It is fun, you can eat it raw, add it to salads or cook it. The cooking process kills the bacteria but doesn’t take away any of the goodness they have produced for you.

2 Comments

  1. Les

    Lectins. I was told by a USA homeopath that I was intolerant of lectins and she put me on a low lectin diet. It was murder… ended up eating fish and rice for months. So very interested in what you have written above about lectin seeds. When you say ‘eat lectin seeds when they are ripe’, I am not sure what you mean. I understand that lectins are in bananas, courgettes, nuts, lentils, tomatoes, so are you saying it is best to eat these veg when they are very ripe?
    On another note, aren’t plants amazing that they can vary the level of lectins for growth and predation!!

    • Laurence Fourdrignier

      LECTINS, THE STORY IN MORE DETAIL:

      Lectins have 2 roles, an immune role and a food storage role.
      They are specific carbohydrate binding proteins known for their ability to agglutinate erythrocytes (red blood cells) in vitro. When ingested, they are inflammatory, can cause diarrhoea and interference with nutrient absorption, they stimulate class II HLA antigens on cells that do not normally display them and as such can be involved in auto-immune disease mechanism (Type 1 diabetes, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Coeliac’s…). They are classed as anti-nutrients.

      Different lectins have different levels of toxicity, and not all lectins are toxic. Some have indeed been researched and used to enhance the effectiveness of cancer drugs in specific cancers. They are present in most plants, especially seeds and tubers like cereals, potatoes and beans. They are common in the nightshade family of foods: potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines and peppers. Pulses are a particularly high source with castor bean having one of the deadliest type of lectin: Ricin. This one can kill humans fairly quickly.

      In the plant, the expression of lectins is up-regulated in response to biotic (living organism) or abiotic (eg wind, frost) stress. From damaged self or from pathogens (Lipopolysaccharides-LPS), the damaged cells now have exposed sugars that the lectins will bind to. This then triggers a signalling cascade that alerts and triggers the plant’s immune system.
      As the plant is growing, the levels of lectins increase steadily to a level where the plant can then fully respond and interact with its environment and self-regulate the levels until the point at which the seeds are mature. Until then, the levels of lectins will be kept high throughout to stop predators from eating the fruits or seeds before they can grow on their own. This is why eating an unripe green apple will give you tummy ache, it is unripe when the seeds inside are white.
      When the seeds are mature, they have a skin that is resistant to digestive enzymes and a reserve of lectins which acts as nitrogen storage for the plant to start growing on its own and develop roots. If the skin is broken when the seed is eaten, it can be digested by the predator, however unbroken, the seed tends to pass intact at the other end and hopefully can now find its way into the soil. It feeds on its own nitrogen/lectin reserve to sprout and grow roots.
      The plant, now devoid of its seeds, tends to concentrate levels of other anti-nutrients such as phytic acid and oxalic acid. These can also be challenging as they interfere with mineral absorption. Oxalic acid binds to calcium to form calcium oxalate, 80% of kidney stones are calcium oxalate based. People who are lacking Oxalobacter bacteria in their microbiome are more susceptible to kidney stones as the bacteria stops the oxalic acid from binding to the calcium and therefore prevents stone formation. Oxalic acid in high amount is toxic to humans as we cannot detoxify it efficiently. Green leafy vegetables tend to be a high source, the darker, the older the leaf, the higher the content, eg: kale, cabbage, spinach, dandelion. Fermenting, cooking are efficient ways to disable those anti-nutrients. Rhubarb leaf is one of the highest source of oxalic acid and is therefore not edible, even if cooked or fermented!

      Once the seed has formed its roots, it can now extract nutrition from the ground, the leaves in the sprout allow it to photosynthesise and survive, it is independent and growing. The lectin levels are now at their lowest and will start to gradually increase as the plant grows. This is the most vulnerable time for the plant because they are at their most delicious to all the predators. If you ask your slugs and snails, they will confirm. The cycle then starts again, the plant gradually increases its lectin levels for its own protection.

      Lectins have different levels of toxicity and are eaten in different amounts according to food type, season and preparation. This explains different levels of reaction from people. Ultimately lectins are meant to cause disruption and trigger the immune system. Studies have shown that food lectins get past the gut wall and can deposit themselves in distant organs. For example, wheat gliadin binds to human intestinal mucosa and glomerular capillary walls in the kidneys amongst other cells. They trigger the immune system, this is not without collateral damage, it causes inflammation and increased leakiness of the gut.
      Furthermore gluten triggers the production of Zonulin, a compound that regulates gut leakiness. Studies done by Dr Alessio Fassano have shown a clear correlation between gluten and gut leakiness.This happens for everybody. Hence it is important to eat everything in moderation.

      Gut dysbiosis where the gut lining is abnormally porous for various reason allows food particles and bacterial fragments to pass from the gut into the blood stream in excessive amounts and in a form that is potentially not fully digested. This may be a factor in how lectins travel and deposit in distant organs.
      Depending on your genetics, the potential risk of developing certain auto-immune diseases such as Coeliac’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, Ankylosing spondylitis is increased. Fassano’s studies showed that HLA DQ2/DQ8 is expressed in 99.4% of people who develop Coeliac’s disease. Gluten avoidance is currently the only treatment for Coeliac. A trial of gluten avoidance in children with IgA Nephropathy reported reduced proteinuria and immune complex levels. People who are HLA B27 are more at risk of developing Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS). A dietary approach removing starch from the diet of AS patients is showing interesting results.
      Because lectins are proteins that bind to specific carbohydrates, they can be blocked by simple sugars and oligosaccharides. These natural compounds are potentially exploitable as drugs should lectin induced diseases be identified.

      Just like the plant subjected to biotic and abiotic stresses becomes stronger, a little lectin in our diet is manageable and only makes us more resilient to our environment. A leaky gut would change that by increasing the amount of exposure and could become overwhelming. Removing all lectins forever is not the solution, treating the reasons for the leaky gut is essential.

      Plants are now grown in tunnels in cities where the light, the food, the environment is ultra-controlled to make the perfect plant. A plant that has never been stressed will not provide the same nutrition, nor the same challenges to create resilience and health ultimately.

      The body has a tolerance level for everything and can cope with a certain amount. That tolerance is determined by many factors and is highly individual, commensal bacteria being one of the major player for tolerance. Certain bacteria will allow the handling of certain toxins better. There are many examples in the animal kingdom of species that have evolved to tolerate, even thrive in a toxic environment simply by gaining the ability to disable the poisons through their own bacteria. This evolutionary symbiosis can only be created through regular exposure, it is essential to become an integral part of the environment.

      Lectins are inherent to the plant kingdom, to understand them is key to health. To avoid them fully is impossible and would leave very little available to eat indeed.
      So, in short, eat the plants in season, at the right time. Ferment, soak and sprout, cook when appropriate. Enjoy a variety in moderation. Gut permeability regulation is essential, the microbiome is its biggest ally, inflammation its biggest enemy. Foods are a major determinant of the quality of the microbiome.

      I have got carried away again! I hope that I did answer your question Les! 😉
      all the best,
      Laurence 🙂

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