The Powerful Benefits of Fermented Foods
Fermented foods? That doesn’t sound very appetizing, does it? The name may be off-putting, but the health and gut benefits of fermented foods cannot be denied. And while some people may find they their taste buds need a chance to grow accustomed to their flavor, remember that beer, wine and hard cider are really just fermented foods that have been left even longer.
Prior to adding whole foods to my diet, fermented foods might not have hit my plate. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kombucha, black garlic, strong aged-cheese, plain yogurt and others weren’t on the radar. I educated myself on the health benefits and added fermented foods to my diet, and so should you.
What are fermented foods?
A fermented food is one that has gone through a process called lactofermentation. During this process, natural bacteria on the foods feed on the sugars and starches in the food and create lactic acid.
The fermentation process preserves the food while creating beneficial items such as:
1. B vitamins
2. Omega-3 fatty acids
3. Myriad strains of probiotics
During the fermentation process, nutrients in the food are preserved and the food is broken down into a more digestible, gut-friendly form. The lacofermentation process creates many probiotics and this explains the connection between improved digestion and fermented foods.
Many cultures, around the world, have understood the benefits of fermentation; Germans ferment cabbage into sauerkraut, Koreans created kimichi (a fermented vegetable condiment). Today’s foods, many in a processed state, lose their natural health benefits and our bodies, and health, suffer.
Today’s diet is lacking in probiotics and enzymes found in fermented foods. The reason for this is we drink pasteurized milk rather than drinking raw, we eat pickles that are vinegar-based rather than allowing a natural fermentation process to turn cucumbers into pickles. We eat pasteurized yogurt rather than making our own. Add to that the grains we eat were safer decades ago because grains were prepared by soaking, sprouting and fermenting – this reduces the content of the grain that wasn’t as nutrient rich and makes those nutrients less harmful to our bodies.
Our grandparents and their parents ate meals full of nutrient rich foods, foods packed with natural enzymes and probiotics. We have replaced those food with lab-created, processed and sugar-laden foods.
Why should you add fermented foods to your diet?
There are myriad reasons the first being, they are delicious, nutritious and your body benefits. Let’s add in some more scientific reasons and you’ll want to add them to your diet to improve gut health.
If you’re purchasing fermented foods from your local grocery store, look for fermented foods that contain “live” organisms. Many, if not all, jarred and canned fermented foods have undergone a heat processing before they are canned and this kills most of the beneficial bacteria. Google recipes for fermented foods and experiment with making your own.
Fermented foods help you absorb your food better.
When you have the proper balance of digestive enzymes and gut bacteria, your body absorbs more of the nutrients from the foods you eat. When you pair better gut health with a healthier, whole food (rather than processed) diet, you may not need as many dietary supplements and vitamins because you will get more from the live nutrients in the foods you eat.
When you eat fermented foods and drink fermented drinks you’re adding beneficial bacteria and probiotics to your digestive system.
These probiotics help balance bacteria in your digestive system. Probiotics have been shown to reverse the symptoms of some diseases, aid in digestion, improve immunity and improve your bowel health.
Save money on your food budget.
Making your own fermented foods is not expensive. You can make your water kefir and kombucha or yogurt at home for only pennies a serving. Making your own whey will cost a few dollars. If you are aiding your gut health through your diet, again, you may need fewer supplements and vitamins and that may help with your budget.
Cut down on food waste.
If you make homemade salsa, this only lasts a few days, but fermented homemade salsa can last months. Sauerkraut, beets, pickles and other foods from your garden can be fermented and this makes them last longer and they won’t lose their vital nutrients as they would if you canned them.
Enhance your health.
When you add yogurt to your diet you may reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Kimchi, may reduce your risk of obesity and diabetes. Eating fermented foods may ease the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Individuals who suffer diarrhea from antibiotic use may have symptoms relieved by eating fermented foods. The probiotics (healthy bacteria) found in fermented foods restore good gut bacteria and can alleviate bowel issues.
Individuals who consume a diet rich in fermented foods are bathing their intestines in healthy, food-rich organisms. More than 100 trillion microorganisms live in your gut and play a major role in your overall health.
The microorganisms in your gut can either positively or negatively:
1. Influence your metabolism
2. Influence your immune system
3. Lead to or reduce your risk of cancer, obesity or diabetes
When you feed the existing microorganisms healthy foods you push them toward your having better health. Conversely, if you “starve” the healthy microorganisms and feed them processed foods and sugars you are decreasing the benefits they bring to your health. When the good bacteria in your gut outnumber the bad, you are less likely to develop certain diseases.
How much will fermented foods help you?
If you’re someone who eats whole foods (not processed and sugar laden), a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and lean proteins, you may not see as many benefits from eating fermented foods as would someone who has an unhealthy diet.
When adding fermented foods to your diet, start small. These foods can lead to bloating and gas as your stomach adjusts to the new foods you’re introducing. This bloating and gas should dissipate in a couple of weeks.
Eating even a single serving of a fermented food will lead to healthier gut bacteria. Some dieticians recommend two to three servings of fermented foods daily, but this may be a level you will need to slowly work yourself up to if you have not eaten healthily before. Listen to your body. If you add too many fermented foods, your belly may rebel – don’t cut them completely out, simply cut back on the serving sizes.
Most of us overeat; a fact borne out by the levels of obesity in the country. Don’t add a fermented food to your diet without removing something else. In other words, don’t simply add another food to your plate if you’re already not eating correct portion sizes.
Fermented foods are an acquired taste. Many people find it takes them some time to introduce fermented foods to their taste buds and have their taste buds welcome them. They have a distinct sour taste and may be off-putting at first. The more you eat them, the more they will become part of your diet.
Here are fermented foods to introduce into your diet:
1. Kefir – a cultured dairy product.
2. Tempeh – fermented soybean cakes
3. Natto – fermented soybeans
4. Kombucha – a fermented fizzy tea
5. Miso – soybeans fermented with salt and koji (a fungus)
6. Kimchi – a fermented vegetable (usually cabbage based) condiment
7. Sauerkraut – cabbage fermented with lactic acid bacteria
8. Probiotic yogurt – made from milk fermented with lactic acid bacteria
Fermented food bottom line
Adding fermented foods to your diet will not be a cure-all to what ails you. If you’re adding fermented foods to offset the processed foods and sugars you’re eating, you’re not helping your healthy gut bacteria. Eating fermented foods as part of an overall healthy meal plan and dietary supplement regiment boost beneficial bacteria and probiotics in your gut is the lifestyle to strive for.