Back to the roots – taking charge of our health with traditional fermented foods

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Rather than sit back and enjoy their twilight years, Margaret and Jim Pringle chose a more adventurous retirement plan – they set up a new business instead. Jim, 90, and Margaret, 83, launched MaKutchen Probiotics in 2013 after discovering the power of fermented foods.

The couple live a very active life and play a mean game of tennis three times a week, but it wasn’t always like that. While Jim feels fit and happy now, he knows he would be a lot healthier if he had taken control of his health when he was younger. focus went for a visit to find out more.

focus: When did you make the change to healthy eating?

Jim: I had been guilty of bad eating habits until a sequence of events gave me a wakeup call – a heart bypass about 22 years ago, the removal of around 31⁄2 metres of dead bowel and a variety of near death experiences. I was taking an assortment of pills, but when I was 82 I committed to trying fermented foods and bone broths and I also cut back on sugar and processed foods. Just six months later I noticed a dramatic change in how I felt and later was even taken off all my pills. Healthy eating is a cheaper and more delicious way to be healthy.

focus: What other things did you learn about improving gut health?

Jim: The first one is to chew your food well. We’re often in such a hurry we only chew each mouthful four times before swallowing; way below the recommended 32 times! Reducing your alcohol intake and drinking more water is also crucial. And don’t underestimate the power of fresh veggies – the healthy bacteria in our gut feed off the prebiotic fibre found in vegetables and keeps gastrointestinal health on track.

focus: From foodie to fermented foods producer – how did the shift happen?

Jim: Discovering the power of fermented vegetables, kombucha and kefir made us want to share these products with friends, practitioners and colleagues in the alternative health industry. We launched the business in 2013 and experienced such high demand we had to move production from our cottage to commercial premises a year later.

focus: Talk us through your current assortment

Jim: We produce four delicious blends of vegetables using a traditional wild lacto-fermentation process, which means nothing else is added to the vegetables except Himalayan pink salt which is totally converted to lactobacilli in the process – there is no salt left in the final product – a mother starter and a whole lot of love. A long fermentation process means all products are high in the probiotics so beneficial for your digestive system.

Our customers also love our kombucha tea kits that allow you to brew your own healthy tonic at home. Kombucha has high levels of beneficial probiotics, amino acids and enzymes making it the best support for good digestion. It helps to restore balance in the digestive system and repopulate good bacteria.

focus: We hear a lot about the health benefits of fermented products – why do so many people not include them in their diet?

Jim: Modern western foods have changed the way we eat. In earlier times people knew how to preserve vegetables for long periods without any freezers or canning machines. This was done through a natural process called lacto fermentation involving lactobacilli – the bacteria feed on the sugars and starches of the vegetables to produce lactic acid, which is a natural preservative. But people gradually lost this knowledge and began to welcome the faster food options and alternative preserving techniques available. Instead of the original, and better, beautiful way to preserve food, big industrial brands use pasteurisation to ensure a longer shelf life. Unfortunately this kills off all of the useful bacteria which would be supporting a healthy digestion system.

focus: The last 10 years or so have been enlightening for you – what is the main thing you want people to know?

Jim: Health professionals can assist in your recovery when required, and it’s important to work with them but, ultimately, it’s up to you to become fitter and make healthy choices with the food you eat.

Processing, preservatives and taste enhancers are the Goliaths we need to overcome and I want to shine the spotlight on the diseases and maladies we have gained through bad eating habits and to supply people with the products that are truly beneficial for health.

Looking back, I acknowledge that many, if not most, of my health problems were a result of what I ate. There is truth in that famous saying by Hippocrates, “Let food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food”.