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The Health Benefits of Fermented Foods

An assortment of fermented foods.

Table of Contents

Exploring the Benefits of Fermented Foods

In the past people primarily used fermentation to preserve foods and improve flavor. In recent years, there has been a resurgence of attention being paid to the age-old tradition of fermenting foods.

From the tangy bite of kimchi, sauerkraut and blue-cheese, to probiotic-rich yogurts and kefir, and the refreshing fizz of kombucha, fermented foods are making a comeback in modern diets. Not only do they offer tantalizing flavors and textures, incorporating fermented foods into your diet can enhance digestive health, boosting your immunity as well as a plethora of health benefits backed by science. Here are some key reasons why you should consider adding fermented foods to your meals.

What Exactly Are Fermented Foods?

Fermentation is a time-honored, natural process in which microorganisms, such as bacteria, yeast, or fungi, break down carbohydrates  – such as starch and sugar – into alcohol or acids. This process not only helps preserve the food, but the alcohol or acids enhance its nutritional profile and give fermented foods their distinct zest and tartness.

During fermentation, these bacteria synthesize vitamins, minerals and beneficial bacteria, known as probiotics, which have been shown to improve immune function as well as digestive and heart health. These bacteria also produce compounds known as biologically active peptides, which are also well known for their health benefits.

ANCIENT PRESERVATION:
Fermentation is a time-honored, natural process in which microorganisms, such as bacteria, yeast, or fungi, break down carbohydrates - such as starch and sugar - into alcohol or acids. This process not only helps preserve the food, but the alcohol or acids enhance its nutritional profile and give fermented foods their distinct zest and tartness.

The Benefits of Eating Fermented Foods

The microorganisms contributing to the fermentation process have been associated with many health benefits and have recently become the focus of much attention – in fact, fermented foods are often more nutritious than their unfermented counterpart. They provide many health benefits such as antioxidants, anti-microbial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic and anti-atherosclerotic activity.

Here are some of the key health benefits: 

  • Improved Digestive Health: Your body is full of trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi. They are collectively known as the microbiome, and those in your gut are extremely important. Fermentation predigests food, breaking down complex nutrients into more easily digestible forms, which can be beneficial for individuals with digestive sensitivities. The probiotics produced during fermentation can help restore the balance of good bacteria in your gut and may improve your digestive health – including lessening the severity of diarrhea, bloating, gas, constipation, and promoting regularity.
  • Immune System Support: Your gut microbiome has a significant impact on your immune system. Due to their high probiotic content, fermented foods give your immune system a boost.
  • Increased Nutrient Absorption: Fermentation can increase the bioavailability of certain nutrients, such as vitamins B and K, minerals like calcium and magnesium, and antioxidant compounds making them more accessible to the body. Improved nutrient absorption ensures your body receives the full spectrum of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants from your diet.
  • Reduced Anti-Nutrients: Fermentation can reduce and neutralize the anti-nutrients found in some foods, such as phytic acid, which can prevent the absorption of minerals like iron and zinc.
  • Preserves Food: Fermentation is a natural method of food preservation that has been used for centuries to extend the shelf life of perishable food items. Through fermentation you can preserve the freshness and nutritional value of vegetables, dairy products, and beverages without the need for artificial additives or preservatives.
  • Enhanced Flavor: Fermented foods add depth, complexity, and acidity to dishes, enhancing their flavor and culinary appeal.
  • Improved Skin Health: Fermented foods may also help reduce inflammation and promote healthier skin by balancing your gut microbiome.
  • Oral Health: Just as good bacteria can be beneficial to your digestive system, it boosts the biome inside your mouth and promote better oral health, including less plaque, tartar buildup, and can also help stop cavities and gum disease. 

Health Benefits Backed by Science

  • Digestive Health: Fermented foods support gut health by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, which can help alleviate symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs) like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis.
  • Boosted Immune System: A healthy gut microbiome is closely linked to a strong immune system. Regular consumption of fermented foods help reduce the incidence and severity of infections, allergies and autoimmune diseases by modulating immune responses. Additionally, many fermented foods are rich in vitamin C, iron, and zinc – all of which are proven to contribute to a stronger immune system and may also help you recover faster when you’re sick.
  • Mental Health & Well-being: Emerging research suggests a strong connection between the gut and the brain, known as the gut-brain axis. Consuming probiotic-rich foods may positively influence mood, cognition, and mental well-being, potentially reducing the risk of anxiety, stress and depression.
  • Metabolic Health/Weight Management: Studies suggest that the consumption of fermented foods may aid in weight management and metabolic health, and are associated with a lower risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome. The probiotics found in fermented foods may help regulate appetite, reduce inflammation, and support a healthy metabolism, contributing to better weight control, additionally having a healthy biome can help to prevent or manage obesity.
  • Heart Health: Some fermented foods contain bioactive peptides that may help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes.

HEALTH BENEFITS:
Fermented foods have been associated with positive health effects including improved digestive health, stronger immunity, and increased availability of beneficial nutrients.

MIGRAINE WARNING:
Fermentation increases the level of tyramine, a natural substance found in certain foods and a well-known migraine trigger. So if you suffer from migraines you may want to limit your intake of these foods.

Incorporating Fermented Foods Into Your Diet

  • Diversify Your Choices: Explore a variety of fermented foods and flavors to enjoy different flavors and textures while benefiting from the nutritional benefits.
  • Start Slow: If you’re new to fermented foods, introduce them gradually to your diet to allow your digestive system time to adjust to the increased probiotic intake.
  • DIY Fermentation: Consider making your own fermented foods at home, such as kimchi or kombucha. It’s a cost-effective and rewarding way to incorporate these foods into your diet.
  • Pairing: Add fermented foods to a balanced diet, rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats for optimal nutritional and health benefits.

Safety and Side Effects

Fermented foods are considered safe, however, some individuals may experience side effects due to the high probiotic content. The most common side effects are temporary increase in gas and bloating. Fermented products may also contain high levels of added sugar, salt, and fat – so read nutrition labels to ensure you’re making a healthy choice.

SAFETY TIPS:
When fermenting at home, follow recipes closely for safety purposes. Incorrect temperatures, fermentation times, or unsterile equipment can cause the food to spoil, making it unsafe to eat.

POSSIBLE SIDE EFFECTS:
Fermented foods may cause some initial side effects, such as gas and bloating. If fermenting at home, always follow recipes to avoid spoilage and read nutrition labels when consuming store-bought products.

Common Fermented Foods

  • Kefir: A fermented dairy product that may improve lactose digestion, decrease inflammation, and boost bone health.
  • Kimchi: A Korean staple, made from fermented vegetables such as cabbage and radishes. Studies have found that it may help reduce insulin resistance and cholesterol levels.
  • Kombucha: A fermented tea beverage. Studies suggest that it could help protect the liver, decrease blood sugar, and lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
  • Miso: A Japanese seasoning made from fermented soybeans. It has been associated with improved heart health and a reduced risk of certain cancers.
  • Natto: A Japanese fermented soybean product. Its high fiber content may promote bowel regularity and help prevent bone loss. It also produces an enzyme that may reduce blood pressure and dissolve blood clots.
  • Probiotic yogurt: Made from fermented mil, probiotic yogurt is high in nutrients and may help reduce body weight, lower blood pressure, and improve bone health.
  • Sauerkraut: Made from fermented shredded cabbage, sauerkraut is high in antioxidants that are important for eye health, and it may support digestive health.
  • Tempeh: An Indonesian food made from fermented soybeans bound into a cake form. It’s high in probiotics, may boost heart health, and may even offer antioxidants.

Conclusion

Fermented foods offer a wide assortment of benefits for your body and mind, from aiding digestion, to boosting immunity, and supporting mental and metabolic health, this ancient method of food preservation brings with it a slew of modern health benefits backed by science. So go ahead, and embark on a culinary adventure of the vibrant world of fermented foods – your taste buds and your body will thank you for it.

SOURCES

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Denise

Denise is the most positive person you will ever meet. She takes pleasure in sharing and giving and is selfless beyond imagination. She is also an animal lover and will never miss the opportunity to say hello to any four legged friends along her journey. Denise is also an advertising and PR wizard and will charm your socks off. In 2021 her journey began becoming an irreplaceable part of More Than Our Story.

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