Fermented Foods: The Surprising Health Benefits You Need to Know

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Are you looking for a simple and delicious way to boost your health? Look no further than fermented foods! From kimchi to kefir, these tangy and savory delights offer a host of benefits for your gut, immune system, and overall well-being.

If you’ve never tried fermented foods, you may be surprised by how much you enjoy them. And if you’re already a fan, you’ll be delighted to learn about the latest research and trends in this exciting and tasty field.

In this post, we’ll explore fermented foods’ many health and other benefits and share tips for incorporating them into your diet. So grab a fork, and let’s dive in!

 

What are fermented foods?

fermented foods - cabbage

Fermented foods are foods made using bacteria to break down the natural sugars in them. This process is called Lacto-fermentation. The bacteria in fermented foods can create many good things for our bodies, like probiotics, enzymes, and B vitamins.

Some examples include sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and kombucha. These foods are not only delicious but can also help us keep healthy.

Fermented foods have been a part of human history for thousands of years. Our ancestors accidentally stumbled upon the lacto-fermentation process but quickly realized the health (and practical) benefits of preserving foods this way.

The ancient Egyptians used fermented beverages made from barley and hops, and the Chinese fermented soybeans to create tofu, miso, and soy sauce. The Greeks and Romans even used fermented dairy products like yogurt and kefir to promote digestive health.

In fact, many of the world’s most beloved fermented foods have been around for centuries.

Sauerkraut, for example, was first made by the Germans in the 16th century as a way to preserve cabbage during the winter. Kimchi, a spicy fermented cabbage dish popular in Korea, has existed for over 2,000 years.

Even the famous drink of the Vikings, mead, was a fermented beverage made from honey and water. And let’s not forget about the oldest fermented beverage of them all: beer. The ancient Sumerians and Egyptians both brewed beer over 6,000 years ago.

 

The health benefits of fermented foods according to science

1. Improved Digestion

One of the most well-known benefits of fermented foods is their ability to improve digestion.

Sour foods typically contain live bacteria cultures, also known as probiotics. The good bacteria help to populate the gut with healthy microbes, which in turn can improve digestion. How? When we eat food, our digestive system breaks it down with the help of enzymes and bacteria. A healthy balance of good bacteria in the gut can make this process more efficient.

Studies have shown that consuming fermented foods can lead to improved digestion. For example, a study published in the journal Foods found that consuming fermented foods was associated with a reduction in symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Another study published in the Journal of Nutrition Reviews found that consuming fermented dairy products improved digestion and reduced inflammation in the gut.

In addition, a review of multiple studies has found that probiotics can help treat various digestive issues, including diarrhea, constipation, and inflammatory bowel disease.

 

2. Boosted Immune System

Fermented foods have been found to boost the immune system by promoting healthy gut bacteria growth.

Probiotics – the microorganisms found in fermented foods, can enhance the body’s immune response.

These microorganisms help to fight against harmful bacteria that may enter the gut, reducing the risk of infection and illness. The probiotics in fermented foods also help stimulate the production of antibodies, proteins that help the body fight against foreign substances like bacteria and viruses.

In a study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, researchers found that consuming fermented foods like kimchi, kefir, and sauerkraut could improve the immune response in healthy individuals. The study found that participants who consumed fermented foods had higher levels of immune cells and antibodies than those who did not.

Fermented foods also contain other beneficial compounds like antioxidants, which help to reduce inflammation and support the immune system. These compounds include phenolic acids, flavonoids, and other bioactive compounds linked to improved immune function.

By including more fermented foods in your diet, you can help to support your immune system and reduce the risk of illness and infection.

 

3. Enhanced Nutrient Absorption

Fermented foods contain beneficial compounds and can help the body absorb other essential nutrients.

For instance, the lactic acid produced during fermentation can increase the bioavailability of minerals such as iron, zinc, and calcium. A study published in the International Journal of Food Science & Technology found that the fermentation of beans significantly increased the bioavailability of iron and zinc, which are essential minerals for overall health.

Additionally, fermented dairy products like yogurt and kefir contain lactic acid bacteria that produce enzymes to break down lactose, the sugar in milk.

This process helps people with lactose intolerance to digest dairy products without experiencing digestive discomfort.

In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that yogurt consumption improved lactose digestion and the overall health of individuals with lactose intolerance.

 

4. Improved Mental Health

There is growing evidence to suggest that fermented foods may also positively impact mental health.

The bacteria in fermented foods can help support the gut-brain axis, a complex relationship between the gut and the brain.

Research indicates that the gut-brain axis is crucial in regulating mood and emotions. An imbalance in the gut microbiome can lead to mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.

One study published in the journal Psychiatry Research found that participants who regularly consumed fermented foods had lower social anxiety levels.

While the exact mechanisms behind these benefits are not yet fully understood, research suggests that the probiotics and other beneficial compounds in fermented foods play a role in regulating mood and improving mental health.

 

How to Incorporate Fermented Foods into Your Diet

making kombucha tea at home

Incorporating fermented foods into your diet doesn’t have to be complicated.

Start by trying a few different types of fermented foods and experimenting with different recipes.

For example, you could add sauerkraut to a sandwich or salad or drink a glass of kefir in the morning. Using a starter culture, you could also experiment with making your own fermented foods at home.

 

How to make popular fermented foods at home

Here are some simple steps to ferment three popular foods at home:

Sauerkraut:

  • Shred a head of cabbage and mix it with 1-2 tablespoons of sea salt.
  • Massage the cabbage and salt mixture until it starts to release its liquid.
  • Pack the mixture tightly into a jar, pressing it down so the liquid covers the cabbage.
  • Cover the jar with a lid or cloth and let it ferment for 3-10 days, depending on how sour you like it.
  • Taste it regularly to see if it’s ready, and once it is, store it in the fridge.

 

Kombucha:

  • Brew a pot of black or green tea and add sugar to it.
  • Let the tea cool to room temperature, and add a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) and some starter tea to the jar.
  • Cover the jar with a cloth and let it ferment for 7-14 days, depending on how sour you like it.
  • Once ready, remove the SCOBY and store the kombucha in bottles in the fridge.

 

Kimchi:

  • Chop up cabbage, carrots, and radishes and mix them with salt, garlic, ginger, and chili flakes.
  • Pack the mixture tightly into a jar, making sure to press it down so that the liquid covers the vegetables.
  • Cover the jar with a lid or cloth and let it ferment for 1-5 days, depending on how sour you like it.
  • Once it’s ready, store it in the fridge.

Remember to use clean, sterilized jars and utensils and to keep an eye on your ferments to ensure they are fermenting properly and not going bad.

 

Conclusion

Fermented foods may not be the most glamorous or trendy, but they offer a wealth of health benefits that are well worth exploring.

Whether you’re looking to improve your digestion, support your immune system, or enhance your mental health, fermented foods are a simple and delicious way to give your body a boost!

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