Did you know that 70 percent of your immune system is in your gut?
You may be wondering what this has to do with fermented foods, and you’re about to find out why health experts in the Western world are now recommending fermented foods as a regular part of a healthy diet.
Back in the day—before refrigerators—people needed to find ways to preserve foods so that they would last. They found that if they added microorganisms to the foods, that the foods would last longer.
What is Fermentation?
Fermentation is a chemical transformation of organic substances into simple compounds using microorganisms, such as molds, yeasts, or bacteria. Fermented food is essentially more broken down or “predigested” by enzymes.
Fermented foods have many benefits over raw foods. Fermentation makes the food more digestible, and so, many people find that eating fermented foods improves gastrointestinal symptoms such as indigestion, bloating, gas, and cramps. In addition, fermentation adds flavor and texture to foods, many times making it more pleasant to eat. Fermentation increases the storage life of food, cuts down on waste, and replenishes beneficial intestinal microflora—otherwise known as probiotics.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are live bacteria or yeasts that are beneficial for your body—especially for your digestive system. They are often referred to as “good” bacteria.
Since your body is inundated with both “good” and “bad” bacteria, it’s important to make sure that you’re getting enough “good” bacteria in order to keep a healthy balance. The best sources of good bacteria are fermented foods.
Probiotics are incredibly beneficial to your health. Studies even show that they have anti-cancer benefits, specifically with regards to colon cancer. (1)
One of the most common foods eaten with probiotics is yogurt. If the label says Contains live and active cultures, you’ll know that it has beneficial probiotics. The most common types of probiotics are lactobacilli and bifidobacteria as well as a yeast probiotic called Saccharomyces boulardii.
The following foods are some of the best sources of probiotics out there. Among them, you’ll find some dairy products and many different types of fermented foods.
- Yogurt. Make sure to look for that label!
- Kefir. This tangy drink has a consistency that is thicker than milk and thinner than yogurt. It is an excellent source of probiotics.
- Fermented soft cheeses. Gouda is one example of a fermented soft cheese that contains probiotics.
- Sauerkraut. This popular Korean dish is made by fermenting white cabbage. Make sure to buy the unpasteurized kind to benefit from the probiotics.
- Sour pickles. If you want to eat pickles loaded with probiotics, choose the naturally fermented kind instead of the kind pickled in vinegar.
- Kimchi. Another staple Korean dish, kimchi is made by fermenting all kinds of different vegetables.
- Miso. This Japanese seasoning is a thick paste made from fermented soybeans. It is often used to make miso soup or to flavor tofu or vegetables.
- Tempeh. Also made from fermented soybeans, this Indonesian food is often used as a substitute in place of meat.
- Kombucha. Admittedly not a fermented food, this fermented effervescent beverage is an excellent source of probiotics.
RELATED: Keys to a Healthy Digestive System
Health Benefits of Fermented Foods
Fermented foods are a natural source of many nutrients, most notably probiotics, vitamin B complex, and fiber. These are just some of the incredible health benefits of fermented foods.
The process of fermentation breaks down the compounds in food, making it more digestible. They also increase digestive enzymes in our gut, allowing us to better absorb nutrients from the foods we eat.
Experts believe that eating probiotics may even help to alleviate symptoms of lactose intolerance.
Boost Immune System
We need a healthy balance of “good” bacteria to “bad” bacteria in order to thrive. Fermented foods replenish our supply of probiotics, which help to fight off bad bacteria before they get a chance to wreak havoc on our systems. Probiotics are a vital part of a strong and healthy immune system.
Increase Bioavailability of Nutrients
Fermentation creates new nutrients, such as B vitamins, folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, thiamine, and biotin.
The process also creates an increase in digestive enzymes, which help with the absorption of nutrients from the gut into the bloodstream.
Treat Liver Disease
One study showed that probiotics help to reduce parameters associated with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, including reductions in alanine aminotransferase, aspartate aminotransferase, total cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. (2)
Probiotics can help to reduce levels of inflammation throughout the body. This means that they can reduce symptoms of chronic inflammatory diseases, including allergies, arthritis, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, and many others. (3)(4)
Have Anti-Cancer Benefits
Studies show that probiotics have some serious anti-cancer effects against gastrointestinal cancers. They detoxify the gut, neutralize carcinogens, create a healthy gut environment, produce compounds that inhibit cancer cell growth, and stimulate the immune system. (5)
Quick How-To Guide for Fermenting Foods
The Western world has started waking up to the numerous health benefits of eating fermented foods. Many people have even taken to fermenting at home because it’s actually quite easy!
The first thing you need to do when fermenting food at home is to choose a fermenting vessel. Many people choose to ferment in mason jars. Then, you’ll prepare your vegetables or fruits for fermentation. You can make your very own pickles using cucumbers, or you can ferment anything from cabbage, beets, and carrots to peaches, mangos, and berries.
The next step in fermentation is to decide how you will be fermenting your food—with salt, salt and whey, or a starter culture. If you choose to ferment with a starter culture, you can easily order one online.
The water you use to ferment the food should be free from contaminants for the best-tasting food possible. Choose your water source wisely for culturing. The vegetables or fruit should be packed down and submerged so that they are not exposed to any air.
Depending on your preference, food can be fermented for any amount of time between one day and 20 days. Once it is finished culturing, the fermented food should be moved to cold storage.
Pro tip: Eat fermented foods with omega-3 fatty acid foods to increase their effectiveness! (6)
Whether you decide to buy a bottle of kombucha from the store or to ferment your own foods at home, one thing is for sure: you should be adding more fermented foods to your diet. Your gut will thank you for it, and your whole body will benefit in the long run.