The Power of Fermented Foods

Beneficial bacteria support healthy digestion, the immune system, and overall health… 

Fermented foods are a wonderful addition to your family’s diet, especially for children with autism. Fermented foods are rich in good bacteria and have many supportive functions for good digestion and overall health.

Digestive issues are common in autism spectrum disorders. Studies have shown increased prevalence of intestinal and digestive problems, including abnormal stool (diarrhea and constipation), intestinal inflammation, and reduced enzyme function.

There are many causes for these imbalances—one that can create an imbalance is the use of antibiotics. While they are often necessary to kill off bad “bugs,” these lifesaving drugs also wipe out the good bacteria in the gut, which wreaks havoc on the entire digestive system. When the good bacteria are eliminated, pathogenic organisms such as yeast and bad bacteria can take hold, creating inflammation and inhibiting digestion which can result in poor nutrient absorption and food reactions.

Beneficial bacteria, the type found in fermented foods, help colonize the digestive tract. Replenishing these beneficial bacteria, also referred to as “probiotics,” is essential. However, most people (and particularly children) don’t eat enough of the foods that supply these beneficial bacteria and help them to thrive. Even though many children consume yogurt and a few families might include sauerkraut, these are not the traditional varieties our grandparents used to make. Instead, they are typically the commercial varieties that have been pasteurized and are devoid of these good bacteria.

Cultural Considerations

We have ten times as much bacteria as we have cells in our bodies, and we cannot thrive (or even survive) without these good bacteria with which we live synergistically. We have evolved getting these good bacteria on a consistent basis.

For generations, fermentation was the only way to keep food fresh without refrigeration and during cold winters. Cultures around the world all included fermented foods, often on a daily basis, which ensured the intestinal tract would be populated with good bacteria. We also would eat vegetables straight from the ground, and get some good bacteria that way. There was no pasteurization, no antibacterial soaps, no antibiotics to strip these life-giving bacteria from our system.

Today, we do not get these good bacteria. Antibiotics wipe out the good bacteria as well as the bad. Our fear of “germs” has caused us to use antibacterial soaps and sanitizers. We rarely eat these traditionally cultured foods.

While, as a culture, we have moved away from these good fermented foods, you can still serve them to your family, even when you are dairy-free. Many products are available in the store and online, and others can be made fairly easily at home – the old fashioned way. The following are some of the more common forms of fermented foods, both non-dairy and dairy options, with suggestions for serving them to your family.

Beneficial Bacteria Functions

Good bacteria bolster health in many ways: they support digestive and elimination function, break down toxins and used substances, support immune function, and produce helpful compounds to support good health.

Digestion and elimination Good bacteria digest lactose and break down protein into amino acids. These bacteria regulate peristalsis and bowel movements. They also balance intestinal pH. Adequate levels of beneficial flora in mothers help infants establish good digestion.

Break down toxins and used substances Beneficial bacteria break down harmful substances from the environment as well as substances our bodies produce that are “spent” or no longer necessary, such as bile acids and used hormones. Good bacteria break down the bacterial toxins created from harmful bacteria. They protect us against toxins like mercury, pesticides, and radiation.

Support the immune system Good bacteria produce antibiotic and antifungal substances that prevent colonization and growth of bad bacteria and yeast/fungus. Probiotics support the immune system and increase the number of immune cells. They have anti-tumor and anti-cancer properties. Probiotics also reduce inflammation and food reactions.

Produce helpful compounds to support good health Good bacteria produce vitamins that our bodies need such as B vitamins, vitamin A, and vitamin K. Probiotics produce essential fatty acids, specifically short chain fatty acids, which support gut health. Probiotics promote healthy metabolism, and help normalize serum cholesterol and triglycerides.

Fermented Food Options

Fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, and raw sauerkraut contain live bacteria that are so important for good digestion and health.

Yogurt and Kefir: Yogurt is the most popular fermented food. Yogurt and kefir, most commonly made from dairy, are excellent sources of good bacteria. Kefir is similar to yogurt, but easier to pour and contains a
culture of good bacteria and beneficial yeast, which is particularly helpful for combating Candida (pathogenic yeast) overgrowth.

Of course, for people following a casein-free diet, dairy-based fermented foods are out. There are also non-dairy forms of yogurt and kefir. You can buy coconut yogurt and make homemade yogurt from nut and seed milk like almond milk. I do not recommend soy or soy yogurt because of their inflammatory (and other deleterious) properties. Like creamy dairy-based kefir, some people make non-dairy kefir from coconut milk.

Young coconut kefir is a great alternative for those who cannot tolerate dairy. Unlike creamy kefir made from coconut milk, young coconut kefir is made from coconut water and is a fizzy soda-like beverage. Young coconut kefir tastes pretty good; most kids like it and will drink it. You can make it yourself or buy it commercially.

Lacto-fermented vegetables. Raw sauerkraut and kim chi are both types of cultured or fermented vegetables. All cultured foods have a sour taste, a by-product of the acidic bacteria. You can really experience this with raw sauerkraut—which is very sour. While it took me a while to fully enjoy it, it grows on you and the sour flavor becomes very enjoyable. Some children love sauerkraut and its sour taste; others (especially those that don’t like vegetables) need some time to get used to it.

Kombucha is a cultured drink that is catching on very quickly among health conscious individuals. It’s delicious and kids love it. Kombucha is often mislabeled as “mushroom tea,” leading people to believe it is some sort of mushroom boiled and made into a tea. Not true. It is a brew of sweetened black or green tea that is naturally fermented with a culture of bacteria and beneficial yeast. The bacteria and yeast feed on the sugar and convert it into beneficial components (probiotics, enzymes, amino and organic acids, etc.) that aid digestion, detoxification, immune function, cellular metabolism, and more. Commercial varieties are available in health food stores by the bottle, or you can purchase a starter kit online to brew your own at home.


Eat bacteria and recover from autism?

By Jane Casey

Some families are seeing remarkable improvements through a diet focused on fermented foods. . .

The good bacteria that reside throughout the intestinal tract account for 70% of the body’s immune system. They help detoxify carcinogens, stimulate the bowels, improve the assimilation of nutrients and vitamins (digestion) and synthesize vitamins like K and a few of the B vitamins.

Good health is to a very large degree dependent on a well-functioning digestive tract. Digestion is the process of changing food into a form that the body can absorb into the blood, nourish cells, and provide energy. Of all the bodily functions, digestion has the greatest influence on our mental state.

I have 13-year-old twin boys who were diagnosed with autism at age two-and-a-half. Today they no longer have that label and I am convinced that the good bacteria saved us from a life of poor health and pain.

We began eating lacto-fermented foods several years ago when my kids were very sick. They were non-verbal, had blue circles under their eyes, big bellies and flapped their hands a lot. They went from eating three things a day (all carbs) to eating vegetables—even foods with weird textures. Today, they eat everything and don’t gag at the site of certain foods. Yippee! That was a big hurdle to climb. Thank you, fermented foods and God.

My kids’ introduction to fermented foods began with me feeding them 1/2 teaspoon of cabbage on a spoon as I chased them around the house until they conceded and ate the cabbage. The more fermented foods the boys ate, the more focused, calm and verbal they became. We continue to eat these foods today on a regular basis. For more information on fermenting and our family’s success, visit us at:


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