Fermented foods have been part of the eating habits of many cultures around the world for thousands of years. Before refrigeration of foods became possible, they were one of the few ways of preserving food for longer periods of time. Indeed, the making of sourdough bread, cheese, cultured milk, beer, and wine allowed people to have food available all year-round. But it wasn’t until the early 1900s that fermented foods were considered beneficial to our gut and overall health.
The Benefits of Fermented Foods
We’ve all heard that they are good for us. But what makes fermented foods so great? Fermentation:
- improves the digestibility of foods;
- increases the concentrations of vitamins and other bioactive compounds; and
- removes or reduces anti-nutrients in raw foods.
In addition, when they are not further processed by pasteurization, baking, or filtering (as in bread, chocolate, tempeh, and most soy sauce, beers, and wines), fermented foods are also a source of live, active bacteria (probiotics).
New exciting research published early this year has shown that adding live fermented foods to your diet can improve the health of your gut! Eating a few small servings of these foods daily can increase the variety of your good gut bacteria and decrease several markers of inflammation.
5 Fermented Foods to Improve Your Gut Health
Here are the best sources in terms of how many live bacteria they contain:
Kefir is a delicious drink on its own, or you can mix it with fruit for a delicious smoothie. Be aware that many products have added sugar, and ideally, try to choose a plain, sugar-free variety. If you don’t tolerate lactose, there are lactose-free versions you can purchase.
Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) is a great addition to sandwiches or eggs. It can also be a condiment for meat or fish. Most importantly, choose products that are not pasteurized (they are usually refrigerated) to ensure the presence of live bacteria.
Kimchi is the spicy version of sauerkraut (usually made with Napa cabbage). If you enjoy spicy foods, you can use it similarly to sauerkraut, or to add a zing to a rice bowl or fried rice, as well as in traditional Korean dishes such as Bibimbap.
Yogurt is quite versatile and you can enjoy it for breakfast or as a snack, topped with berries or other fruit, as in my Yogurt & Berry Parfait Recipe. You can also use it to make salad dressings or sauces such as raita and tzatziki.
However, the yogurt aisle can be quite overwhelming with so many varieties available. Unfortunately, most yogurts have added sugar or artificial sweeteners. Choose plain, unsweetened yogurt and add fruit, cinnamon, or vanilla for a bit of sweetness. Although even people with lactose intolerance can tolerate small amounts of yogurt, you can also purchase lactose-free yogurt.
Kombucha has become a popular beverage in the past few years and you may find a wide variety of products in your grocery store. Look for unpasteurized kombucha and choose one with no or little sugar (less than 5 grams per serving). Prefer brands that are refrigerated and sold in a glass bottle.
In summary, fermented foods have several health benefits and can make a delicious addition to many meals. Specifically, consuming live fermented foods daily can improve the health of our gut. If these foods are not part of your usual diet, start with adding one or two at first and experiment with different ways of eating them. Then gradually add more and they will soon become part of your routine, one that can foster your gut and overall health.
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