Fermenting foods was first notorious as a means of food preservation. Now we know that a diet rich in fermented has the extra bonus of keeping our gut flora happy and healthy. But the health benefits are not limited to our digestive tracts; evidence shows that gut health can play a role in immunity, inflammation, mood, allergies, as well as autoimmune disorders. Unfortunately fermented foods have all but disappeared in our newly sterile, overly-processed world of food. And what our current Western-style diet lacks, traditional diets thrive on. In Asia it is tempeh and miso from fermented soy, in the Caucasus Mountains it is kefir from fermented milk. In Africa they enjoy fermented porridge and cassava. In Korea it is Kimchi. In Germany it is Sauerkraut. What happens when our modern day diet lacks these all important fermented foods?
What Affects Our Gut Flora?
Our gut flora is continuously changing, sometimes we can exert some control over it, other times it’s out of our hands. External forces such as medications and climate, and internal factors including increasing age and stress can have a negative impact on our gut flora. A diet rich in meat, simple sugars, refined flours, high in fat and low in fibre can also promote the growth of undesirable bacteria. Luckily, encouraging the growth of good bacteria is as simple as consuming high fibre diet, rich in legumes, and low in meat and processed foods. But where do fermented foods fit it?
Health Benefits of Consuming Fermented Foods
There are numerous known health benefits associated with consuming fermented foods. Fermented foods introduce good bacteria to our gut flora which can help strengthen our gut wall again invading pathogens, influencing our immune system. They have also been acknowledged by health professionals as an important tool in helping to manage symptoms for those that suffer from irritable or inflammatory bowel disorders.
The fermentation process helps to pre-digest foods which can also make some nutrients more available. Fermentation even increases the nutrient content of some foods such as Vitamin C in Sauerkraut.
8 Common Fermented Foods You Probably Have At Home
So how do you increase your fermented food consumption if you’re not so into Kimchi, and the only time you’ll eat Sauerkraut is on a dirty hotdog? It is likely that you have a few fermented foods already taking up space in your fridge or pantry. By ensuring a regular intake of any one of these foods, you should be well on your well to one healthy gut.
- Relish and Mustard*
- Apple Cider Vinegar**
- Homemade Gingerbeer
*Most supermarket purchased fermented foods have been pasteurized and cooked at high heat, killing any of the beneficial bacteria. Some health food stores and specialty stores have a special section for truly fermented sauerkraut, kimchi, relishes and more. Because these products contain live bacteria they will always be found in the refrigeration section.
**True vinegar is naturally fermented and will contain a mother culture; you should be able to see it at the bottom of the bottle as a cloudy, stringy culture. Make sure you purchase apple cider vinegar that is unpasteurised to obtain any health benefits.
***Traditional sourdough undergoes fermentation which helps to breakdown the bran of the flour grains making it easier to digest. While we won’t get any active benefits of the live cultures once the bread is baked, sourdough – alongside tempeh – is a good example of how fermentation can help pre-digest food, allowing for easier access to nutrients.
The leap into the world of fermentation may seem scary at first, but if you have some miso in your fridge try adding it to a salad dressing or a pesto. Use yogurt in place of sour cream in soups. Swap your tofu for tempeh once in awhile. To ensure you are getting maximum benefits from fermented foods, try including at least one fermented food in your diet per day. This could be as easy as having a bowl of yogurt for breakfast!
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