You’ve got a friend in fermented foods! Health professionals are finding that fermentation offers more than just adding to the lifespan of our foods; it could add to yours!
The ancient practice of fermentation might just be what the doctor ordered for our modern abdominal ails.
Biotechnology From 10,000 BC
Historians believe the first human civilization used fermentation. Think 6th-grade world culture class and the fertile crescent. They didn’t know why, but fermentation allowed them to preserve foods to get them through the harsh winter months.
Because our ancient ancestors didn’t understand the science behind fermentation, like so many phenomena, the gods were given credit. All hail leavening lord!
So What is the Science?
We now know that fermentation isn’t a product of divine intervention; it’s all about a chemical reaction that can be explained with science.
Fermentation is a process where yeast and bacteria break down sugars. During that process, active peptides are produced by the bacteria, and these peptides possess an array of impressive health benefits.
(Please excuse the scary, multi-syllabic medical terms. You can blame the National Library of Medicine.)
- Conjugated linoleic acids (CLA) have a blood pressure-lowering effect
- Exopolysaccharides contain prebiotic properties
- Bacteriocins show anti-microbial effects
- Sphingolipids have anti-carcinogenic and anti-microbial properties
- Bioactive peptides are anti-oxidant, anti-microbial, opioid antagonist, and anti-allergenic
So, fermented foods have the potential for anti-oxidant, anti-microbial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, and anti-atherosclerotic activity. Whew!
Putting it Simply
All that “anti” mumbo jumbo is great, but what about immediate and applicable health effects? Here are three straightforward ways fermented foods are your gut’s greatest ally.
1. It makes food easier to digest. The process of fermentation breaks down some of the natural sugars and starches, which means your gut gets a break!
2. It increases nutritional content and improves taste. Unlike canned vegetables, fermented vegetables retain all their nutrients. In fact, fermentation can add nutrients. For example, B12, which is not typically found in plant-based foods, exists after fermentation. It also creates new and more complex flavors making bland items more palatable.
3. It improves the intestinal microbiome. Fermented foods boost the number of probiotics, the beneficial bacteria in your gut. This is linked to improved immunity, and decreased inflammation, and can even aid in weight loss.
While some fermented foods are perhaps more, uh, exotic (look up surstromming or stinky tofu), others are readily available, gaining popularity, and won’t assault your senses.
The next time you head to your neighborhood supermarket, keep an eye out for these grocery store staples.
Kombucha is a fizzy sweet and sour tea drink. Its main ingredients are yeast, sugar, and black tea. Many companies are jumping on the kombucha bandwagon leading to an endless variety of flavor choices ranging from lemon ginger to peach pie.
Kombucha is also available on tap, making its presence more prevalent in bars, cafes, and restaurants. Check for availability at your favorite watering hole.
- Slightly sweet
- Added flavors can be fruity, floral, or herbaceous
Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish that usually contains a combination of vegetables, most commonly that includes cabbage and an array of spices, including garlic and ginger.
- It can be spicy when made with chili flakes
Sauerkraut comes from finely cut cabbage. The recipe may simply contain salt or can be spiced up (pun intended) by adding garlic, dill, cilantro, or even jalapenos.
- Distinct sour flavor
Kefir is made from milk by adding kefir grains, which are a combination of yeast and bacteria.
You may come across pickles, beets, onions, and other veggies that are fermented gut allies. A good practice is to look for labels that say “naturally fermented.”
Tips for easily adding fermented foods to your diet:
- Toss pickled vegetables in as salad toppings
- Add sauerkraut to sandwiches, hotdogs, or burgers
- Stir fermented veggies into tuna, chicken, or crab salad
- Add yogurt, kefir, or buttermilk to your morning smoothie
- Treat yourself to sipping a kombucha for a mid-day pick me up
Add excitement and variation to your meals, and get that gut microbiome in check while you’re at it – put some fermented foods on your shopping list!