If you’re like me, you’re always on the lookout for anything you can add to your dog’s diet to make him healthier.
There are all sorts of prebiotic and probiotic products being marketed for pets, but what if you could feed a whole food that contained natural probiotics, instead of using little capsules and packages? That’s where fermented foods come into play – these amazing foods have many benefits!
Roxanne Stone gave a talk on fermented foods during Raw Roundup 2015. She holds a master’s degree in Nutrition and Food Science and worked for more than 12 years in the human food industry before jumping to the pet food industry in 2010. Today, she works with Answers Pet Food and has been a consultant with them for five years.
Read on to learn how and why she suggests that you add fermented foods into your dog’s menu.
What are fermented foods?
This is where chemistry meets nutrition. Fermentation occurs as a result of oxidation causing a “release of energy to produce organic acids, gases, and/or alcohol,” or as Stone puts it, the food is already slightly pre-digested and broken down before your dog eats it. This means less work for your dog to digest his food.
There are two main types of fermentation: alcohol fermentation, yielding wine and beer, and lactic acid fermentation, which makes dairy and vegetable products.
These are cultured by using bacteria, yeast, molds, or a combination of the three. Don’t worry though … these aren’t the bad bacteria, yeast and molds that come to mind! These are beneficial to the body and ferment, usually with lactose, which is the sugar that is found in milk. These foods are alive and actively fermenting when they’re eaten – not the freeze dried, inactive versions found in supplements.
Where it began . . .
Fermented foods have been around for thousands of years, dating all the way back to 7000 BC when the Babylonians were the first to ferment beer. After that, humans learned to preserve meats and fish and eventually make butter and cheeses using fermentation.
Since the 1800s, we’ve used pasteurization as a widespread means of preservation, but fermentation is a much older practice and, more importantly, it doesn’t harm the enzymes and probiotics of the food like pasteurization does.
Don’t cry over sour milk . . .
In more modern times, some of the focus has turned to the health benefits fermented foods have to offer. For instance, Iyla Mechnikov was a Russian zoologist who lived in the late 1800s. He made several great discoveries about immunity, but he was also one of the first to make the connection between fermented foods and longevity.
His theory was that aging was caused by too much bad bacteria in the gut flora and that fermented foods could help combat senility by restoring balance. Much of his research was influenced by Bulgarian peasants who had extraordinary life spans, and their diets, which regularly included sour milk. Stone even mentions two Bulgarian peasants he studied: Baba Vasilka and her son Tudor, aged 126 and 101 years old! Mechnikov even began to drink sour milk daily himself and noted his own health improvements. After his death, others were inspired to continue his research and that led to a lot of our knowledge today.
Nutrition & Psychological Disorders
She’s studied how reintroducing balance to the gut’s flora using fermented foods impacts many different diseases – even curing her own son of autism!
She initially began as a neurosurgeon, but pursued a secondary degree in human nutrition as she began to learn more about the link between imbalanced gut flora and a plethora of disorders. The entire focus of her approach is to use nutrition – particularly fermented foods and probiotics – to help, or even reverse, many disorders. She has extensively studied the effect of nutrition on psychological disorders and has shown the connection between good gut and brain function.
Why The Balance In Your Dog’s Gut Is So Important
Look at it this way: 70% of the immune system is based in the gut. If your dog’s gut flora is compromised, that means that 70% of his immune system is compromised too. Gut bacteria outnumber body cells by 10 to 1 so it’s vital that a healthy dog’s good bacteria outweigh the bad.
There are many things that can wreak havoc on your dog’s gut and the overuse of antibiotics is a huge issue.
Even if you avoid using antibiotics on your dog, it’s in the meats he eats. Unless you’re very scrupulous in sourcing meats that are antibiotic-free, you’re still exposing him to the lingering effects of antibiotics given to livestock. Then factor in how many foods are now genetically modified (GMO), processed and pumped full of synthetic preservatives – all things that can be damaging to gut flora.
Stone mentions the detrimental effect of chlorinated and fluoridated water, environmental pesticides and chemicals. Every year, our agricultural industry sprays about 185 million pounds of pesticides on crops.
It’s no wonder that our dogs need help maintaining a healthy balance.
How We Can Help The Good Flora Outnumber The Bad
Probiotics will compete with the bad bacteria for nutrients in the gut. There are also several strains that produce bacteriocins, which kill pathogenic bacteria, and change the pH of foods to create an unwelcoming environment for the pathogens. However, the goal should not be to completely eradicate the pathogenic bacteria.
Ideally, Stone says, the gut balance should be about 85% good bacteria to 15% bad bacteria. This is because the 15% will expose your dog to different pathogens and viruses, allowing him to build up resistance to them and further boost the immune system.
Supplements vs Whole Foods
While there are many different supplements available, Stone recommends using fermented foods instead.
Whole food is always better than supplements, and fermented foods are no exception. Here, the cultures are alive and thriving on the nutrition offered by the food, and are more likely to survive the stomach and arrive at the intestines intact and ready to colonize. Supplements on the other hand, are less effective because they are freeze-dried and have to become active in the body, then survive passage through the stomach before colonizing in the gut.
However, she notes that if you have to use powdered probiotics, you can mix them with the food, then let it sit out for about an hour before feeding, so the probiotics have a chance to activate.
Different options for fermented foods include fish sauce, kombucha, root vegetables, whey, and dairy products like kefir, yogurt, buttermilk, and cheese. Dairy is the most common, but you should always try to use whole, unpasteurized milk products if possible.
Also, while meats and fish may be your first choice in feeding dog, be careful to choose a good source. As Stone explains, synthetic nitrates and nitrites are commonly used as curing agents and should be avoided, but you can find some products that use celery juice, which is a natural source, instead of the synthetic alternatives.
As with any food addition, go slowly and introduce small amounts at a time. Stone says that you really can’t overdose on fermented foods, but that you should still add them gradually to avoid a “die off.” This happens when large numbers of bad bacteria die suddenly and the body has to rid itself of the toxins. It isn’t a bad thing, but when this happens all at once, it can cause some detoxification symptoms. Things may briefly get worse before they get better – especially if your dog is experiencing immune or digestive issues, or has always been on a kibble diet.
A Healthier Gut Means A Healthier Pet
You may think that fermented foods will only help your dog if he has some sort of digestive issue, but there are so many more issues it can help with. Because so much of the immune system is located in the gut, you can help a dog that is immunocompromised by providing fermented foods on a daily basis.
Stone provides a list of the health problems that can be helped with the addition of fermented foods to rebalance the gut:
- IBS (colitis, Crohn’s disease)
- Leaky gut
- Heliobacter pylori (stomach ulcers)
- Lactose intolerance
- Tooth decay and gum disease
- Atopic dermatitis
- Yeast infections
- Post-surgical infections (like MRSA)
When building up your dog’s gut using fermented foods and probiotics, it’s important to remember that this is an ongoing process, you need to use them regularly. The goal is to create colonies in your dog’s intestines and this is an ongoing process.
Also, remember that the stomach is not an easy environment and it’s hard for probiotics to survive into the intestines, so by providing fermented foods regularly, you’re giving them a better chance of reaching the gut where they can colonize. Probiotics in the form of fermented food are already active, so they are more likely to survive than the supplement alternatives.
Consistency is key here, so be sure to provide a small amount of fermented foods on a regular or even daily basis and be ready to see your dog thrive!
This information is taken from Roxanne Stone’s presentation of Fermented Foods during the 2015 Raw Roundup.