Kimchi, pickles, sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, miso, wine, beer, aged cheeses; all of these foods are considered to be fermented foods rich in health promoting friendly bacteria.
Though the terms “fermented” and “bacteria” sound a bit distasteful, the results of this ancient preparation and preservation technique are actually delicious and good for you.
So good in fact, that adding a serving or two of fermented foods to your diet on a regular basis can increase your overall nutrition, promote the growth of friendly intestinal bacteria, aid in digestion, and support your immune function.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
The Fermentation Process
Fermentation is an ancient form of preservation and the word fermentation is derived from Latin origins, and means “to bubble” or “boil.” In simple terms, the fermentation process is a chemical process that improves the digestibility of foods by using microbes that use good bacteria called probiotics such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium to “predigest” the food.
This pre-digestion process makes the nutrients more available to the body for absorption while at the same time adding friendly bacteria to the digestive tract.
Fermented foods carry with them many health benefits, but only if you choose foods that have not been pasteurized. Many mass-produced varieties of fermented foods undergo a pasteurization process to kill disease-producing bacteria.
Unfortunately, this method of preservation also kills the beneficial bacteria and enzymes. By reading the food label you should be able to find out if the food has been pasteurized. If you can’t, contact the manufacturer.
Some of the lesser-known benefits of eating fermented foods include:
1. Improved urinary health: In addition to improving digestion and being helpful in the treatment of Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome, probiotics may also decrease urinary tract and yeast infections by reducing the amount of harmful bacteria present.
2. Improved nutrient bioavailability: When your diet is rich in fermented or predigested foods, your body is better able to absorb the vitamins and minerals that are present. More nutrients = better health.
3. Beneficial for athletes: Prolonged and intense exercise is known to leave athletes more susceptible to infection due to a temporary depression of the immune system after exercise. Rest and a balanced diet that includes fermented foods may be just the magic bullet that athletes need.
Research in athletes has shown that some strains of probiotics can be effective in reducing the risk of the common cold.
4. Improved synthesis of vitamins: Our bodies naturally produce a number of important vitamins. When you add more friendly bacteria to your GI tract by eating fermented foods, you are helping your body produce more niacin, folic acid, biotin, and vitamin B6.
5. Depression and anxiety: Some research has found that when your gut bacteria are out of balance it can affect your mood. Lactobacillus appears to tone down the stress response, which can improve anxiety and depression.
6. Decreased blood cholesterol: Preliminary research has shown that taking probiotics twice a day can decrease “bad” cholesterol. It is thought that the probiotics break apart bile salts leading to reduced cholesterol absorption in the gut.
7. Improved weight management: Studies have shown that thin people and overweight people have different types of bacteria in their GI tracts. Most likely this is due to differences in diet such as the amount of fiber and fat.
A recent study shows that taking certain probiotics could restore a beneficial balance of bacteria in the gut and help women to lose weight. Stay tuned for more research in this area and remember there are no quick fixes for weight management.
Adding Fermented Foods to Your Diet
It’s easy to add fermented foods that are rich in probiotics to your diet. Here are a few ideas to get your started:
Replace regular bread with a fresh sourdough variety, choose kefir over regular milk, use miso to marinate foods or use in soup, look for naturally fermented vegetables like kimchi, pickled cucumbers and beets or sauerkraut.
You may even want to make your own fermented foods if you are inspired to try it for yourself.