One of the single, most beneficial steps you can take to boost your overall health is to add fermented foods to your diet. These are any foods that have been ‘fermented’ or ‘cultured’ by healthy bacteria and other micro-flora. Yogurt, kimchi and sauerkraut are examples of such fermented foods.
Fermented drinks such as kefir and kombucha are an easy and good way to introduce beneficial bacteria into your digestive system and restore its delicate balance.
But what makes these foods so good for you? Here’s 7 great reasons to eat fermented foods.
1. Add healthy bacteria to your gut with fermented foods.
Society is obsessed with killing off bacteria through hand sanitizers, antibacterial soaps and over use of antibiotics. In the blur between what is ‘clean’ (common sense and good old fashioned soap and water) and ‘bacteria free’ (strong chemicals and drugs) we seem to have forgotten that not all bacteria is harmful to the body.
Unfortunately, when we kill off the bacteria, we also kill off the ‘good guys’ that are beneficial for us.
Eating a diet that includes fermented foods daily, we can restore healthy bacteria in the gut. The beneficial bacteria are those that help break down food for digestion and help the gut to properly absorb the nutrients. A poor diet, overuse of antibacterial products and antibiotics and even smoking are factors that contribute to not enough of ‘the good guys’.
2. Improve your digestion.
Struggling with IBD/IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) or colitis? Do you feel like there is a war going on in your intestines? Exhausted from the delicate dance between constipation and diarrhea? Have you been told you ‘must have a food allergy’ but can’t figure out if you really do? You could be lacking in beneficial gut bacteria. Fermented foods could be the solution for you. Start out slowly introducing fermented foods to your diet several times a week then daily the following week. Be a little patient, cut out the junk food and add more healthy foods. You will find that a diet high in fermented foods help you become more regular and relieve those digestion problems.
3. Fight illness with fermented foods.
Your gut is roughly 70% of your immune system. This is co-dependent on how well the gut can absorb nutrients AND the quality of the gut flora (healthy bacteria). A healthy gut and your immune system are inextricably linked. Eating foods that support and restore healthy bacteria has a direct effect on the immune system. Probiotics help slow or even reverse some diseases, improve gut health and aid digestion, and this means improved immunity! A healthy gut means less colds and flu (because of good immune system), relief from allergies and even asthma or other illnesses.
4. Fermented foods are big on nutrition.
Fermented foods have higher levels of enzymes for digestion and vitamins. As a consequence, you ‘get more bang’ in terms of nutrition from fermented versions of the same foods as with the cooked versions that are not fermented. Even in the western world of relative abundance and excesses, it is not uncommon to be vitamin deficient. Adding fermented foods to your meals can reverse that problem. There’s a Part 2 to this and that is…
5. Absorb nutrients from foods better.
A well balanced gut bacteria and better digestive enzymes greatly improves the function of your gut – namely absorbing the live nutrients in the foods you eat. Optimal absorption combined with healthier foods means much more nutrition for your body…and less vitamin and mineral supplementation.
6. Fermented foods are delicious!
The fermentation process adds a tart and tangy taste that most people enjoy. Do you like pickles, sourdough bread, yogurt, kimchi or sauerkraut? These are all fermented foods. Fermenting rather bland foods such as cabbage and cucumbers or milk turns them into foods with the WOW effect. Not only will you enjoy the great flavour, but you will be giving your gut, immune system and your whole body a boost with their health benefits.
7. Friendly on the budget
Do you tip out the liquid resting on top of your yogurt? Don’t – just stir it back in. This is whey, a lacto-protein that separates from curdled milk or yogurt and can be easily made at home for very little cost out of your budget. It is excellent for gut health as well. Costing only pennies per serving, water kefir and kombucha can become an inexpensive, healthy staple for you and your family. Many people find that incorporating healthier foods into their food budget can become costly, so homemade fermented foods will not only help keep your food bill reasonable but will also help you to cut down on various supplements.
The Difference Between Fermented and Pickled
There is much confusion about the difference between the two. In short, not all fermented vegetables are pickled and not all pickled vegetables are fermented. Pickling uses an acidic medium such as vinegar (itself a product of fermentation, but cannot ferment foods, only sour them). These products have no probiotic and enzymatic value.
Fermentation, however is the result of lactic acid that is produced by the fermentation process (salt and water). These vegetables are naturally pickled via the fermentation process and supply high probiotic and enzymatic value.
Of course, it would be optimal to make your own fermented vegetables, such as fermented pickles or sauerkraut. Homemade yogurt is also super easy and delicious. An online search will bring up many uncomplicated recipes for making your own.
If making your own for now is just not possible then look for fermented foods with ‘active cultures’ or ‘live cultures’ on the label. Choose fermented pickles and sauerkraut over vinegar or pasteurized versions. These products will be in the refrigerated section of the supermarket.
Here’s a short list of more fermented foods:
- sourcream or sourmilk
- unpasteurized olives
If you are not used to fermented vegetables, you may at first experience some bloating, gas or frequent bowel movements. This is because as the good bacteria do their job, they are eliminating toxins and the build up of waste material. This will be short lived and is a necessary part of the healing process. This too, shall pass (pardon the pun 😉 ). Try drinking ginger tea with or after your meals!
Here’s to your improved health with beneficial fermented foods!
Suggested video (making whey):
Suggested fermented food videos