5 Fermented Foods Everyone Should Eat
Fermented foods are full of probiotics or good bacteria. Numerous research studies have demonstrated how the ideal balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut forms the foundation for physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
Fermented foods are foods that have been through a process of lacto fermentation in which natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food creating lactic acid. This process preserves the food, and creates beneficial enzymes, b-vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, and various strains of probiotics.
Fermentation is a metabolic process in which microorganisms such as bacteria, yeast or fungi convert organic compounds – usually carbohydrates such as sugars and starch – into alcohol or acids.
For example, yeast converts sugars into alcohol, lactobacilli bacteria turn sugars and starch into lactic acid and acetobacter bacteria turn alcohol into acetic acid (vinegar).
What does fermentation do?
- Preserves food In the days before refrigeration, industrial food processing and global transport, this was – and still is in many cultures – an important means of extending the shelf life of foods, which are preserved using lactic acid, alcohol and acetic acid. Examples include pickled vegetables, cheese, salami and wine.
- Adds microbes to the gut Many people eat these foods to get a supply of live “good” bacteria. Examples include yoghurt, sauerkraut, Kimchi, kombucha tea and kefir.
- Increases micro nutrients Some bacteria can increase levels of vitamins in food, especially B vitamins.
- Makes food more digestible The lactose in milk is broken down into simpler sugars – glucose and galactose – which, if you are lactose intolerant, can make products such as yoghurt and cheese potentially easier to digest. Also, many microbes produce enzymes that break down cellulose in plant foods, which humans can’t digest, into sugars.
- Changes taste It can make food pleasantly sour or tangy, and develops flavour. Even vanilla and chocolate owe their characteristic flavours to fermentation.
- Eliminates anti-nutrients Natural or synthetic compounds that interfere with the absorption of nutrients, called anti-nutrients, can be destroyed by fermentation. Phytic acid, for example, which is found in legumes and seeds, binds minerals such as iron and zinc, reducing their absorption when eaten. However, phytic acid can be broken down during fermentation, so the minerals become available. Miso and tempeh are examples of fermented legumes.
- Decreases cooking times Foods that are tough, difficult to digest or unpalatable raw can be improved by fermentation, reducing the need for cooking and fuel.
- Produces carbon dioxide Fermented yeast produces carbon dioxide (an alcohol). Carbon dioxide can be used for leavening bread and carbonating drinks such as beer and champagne.
The best way to boost your gut bacteria is to consume nutrient- and Probiotic-rich foods.
Here are just a few reasons why you should add them to your diet:
Fermented foods improve digestion. Fermenting our foods is sort of like pre-digesting them (sorry about the mental image!). That makes them easier to digest, and easier for our bodies to absorb their nutrients.
Fermentation actually makes foods more nutritious. On top of the fact that we can more easily absorb their nutrients, studies have shown that traditionally fermented dairy products actually provide more vitamins than conventional or even raw milk. Veggies, fruits, beans and grains also become more nutritious after they ferment.
Fermentation also helps get rid of anti-nutrients. Fermentation helps eliminate phytic acid, an anti-nutrient that hangs out in grains, beans, seeds and nuts. Reducing the phytic acid makes it easier for our guts to absorb minerals.
Sauerkraut is finely cut fermented cabbage that is packed with vitamins C, B and K. It also contains a ton of probiotics. If you’re buying sauerkraut at the store instead of making your own, make sure to choose unpasteurized brands (they should be in the refrigerator aisle.) Pasteurization kills all the helpful bacteria.
Did you know the average South Korean eats around 40 pounds of Kimchi every year? Kimchi is a fermented Korean side dish that’s usually made with cabbage, radish or cucumber. Its flavor packed, filled with vitamin C and carotene, and can be eaten on its own or incorporated into a ton of different dishes.
Coconut yogurt is packed with probiotics, and since it’s non-dairy, it’s a lot easier to digest than conventional yogurt. Coconut is antiviral, anti-fungal and antibacterial, plus it’s high in electrolytes, calcium, potassium and magnesium.
Pickles are filled with active bacterial cultures and enzymes. Like sauerkraut, make sure you purchase lacto-fermented pickles from the refrigerator section, not the kind made with vinegar — they may taste similar, but they don’t have the same health benefits. And remember to drink your pickle juice!
Consuming traditionally fermented eatables provide you a number of benefits, including:
- Important nutrients.Some fermented foods are outstanding sources of essential nutrients such as vitamin K2, which help prevent arterial plaque build-up and heart disease. For instance, cheese curd is an excellent source of both probiotics and vitamin K2. Fermented food is also a potent producer of many B vitamins.
- Optimizing your immune system.An estimated 80 percent of your immune system is actually located in your gut. Probiotics play a crucial role in the development and operation of the mucosal immune system in your digestive tract, and aid in the production of antibodies to pathogens. This makes a healthy gut a major factor in maintaining optimal health, as a robust immune system is your top defence system against all disease.
- The beneficial bacteria in these foods are highly potent detoxifiers, capable of drawing out a wide range of toxins and heavy metals.
- Cost-effectiveness. Adding a small amount of fermented food to each meal will give you the biggest bang for your buck. Why? Because they can contain 100 times more probiotics than a supplement!
- Natural variety of micro flora. As long as you vary the fermented and cultured foods you eat, you’ll get a much wider variety of beneficial bacteria than you could ever get from a supplement.
If we want to achieve optimal health, we have to tend to our gut health. And because of the close link between the intestinal bacteria and our overall health, probiotics are a staple in most great wellness regimes.
Most probiotics contain beneficial bacteria, which bolster not just our digestion but our immune health, mental health, and metabolism as well.