Health Benefits of Fermented Foods

Humans have been eating fermented foods for thousands of years.  Previously they were made as a way to preserve foods and improve their flavour.  These days healthy fermented probiotic foods are eaten because we have a better understanding of the many benefits they provide.   

What are fermented foods?

Fermented foods are foods that have undergone fermentation by bacteria and yeast.  The bacteria and yeast break down food components (such as sugars and starches) into other products.  This process gives fermented foods their unique taste, smell and texture.

Examples of fermented foods include: 

        • kimchi* – fermented cabbage or radish popular in Korea
        • sauerkraut* – fermented cabbage popular in Europe
        • kefir – a fermented dairy drink
        • tempeh/natto – fermented soybeans
        • kombucha – fermented tea
        • yoghurt 
        • miso – fermented soybeans
        • olives*

   * These foods may be pickled and not fermented.

What are the benefits of fermented foods?

Regular consumption of fermented foods may help protect against high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.  And may also improve immunity, gut health and mood, reduce inflammation and help with weight loss.  The health benefits provided by fermented foods depends on the type of food, as well as the bacteria and yeast present in them.  For example, yoghurt may help with weight loss, lower blood pressure and improve bone health.  While sauerkraut is anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant.

Fermented foods are very important for gut health.  This is because most contain both gut-friendly probiotics (beneficial bacteria) and prebiotics (the foods friendly bacteria eat).  If you’d like to know more about gut health try reading this blog I previously wrote on gut health.  Also, fermenting foods increases their nutritional content and makes the nutrients in the foods easier to absorb.  The nutrients that fermentation may increase include vitamin B2, folate, B12, vitamin K, melatonin and GABA.  Another important role of fermentation is that it breaks down sugars and starches found in foods.  Consequently, this may reduce abdominal bloating and gas.   

How can I eat more healthy fermented probiotic foods?

Regularly eating a variety of fermented foods may improve your health.  However, to reduce the side effects of flatulence and bloating, you should slowly add fermented foods to your diet.  Start with 1 tablespoon of kimchi/sauerkraut or 1/4 cup of fermented drink and build up from there.

When looking for fermented foods at the shop head straight for the fridge section.  Check the label for words like ‘fermented’, ‘live cultures’ or ‘source of probiotics’.  Be cautious of fermented foods stored at room temperature, these foods are commonly pickled.  Pickled foods are not true fermented foods, and therefore, do not contain high levels of beneficial probiotics.  Great place to source fermented foods from include, farmers markets, fruit shops and health foods stores.

Fermented foods are cheap and easy to make at home.  Try fermenting foods such as cabbage, beetroot, radish or carrots.  Likewise, kombucha is another easy option to make at home.  Be careful when making your own fermented foods.  Closely follow the recipe and sterilise your equipment properly, this helps avoid food spoilage.  If you’d like to learn more about fermenting try joining a workshop, there are plenty of options!  Or check out these websites The Fermentary, Gutsy Ferments or Fermenting Australia for more information.

Tips for adding healthy fermented probiotic foods to your diet:

  • Add sauerkraut or kimchi to your salad
  • Make soup using miso as a base
  • Add sauerkraut or kimchi to your scrambled eggs
  • Add sauerkraut or kimchi to your sandwich
  • Use tempeh instead of tofu
  • Have yoghurt, fruit and a small handful of nuts as a snack
  • Put a dollop of yoghurt on your breakfast cereal
  • Put yoghurt or kefir in your smoothie
  • Drink 150mL of kombucha each day

As awesome as fermented foods are, they aren’t for everyone.  If eating fermented foods causes diarrhoea, nausea, headaches, migraines, runny nose or hives you should avoid them, and speak to your health practitioner.

Although there is some debate about the level of probiotics found in fermented foods, especially those commercially made, there is no doubt that regular consumption of these foods is beneficial for your health.  So, please 

If you are concerned about your gut health I am available for consultation in my clinic or online to help you understand what is happening in your gut and to help you feel healthy and full of life.  Find out more information here, email at annie@anniebarrettnaturopath.com.au or call on 0416213055

Thanks!  Take care.  Annie

 

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