What are the health benefits of fermented foods?

These days, fermented foods and beverages are a hot health topic. They are becoming popular in many people’s diets. No wonder, you can now find kombucha in bars, sourdough bread in cafes, and foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi in supermarkets.

But how good are fermented foods to our health and should we include them in our diet? These and more are what we are going to focus on in this article.

So, what are fermented foods?

Before we learn what fermented foods are, let’s first look at fermentation as a process. Fermentation is the chemical breakdown of compounds, such as a carbohydrate or sugar to form carbon dioxide, and organic acid by bacteria, yeasts, or other microorganisms.

It is this process of “fermentation” that is used to produce the world’s favorite foods and beverages; such as wine, beer, yogurt, aged cheeses, chocolate, and coffee.

Our ancestors used fermentation to improve flavor, nutritional value, eliminate food toxins and prolong the shelf life of grains, vegetables, and milk that were seasonal.

Therefore, when we talk of fermented foods or fermenting food means letting the sugars and carbs contained in the food interact with bacteria, yeast, and other microbes to change its chemical structure.

The proponents of fermentation argued that the microorganisms promote a healthy gut microbiome, which improves digestion, help irritable bowel disease, boost immunity, cognitive function, and kill harmful microbes, all of which improve overall health.

How do you ferment food at home? 

The methods of fermenting food are many. What you need to do is to find out which method is suitable for a specific food. This is the taste, texture and nutritional value will vary depending on the method of fermenting used.

Let us look at how to ferment vegetables using the simple steps below.

  • Prepare whole or chopped vegetables which you intend to ferment. But vegetables may taste better when fermented whole.
  • Prepare brine or use starter brine that already contains a culture.
  • Completely submerge the vegetables in a glass jar containing brine and cover tightly. Submerging the vegetables fully prevents molding.
  • Leave the vegetables to ferment at room temperature for several days before moving them to the refrigerator. The vegetables now ready to eat.

What are examples of the best-fermented foods? 

Here is a list of the best-fermented foods to include in your diet:

1. Kefir

The term kefir originated from Russia and Turkey and means “feeling good.” It’s made by adding kefir grains that contain a combination of yeast and bacteria, to cow, goat, or sheep’s milk, resulting in a thick and tangy beverage that tastes like yogurt.

Research shows that Kefir helps digestion, and it is a good source of vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium, vitamin K2, biotin, folate, enzymes, and probiotics.

2. Kombucha

This is a fizzy, tart, and flavourful tea fermented from green or black tea and sugar using a colony of bacteria and yeast that initiates the fermentation process.

The bacteria in kombucha produce antioxidants that fight off free radicals, which according to studies play a role in fighting illnesses such as cancer and chronic inflammation. Learn more about the health benefits of kombucha from our article here.

3. Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut translates to “sour cabbage” in German. It is one of the traditional foods in German, Russian and Chinese cuisine.

Sauerkraut comes from fermented green or red cabbage. It is a good source of fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, and B vitamins. It’s also rich in minerals such as iron, copper, calcium, sodium, manganese, and magnesium.

4. Miso

For over 2500 years, Miso has been a staple in Chinese and Japanese diets. Miso is made by fermenting soybeans, barley, or brown rice with a type of fungus called koji.

5. Tempeh

Tempeh is a good source of both probiotics and protein. This food is made by fermenting soybeans pressed into a compact cake with a tempeh starter. The product is similar to tofu though not as spongy and grainier.

6. Natto

Natto is a traditional probiotic food in Japanese cuisine. Like tempeh, natto comes from fermented soybeans, resulting in a strong smell, deep flavor, and a sticky, slippery texture. It is a good source of fiber that supports digestive health, and rich in vitamin K which is important in the metabolism of calcium for bone health.

7. Kimchi

Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish. It is made by fermenting vegetables such as cabbage and radishes plus ginger, garlic and pepper, and other seasonings. Kimchi has several health benefits which include lowering cholesterol and reducing insulin resistance.

8. Raw Cheese

Raw cheese is made by fermentation of goat milk, and sheep milk that hasn’t been pasteurized. This milk is particularly high in probiotics, including thermophilous, and acidophilus.

When you go to a grocery store for raw cheese, read the ingredient label to make sure you have real fermented or aged cheeses. Look for raw, non-pasteurized cheese that has been aged for six months and more

9. Yogurt

fermented foods

Yogurt is one of the most consumed fermented dairy products. It is made by fermenting milk with lactic acid bacteria. Milk from cows, goats, and sheep that have been grass-fed are most preferred. Yogurt is a good source of nutrients like calcium, potassium, phosphorus, riboflavin, and vitamin B1. Wondering how to make yogurt at home? Get the recipe here.

So how do you add fermented foods to your diet?

If you have not used fermented foods before, your gut needs some time to adjust to the presence of new bacteria. Start small, with half a cup per day, and increase gradually. Since different fermented foods offer different beneficial bacteria, eating a variety will benefit your diet.

Fermented foods are widely available, with foods like kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, and kimchi food stores, supermarkets.

Below are some of the ways you can add fermented foods to your diet:

  • You can add kimchi to hot dogs or burgers
  • Mix green salads with fermented veggies
  • Add kimchi to star-fries and rice bowls
  • You can also add fermented veggies to sauces like salmon and tuna
  • Add fermented miso to tofu soup
  • Kimchi or sauerkraut can go well with grilled cheese sandwiches

What are the health benefits of fermented foods? 

  1. To begin with, fermented foods have long been used to improve the shelf life of certain foods to preserve their nutritional value.
  2. Fermented foods are packed with probiotics (good bacteria) which help to improve gut health. They can help to treat candida gut as well as protect the intestines against pathogenic factors, such as salmonella and E.coli.
  3. Fermentation enhances the nutrient content of foods. It makes minerals in cultured foods more readily available. This process produces vitamins and minerals that are important to the body.
  4. Consumption of fermented foods reduces social anxiety. The research by the University Of Maryland School Of Social Work showed that there is a link between social anxiety disorder and gut health. According to the research, a big part of our gut-brain communication is influenced by the nerves in the gut
  5. Fermented foods enhance bone health in people with osteoporosis (weak and porous bones). One study showed that intake of yogurt can improve bone mineral density and physical function in older people. This is a tribute to the presence of minerals such as calcium, potassium, phosphorus, riboflavin, and vitamin B12
  6. Fermented foods reduce inflammation. Inflammation is said to contribute to the development of chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer. In one study, it was established that consuming 6.7 ounces (200 milliliters) of kefir every day for 6 weeks decreased markers of inflammation.
  7. The probiotics in fermented foods may help to reduce blood pressure and help to lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol hence reducing the risk of heart disease.
  8. Fermented foods help in weight management. Some studies have linked certain probiotic strains to weight loss and reduced belly fat.

Should I eat fermented food every day? 

Well, according to the health benefits we have looked at above, eating fermented food daily will definitely strengthen your immunity, help you to manage weight, and help several digestive issues such as bloating, irritable bowel syndrome, and constipation.

Are fermented foods better than probiotics? 

Eating fermented food is much better than just probiotics. Getting probiotics from fermented food is like hitting two birds with one stone.

Apart from the probiotics you get from fermented food, you also get additional nutrients from the food. Although probiotics produce some micronutrients, they also increase the availability of these micronutrients as they initiate the fermentation process of the foods.

Are fermented foods bad for you? / The dangers of fermented foods? 

Unless the food is fermented incorrectly, or contaminated when preparing your meal, you should be safe eating this type of food. However, when consumed in large quantities, fermented food can lead to an increase in gas and bloating. This happens due to excess gas produced after probiotics killing the harmful gut bacteria and fungi.

How long does fermented food last? 

Many people wonder how long-fermented vegetables last in the basement or how long they should keep kombucha in the fridge.  When foods are fermented and stored properly in a dark, cool place, they can last for anywhere between 4 and 18 months.

Bottom line

Fermentation is simply the breakdown of the sugars or carbs in the food in the presence of a bacteria culture. This among many benefits can increase the shelf life of the foods. The probiotics or good bacteria in fermented foods have been linked to improved digestion, cognitive function, boosting immunity, weight management, killing harmful microbes, and more.

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