Health Benefits of Fermented Foods
By Emily Weeks, RDN, LD
Fermenting has been humanity’s way of preserving food for thousands of years. Only in recent years have fermented foods become trendy—and with good reason! Fermented foods have been shown to be good for the gut, improving digestion and absorption of minerals due to the high concentration of probiotics they contain.
Foods such as yogurt, kimchi and kombucha have undergone a process called lactic acid fermentation, when bacteria or yeast feed on natural sugars to create compounds that preserve the food product. This process also creates beneficial digestive enzymes. The bacteria and enzymes pre-digest food components, making these foods easier to digest. This is why yogurt and kefir have been known to be easier to digest for those with lactose intolerance—because the lactose is being broken down by bacteria!
In addition to improving gut health and digestion, fermented foods can also boost the immune system and reduce inflammation. There are many different types of fermented foods to choose from and they’re all delicious! Have you tried any of these gut-friendly foods?
A classic probiotic food, yogurt can be a great option for increasing your probiotic intake. Make sure the label says it includes live and active cultures. Yogurt and dairy consumption has also been shown to help lower diabetes risk and keep you full longer.
A yogurt-like fermented milk drink, kefir is full of calcium and probiotics. Kefir is a delicious way to introduce beneficial bacteria to your digestive system.
A tangy fermented tea, kombucha is full of probiotics. Kombucha is typically flavored with fruit or herbs. The fermentation in kombucha can sometimes produce alcohol, anywhere from .5—3 percent. This fizzy drink tastes refreshing and can help replenish your gut bacteria!
Used as a base for many Asian soups, miso is a fermented paste made from a combination of barley, rice or soybeans. Miso adds an umami flavor to dishes. Since it’s high in probiotics, it’s a great choice. However, it is high in sodium so a little goes a long way.
Sauerkraut and Kimchi
Made from just cabbage and salt, sauerkraut is chock full of healthy probiotics. It’s Korean cousin, kimchi, is fermented cabbage flavored with spices. Both have been known to improve gut bacteria and help control blood sugar. Look for authentic fermented sauerkraut and kimchi in the refrigerated section of your grocery store.
Made from naturally fermented soybeans, tempeh is a great source of probiotics. It has a slightly nutty flavor and is high in plant-based protein. Fermented soy products may also help to improve your cholesterol!
Probiotics is a generic term for anything containing beneficial bacteria. It comes in many forms such as in kefir, miso, kombucha and more. Probiotics also come in supplement form, which may be easier and more convenient. Look for probiotic supplements with a high bacteria count (5 billion colony forming units or higher) and be sure to keep it in the fridge at home.
For those just starting out with fermented foods, choose a couple of food items above and slowly work them into your daily meals. Be sure to drink plenty of water and get regular physical activity, which will also help to heal your gut and increase your healthy bacteria!