Top 5 Health Benefits of Fermented Foods & Drinks

 

a jar of fermented pickles on the table

Fermenting is not new to many cultures from across the world. However, people have become less enthusiastic about eating fermented foods and drinks in recent years.

This is gradually changing as more and more people strive to live healthier lives by eating the long-forgotten fermented foods and drinks that our grandparents used to love so much.

Read on to find out what these foods and drinks have to offer and how you can incorporate them into your daily diet.

What Are Fermented Foods?

kimchi is a great fermented food choice

For many centuries, fermentation was used as a technique to preserve foods and drinks.

This was before the invention of the refrigerator which quickly eliminated the need to use fermentation as a mode of preservation.

The fermentation process itself entails microorganisms like fungi, yeast or bacteria eating on organic compounds – mostly starch and sugars – and converting them into acids or alcohol. For instance, sugars and starches in fruits and vegetables are converted into lactic acid.

The lactic acid acts as a natural preservative.

The fermentation process commonly results in food acquiring sour, strong and distinct flavors.

Eating foods and drinks that have undergone the fermentation process is beneficial to you in many ways and not just food preservation. The conversion of starches and sugars increases the amount of natural and good bacteria in food and drinks.

These good bacteria are commonly referred to as probiotics and are known to have a wide range of health benefits.

So, Is Bacteria Good or Bad?

This is something that confuses a good number of people. First and foremost, not all bacteria is bad. There are good bacteria that reside in your stomach and intestines. These bacteria help with digestion, absorption and utilization of essential nutrients.

They also play a key role in keeping your immune system healthy.

several green gut bacteria floating in space

However, there are bad bacteria that also live in your gut. These can cause adverse side effects on your health if left to flourish.

The key is to achieve a healthy balance between the good and bad bacteria in your gut.

An imbalance in gut bacteria is referred to as ‘dysbiosis’ and is characterized by symptoms such as diarrhoea, constipation and bloating.

Most modern diets are rich in refined sugars that promote occurence of dysbiosis by feeding the bad bacteria and allowing them to thrive uncontrollably.

Removing refined sugars in your diet and replacing them with probiotic-rich fermented foods and drinks can bring back a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut as well as improve your overall well-being and immune system.

Ensuring a healthy balance of gut bacteria is very important considering an average human being has about one trillion bacteria living in their gut.

Nutritional Information

As mentioned above, fermented foods are rich in probiotics that increase the number of good bacteria in your stomach and intestines. This process results in a number of health benefits that are listed below:

1. Digestion and Absorption

improved digestion after eating probiotics

Because some of the starches and sugars in fermented foods and drinks have already been broken down, these foods and drinks are usually easier to digest.

For instance, fermentation breaks down the lactose that’s found in milk and converts it to galactose and glucose.

So, if you are lactose intolerant, fermented milk and other related products like cheese and yogurt can be easier to digest. Easier digestion most oftenly leads to faster absorption of food.

2. Synthesis and Utilization of Nutrients

Fermenting foods and drinks also allows your body to synthesize and utilize essential nutrients like minerals and vitamins more easily.

By increasing the number of good bacteria in your gut, you enable your body to better make use of key nutrients like vitamin K and B vitamins.

3. Boosting Immune Function

Many people do not know this but the immune system heavily depends on the gut for day-to-day functioning.

Consuming fermented foods and drinks promotes a healthy gut which in turn boost your immune system function. The natural lining of your gut (mucosa) is able to protect your body from harmful toxins and bacteria.

Low amounts of good bacteria (see how gut  bacteria impacts your weight here) in your gut can lead to disease-causing microbes making habitat in your gut. These microbes cause inflammation in your gut wall which causes a wide range of illnesses.

You should eat probiotic-rich foods and drinks to prevent bad bacteria from derailing your immune function.

4. Phytic Acid

seeds are a source of phytic acid

There are certain compounds that interfere with the digestion and absorption of nutrients.

These compounds can be broken down or removed through fermentation.

One such compound is known as phytic acid.

Phytic acid is found in seeds and legumes, and binds together minerals such as zinc and iron making them difficult to digest and absorb.

However, phytic acid is removed or broken down through fermentation making these nutrients easily available.

5. Mood and Behavior

Apart from your immune system, your gut is also linked to your brain. This link is through the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Your gut is lined with neurons that have the ability to influence your mood and emotions.

This lining of neurons is technically referred to as the enteric nervous system. Serotonin – the neurotransmitter responsible for happiness and relaxation – is produced in the gut.

Because fermented foods are capable of boosting the health of your gut, they are also capable of improving production of serotonin and thus improving your overall mood and behavior.

Probiotic-Rich Foods To Include In Your Diet

Yogurt

a bowl of yogurt on the table

There is a bacteria in yogurt called lactobacili that converts lactose to galactose and glucose.

These two sugars are then further broken down to lactic acid which gives yogurt its sour taste.

The bacteria remains in the yogurt and goes ahead to promote growth of other good bacteria in your gut.

Bread (fermented)

Some breads – not all breads – are made from fermented dough. The dough is fermented for several days and is rich in probiotics that are really good for your stomach.

Tempeh

This is a variant of soy beans that is fermented. It’s both a good source of probiotics and healthy amino-acids. It’s the perfect fermented food for vegeterians.

Kombucha

kombucha is one great option

This is a fermented black tea. This fizzy drink is as a result of bacteria converting sugar into carbon dioxide and alcohol.

A special bacteria known as acetobacter then turns the alcohol into acetic acid. The acetic acid gives the Kombucha its sour taste.

Most kombucha drinks sold in shops contains high amounts of refined sugars so it’s best to make your own Kombucha at home.

Lassi

This is a fermented drink that made from sour milk. It is a yogurt-like drink that is typically drunk before dinner. You can achieve a health balance of gut bacteria by drinking Lassi.

Kimchi

a bowl of spicy fermented kimchi

This is a type of fermented vegetable, mostly cabbage that is really spicy. Kimchi is reich in vitamins C, B1, B2 and A as well as minerals such as selenium, calcium and iron.

Miso

This is a traditional Japanese paste that is made from fermented grains and soy beans that are rich in good bacteria.

Miso is rich in crucial nutrients and is a good source of folic acid, B vitamins as well as vitamins K and E.

Sauerkraut

This is another type of fermented vegetable dish, mostly cabbage or lettuce.

The dish is rich in fibre, B vitamins as well as vitamins K, C and A. It is also rich in minerals such as calcium, magnesium, sodium, copper, manganese and iron.

Kefir

a glass of strawberry kefir

This is a probiotic-rich drink that is rich in a variety of yeasts and bacteria. Kefir contains plenty of minerals and vitamins such as B vitamins and vitamin K.

How To Select and Store Fermented Foods and Drinks

You should always keep fermented foods and drinks in a refrigerator for optimal freshness. Also, avoid by fermented foods and drinks from supermarkets shelves.

Those on the shelves – and not in refrigerators – have been pasteurized or treated meaning most naturally occurring probiotics have been destroyed.

On top of this, some Kombuchas and yogurts may be packed with refined sugars such as artificial sweeteners or corn syrup making them less beneficial to your gut compared to naturally fermented options.

There are probiotic supplements available on the market today. You should refrain from using these supplements as some may contain harmful bacteria that achieve the opposite effect of what you want.

Fermenting At Home

The best way to ensure that you enjoy the health benefits of fermented foods and drinks is to do your own fermenting at home. This may sound like a tedious task at first but it is actually very easy.

Fermented foods can be an excellent back-up for times when you may not have fresh vegetables at home. You should choose the foods and drinks that you ferment wisely as the end-product will only be as good as the ingredients.

It is possible to ferment most vegetables but some may need more time and effort than others. Some of the easier options include cabbage, beetroot, apples, turnips, carrots, and radishes.


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