We really love fermented foods over here at C&J Nutrition, which means we’ve been incorporating them more and more into our own diets based on how tasty they are, as well as the variety of potentially awesome health benefits they have. Here’s the scoop on the health benefits of fermented foods, and a few ideas for how to buy or make them at home!
What are fermented foods?
Fermenting food involves a process of exposing the food to bacteria, yeast, or a combination of bacteria and yeast which then “eat” the sugars and starches in the food, converting them to lactic acid. The bacteria and yeast can be introduced to the food via specific strains or a variety of bacteria and yeast can be introduced via the air in the environment. Lactic acid acts as a natural preservative, protecting the food from harmful bacteria and organisms (i.e. preserving it) and also protecting you!
Health benefits of fermented foods
Did you know that your body is home to potentially 1,000 different strains of bacteria? Fermented foods contain bacteria that are beneficial to our bodies, also known as probiotics. These good bacteria help overpopulate the not-so-good bacteria in our guts so that the ratio is tipped in the favor of the good stuff.
Studies strongly suggest that consuming certain strains of these beneficial bacteria may help improve overall digestion, alleviate symptoms from IBS like constipation and bloating, help prevent travel induced diarrhea, and even improve skin health and mood. In addition, the process of fermentation allows the nutrients in the foods to be more easily absorbed since they’re already predigested by beneficial bacteria. The vitamin C in cabbage, for example, becomes more available to your body when you eat sauerkraut. Here’s a quick snapshot of some additional benefits.
Note: While these benefits have been researched, the incorporation of fermented foods should not be a substitute for medical advice, and you should always consult your doctor when incorporating them into a treatment regimen.
- Improved digestion
- Improved immune function
- Lower risk of some cancers
- Restoration of normal gut bacteria after a course of antibiotics (antibiotics destroy harmful bacteria, but also good bacteria, so it’s a great idea to load up on fermented foods while taking antibiotics.)
- Animal studies show that re-populating the gut with probiotics may also promote a healthy weight/weight loss.
What are some different types of fermented foods?
There are quite a variety, which we love… here are the main types and what they’re made from.
- Kombucha: Fermented tea. There are a variety of companies that make kombucha you can purchase in the store, such as GT’s Kombucha and Health-Ade. Kombucha comes in different flavors and has a fizziness that we love. Look for kombucha that doesn’t contain too much added sugar (all kombucha is made with some sugar that gets fermented!). We stick with varieties that have 4g of sugar or less per 8 ounces.
- Water kefir: Similar to kombucha in flavor and carbonation level but doesn’t use tea. We make it often — here’s our recipe.
- Sauerkraut: Fermented cabbage. This is one you’re probably most familiar with as a typical hot dog topping. Here’s our method for making it at home.
- Kimchi: A Korean dish made of fermented mixed vegetables. It’s typically spicy and includes cabbage. Here’s how we make it at home!
- Fermented pickles: Fermented cucumbers. It’s worth noting that most pickles are not fermented. The label must say fermented and they’ll be found in the refrigerated section (not on the shelves).
- Other fermented veggies: You can ferment lots of types of veggies (not just cabbage and cucumbers!) Fermented garlic, jalapeños, and carrots are some of our favorites.
- Tempeh: Fermented beans and grains (it’s a myth that tempeh must be made with soybeans!). Use tempeh in place of animal proteins, such as this yummy recipes for Sesame Honey Tempeh from Eating Well Magazine.
- Miso: Fermented soy beans. Miso can be used to make delicious salad dressings and miso soup.
- Yogurt and Kefir: Fermented milk (this includes non-dairy milks. i.e. coconut yogurt, soy yogurt, etc.) Here’s a link to an easy tutorial on how to make your own coconut yogurt at home.
Tip on buying fermented foods:
Check the label to see if it contains “live and active cultures”. Today, many of the veggies that were traditionally pickled by fermentation, like sauerkraut and pickles, are now pickled using vinegar instead, which is not the same as fermentation. The pickles and sauerkraut you find on the shelf stable aisle of the grocery store are likely not fermented. Check the refrigerated section for pickles, sauerkraut, and other veggies that have been fermented.
Are you eating fermented foods? Which ones do you love?