Fermented Foods and SCD


By Seth Barrows, M.S.


Fermented foods such as the homemade, 24-hour fermented yogurt have been a cornerstone of the SCDiet for many people. Fermented foods have many benefits to offer us. They are rich in vitamins and minerals, and come in a predigested fashion – making them easier to digest than the starting food. Not only that, but they are an economical source of live beneficial bacteria. However, just because fermented foods offer so many benefits, it doesn’t mean they get a free pass. They should be introduced just like any other new food in the diet, with patience and caution. The SCDiet offers us guidelines on foods that we can eat, but we are all individuals and tolerate foods to a different degree. Some people swear by the yogurt, others by sauerkraut, and others can only take probiotic supplements. Some move into the advance stages of making kefir and homemade wine. Almost any food can be fermented, so you will only be bound by your imagination and a few guidelines, when making these foods.

This article is intended to give you a brief overview of the fermented foods being used by those of us on the SCDiet. In some instances, I will give you some practical advice on making these foods based on others experience. For further information, the Healing Crow has an adjunct article called Fermentation is Fun on their website as well.


I.                     Dairy Cultures: Dairy cultures are where it all began and the majority of people do very well with the homemade 24-hour yogurt. Once used to yogurt, many advance into making kefir after being symptom free for some time. In order to be allowed on the SCDiet, cultured dairy products must have little to no lactose. The formula for yogurt has been well worked out. Kefir, on the other hand, can be a little trickier since each batch is unique. But with experience, kefir can actually be easier to make than the yogurt, without the need to keep ordering new starter for each batch.

Through keen advertising, we’ve all been told that milk is a great source of calcium. The calcium found in milk, and in general the calcium found in cultured dairy, is in the following forms: 20 percent bound to casein, 45 percent as tricalcium phosphate, and 35 percent as an ionized. The majority is found in the tricalcium phosphate form, which has demonstrated a promotional effect on lactobacillus and an adverse effect on pathogens such as salmonella. So not only is cultured dairy a good source of calcium, it also has a protective effect on beneficial microbes.

II.                   Fruit and Vegetable Cultures: If you wish to obtain the benefits of fermented foods while on the SCDiet but cannot tolerate the dairy cultures, do not despair. The SCDiet can be tailored to fit the individual, including finding the right fermented food for you. Virtually any fruit or vegetable can be fermented.
The only restrictions, placed on us following the SCDiet, are the foods we do not ingest. This means that if the diet allows a certain food to be eaten, then the fermented form should be allowed as well. A good rule of thumb is to start with foods that are well tolerated. For instance, if you are able to tolerate cabbage on the diet, then you may wish to begin fermenting cabbage into sauerkraut. Another rule of thumb is to start simple before going complex. The foods you can ferment are almost endless, and you are basically bound by your imagination. As always, please introduce each food with patience and caution to ensure you are tolerating it.

III.                 The Recipes: In this section I have ranked the various fermented foods in order of likelihood of tolerance (first is easiest, last is most difficult). If you are just starting the diet it is important to start with the foods at the beginning of this list. The last thing we want is to cause a major setback in recovery by advancing too quickly with new foods.

Well Tolerated Fermented Foods:

1)       Yogurt (Dairy Culture): Dr. Sidney Valentine Haas, in his book The Management of Celiac Disease, mentions using a low lactose form of milk protein on his diet. The homemade 24-hour fermented yogurt, as detailed in Elaine Gottschall’s Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Intestinal Management Through Diet, is the modern day version of this protein source. The yogurt is a cornerstone for many people on the SCDiet – sometimes providing rapid improvement in symptoms for celiac, IBD, IBS, autism, and some autoimmune diseases. It is very easy to make, economical, and nutritious as well. It has virtually no fiber and is soft on an inflamed gut. Technically, yogurt must have two strains of bacteria to be labeled as such: lactobacillus bulgaricus and streptococcus thermophilus. If you can find a starter with lactobacillus acidophilus, that is even better.

Typically yogurt is the most easily tolerated fermented foods allowed on the diet. A good rule of thumb to use when starting to eat the yogurt is to find out if you can tolerate cheese (SCDiet allowed). If you are able to eat cheese, then the yogurt should not be a problem, with the caveat of moving with patience and caution (like any new food on the diet) to ensure it can be tolerated. If for some reason the yogurt is not tolerated, there are several things you can try. First and foremost, try dripping the yogurt. If you own a Yogourmet maker, the kit comes with a straining bag for this purpose. You can also use a combination of strainers and/or cheesecloth to obtain the same result. Dripping the yogurt removes most of the residual lactose and galactose, and seems to help people tolerate it better. Dripped yogurt is by far the most easily tolerated fermented food, in general. If dripping the yogurt does not work, you can try using other milk sources other than cows such as goats, sheep, and even camel’s milk. Even switching between types of cow’s milk, from Holstein to Guernsey, has worked in some cases. However, if you cannot tolerate the yogurt after trying the above variations, or you do not want to consume dairy, do not despair. The SCDiet can be tailored to suit almost anyone. We’ll cover other fermented foods below.

2)       Nutmilks (Nut Culture): Many people on the SCDiet also make a variety of nut-milks. A recipe that you can expand on can be found here. Virtually any nut milk can be experimented with. If you can tolerate the nut-milk to begin with, then the fermented product should be okay too. The only caveat has to do with coconut milk. A few years ago, Dominic N. Anfiteatro, the guru of kefir, relayed a few concerns he had over fermenting coconuts due to contamination of the bacterium burkholderia cocovenenans. Therefore, I would certainly sterilize (just like the milk for yogurt) the coconut milk/water before fermenting.

3)       Cabbage Juice (Veggie Culture): Next to yogurt and nut milk yogurts, fermented cabbage juice is probably the next easiest fermented food to tolerate. There are several different ways to make it, which I will cover below.

                                                               i.      Aquaman’s Recipe for Sauerkraut: I have chosen a variation of Aquaman Lifeforce’s recipe because I believe it offers the cheapest and easiest way to make fermented cabbage juice on a continual basis. The recipe is basically the same as for traditional sauerkraut minus the salt. So a starter is necessary to ensure the kraut does not spoil. Once the brew starts going, you can strain off the juice every couple of days to drink, and add more water to the batch. I have followed this recipe and used the juice from a batch for about a month before it stopped fermenting. Once it does, you can use the remaining juice as your starter for the next batch.

You may be asking yourself, who is this Aquaman and why does he have a recipe for sauerkraut? Well, the answer is I don’t know who he is, but his website closed down a few years ago. Luckily, his original recipe has been archived for us to enjoy. You can see the original recipe at the above link, or look at my revised version below. I have edited the recipe to make it easier to follow and fully comply with the SCDiet.

Aquaman Lifeforce, Mark's Homemade Sauerkraut (revised by SRB)
To make two sun jars of Mark's Homemade Sauerkraut
Start with:
1-2 cabbages (purple or green).
Non-chlorinated water (1 to 3 cups).
2 one quart mason jars (wide mouthed is easiest).
Starter (2 cups of yogurt, or two packages of yogurt starter, or one jar of live sauerkraut).

Chop, then shred the vegetables in a food processor using a 3X3 mm shredding blade.
Mix in a large bowl and place into the jars.
Mix the starter with the non-chlorinated water as follows:
For yogurt , mix 2 cups yogurt with 3 cups water, mix well.
For yogurt starter, mix powder with 3 cups water, mix well until dissolved.
For sauerkraut starter, mix ¼ cup of sauerkraut with 3 cups water in a blender.
Pour the water/starter mixture into the jars until covered, but not completely full.
Poke the mixture to release most bubbles.
Tap off the jars to the rim with non-chlorinated water.
Screw on lids with holes and cover with cloth.
Put the jars in a warm dark place (room temp is fine).
After two to four days, you can start enjoying the juice. You may drain the juice into a container for
drinking and refill the jar with new non-chlorinated water. After a day or two you can repeat this process. In this way, you will always have lots of this tangy, energy filled, life giving, power juice.

Keep the jars clean and vegetables submersed. The batch gets stronger depending on the temperature and draining cycles. Good for two or more weeks, if it does not get eaten by then.
You can use the last bit of fermented juice as your starter for the next batch.


·         Starter Sources: there are dairy and non-dairy yogurt starters available. When I started making this, I used Dannon plain yogurt. Lucy’s Kitchen Shop sells a legal yogourmet powdered starter (but it contains dairy). You can also order live organic sauerkraut on the internet from Gold Mine Natural Food Company and use that for a starter. Please note that on the link to Aquaman’s recipe, he uses a starter that contains bifidus. In order to remain SCDiet compliant, you will want to use a starter without bifidus

·         Variations: once you get experienced with this recipe, you can add other vegetables and even herbs if you want. Also, between Aquaman’s original recipe and the edited one above, you can upscale or downscale the recipe to your needs.

·         Staining: The fermenting cabbage juice has a tendency to run over, so make sure you place the jars in an area that won’t be damaged from overflowing cabbage juice. Purple cabbages easily create dark purple stains (I have many shirts that can attest to that).

                                                              ii.      Straight Cabbage Juice: If you already own a juicer or don’t mind purchasing one, then you can also just ferment juice straight up. Since we are not using salt yet, you will still need to use a starter to prevent spoilage. Follow the instructions on your juice and obtain enough cabbage juice to fill one quart sized Mason jar ¾ full. Then add your starter (as above). Again, you can use yogurt, powered starter, or live sauerkraut as above. Let the jar ferment longer than above, maybe 3 to 5 days before consuming, longer if it does not seem tart. This method does not continually produce cabbage juice as Aquaman’s does, however some people like to use their juicers.

Moderately Tolerated Fermented Foods


1)       Traditional Sauerkraut: When Elaine Gottschall first met with Dr. Haas about her daughter with UC, surgery was looming over them. On their way home, he directed her to a local German deli that made homemade sauerkraut for her daughter to eat. Elaine has also cautioned us that Dr. Haas was using an adjunct therapy at that time, so she stresses caution when eating sauerkraut (since it is so high in fiber) when symptoms are high. A much easier source of fermented cabbage for the gut would be to consume the juice only. Please see Aquaman’s recipe above.

Sandor Katz has an excellent recipe for traditional sauerkraut on his site. Food grade buckets can be found at any home brewing store for an economical price. However, if you are just starting, you may want to start with smaller batches. Wide mouthed mason jars (1 quart or larger) are a good vessel for smaller batches and you don’t have to worry about using plastic over glass. You can speed up the process by adding a starter culture in the beginning (per the recipes above. However, a starter is not required as long as you are using salt in the recipe. Salt acts as a yeast and mold inhibitor, giving the lactobacillus an edge.

Sauerkraut is high in fiber and is not always well tolerated. The longer you let a batch ferment, the softer (or riper) the cabbage will get. Really ripe sauerkraut is quite soft. Not everyone likes the texture of mushy sauerkraut, however, very ripe sauerkraut is often tolerated much easier. So if you are just starting to make your own, you may want to let your batch ferment an extra long time to ensure an extra ripe batch.

I hope the above guidelines have been helpful in getting you started on producing homemade fermented foods. A lot of people, myself included, have had a lot of fun over the years fermenting different foods while on the SCDiet. Most dairy cultures can be dripped and made into a cheese. The homemade 24-hour yogurt, when dripped, forms a bland cheese much like dry curd cottage cheese. . As long as you proceed with patience and caution introducing each new food, it should be enjoyable for you as well.