Fermentation is a food-processing technique dating back thousands of years. Some of the earliest archeological records of fermented foods and drinks can be traced back to the Mesolithic period, more than 13,000 years ago. This method was used by many ancient human civilizations as a means of preserving food.

The production of foods such as yogurt and cultured milk, wine and beer, sauerkraut and kimchi, and fermented sausage were initially valued because of their improved shelf life and safety.  It is increasingly understood that fermented foods can also have enhanced nutritional and functional properties due to the transformation of substrates and the formation of bioactive or bioavailable end-products. Many fermented foods also contain living microorganisms some of which are genetically similar to strains used as probiotics. Although only a limited number of clinical studies on fermented foods have been performed, there is evidence that these foods provide health benefits well-beyond the starting food materials.

Food can be fermented a couple of ways. Natural or spontaneous fermentation happens when a food or drink naturally contains specific microorganisms that encourage a fermentation process, like kimchi or sauerkraut. Alternatively, foods can be fermented by adding live starter cultures, like sourdough bread, kombucha, and some types of yogurt.

Fermentation occurs when microorganisms like certain types of bacteria, yeast, or mold ingest carbohydrates (such as sugars and starches) to use them for energy and fuel. During the fermentation process, these microorganisms break down carbohydrates into alcohols or acids, changing the food’s nutritional profile, giving it a distinct tangy zest, and extending its shelf life significantly. Fermentation also promotes the growth and development of healthy bacteria – aka probiotics.

Health benefits of fermented food

Fermented foods provide many health benefits such as anti-oxidant, anti-microbial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic and anti-atherosclerotic activity.

CONTAINS PROBIOTICS – Eating fermented foods can help replenish the beneficial bacteria and even fight off pathogenic (harmful) bacteria in your gut. Probiotics have also been shown to bolster your immune system, cure psoriasis & chronic fatigue syndrome, improve your digestion and help the body absorb nutrients. People who eat fermented foods regularly also tend to have a more diverse microbiome, which is the cornerstone of a healthy gastrointestinal system.

Research suggests that probiotics may also:

  • Improve some mental health conditions: one randomized placebo-control study of 70 individuals working at a petrochemical company found that those who ate yogurt every day or took a daily probiotic supplement experienced better mental health outcomes than those who didn’t consume probiotics.
  • Encourage heart health: several study reviews and meta-analyses have shown that probiotics can modestly reduce “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and mildly increase “good” cholesterol (HDL).
  • Help you lose weight: evidence suggests that a particular strain of healthy bacteria called Lactobacillus acidophilus may help adults reduce body fat, waist and hip circumference, and felly fat.

BOOSTS IMMUNE SYSTEM – Fermented foods like kefir, tempeh and miso provide plenty of nutrients including antioxidants that function to strengthen your immunity.  This process ultimately helps to protect against bacteria that contribute to debilitating health conditions.

IDEAL FOR WEIGHT LOSS – Fermented foods can be beneficial for weight control in several ways:

Gut Bacteria can affect the regulation of body weight.  The Acetic Acid produced in the fermentation process has been shown to reduce body fat.  Fermented foods are nutrient-dense, with high bulk consumed per calorie. Ingestion of strains of Lactobacillus shown to reduce body fat. Digestion is more efficient when our gut has a healthy balance of beneficial microbes.

GOOD SOURCE OF ANTIOXIDANTS – Many fermented foods are enriched with antioxidants and when consumed regularly, these antioxidants fight disease-causing bacteria and germs.  Antioxidants are also necessary to ward off major health-deteriorating factors such as free radicals that contribute to chronic diseases.

  • Heal and seal your gut to reverse disease
  • Detoxify your body
  • Reverse food allergies and sensitivities
  • Absorb more nutrients
  • Feel all-around more energized and healthy

Migraines and Fermented Foods – Be Cautious

While fermented foods may have many health benefits, if you suffer from migraines, you may have to avoid fermented foods.  Tyramine is a substance found naturally in some foods, especially aged and fermented foods, such as aged cheeses, smoked fish, cured meats, and some types of beer.  Also, foods high in protein may contain more tyramine if they have been stored for a long time they have not been kept cold enough. If you are a migraine sufferer and not sure about your triggers, you can try going on a low tyramine diet to see if it helps.

Introducing fermented foods in your diet

Fermented foods and drinks are considered safe for most. In fact, people who are lactose intolerant usually find fermented dairy products like yogurt and kefir easier to digest. The most common side effects of eating fermented foods for the first time are increased bloating and gas, though they tend to be temporary.

If you want to get more fermented foods in your diet, but you are not sure where to begin, here are a few simple suggestions for every meal:

Breakfast

  • Add cultured yogurt, kefir, or buttermilk to your morning cereal or smoothie
  • Top your eggs with a healthy spoonful of kimchi for a refreshing, tangy kick
  • Fermented oatmeal

Wondering how to ferment oatmeal? It’s easy! Just mix a cup of rolled oats with 2 tablespoons of a probiotic live culture (yogurt, kefir, or buttermilk) and one cup of dechlorinated water, cover with a clean kitchen towel and let it ferment in a warm spot overnight or for up to two days. Enjoy uncooked or cook it like regular oatmeal.

 

Lunch

  • A cup of miso soup with lunch can be both filling and nutritious
    • Miso (pronounced mee-so) is a salty bean paste, created by fermenting mashed cooked beans and salt with a culture starter called “koji.”  Most people worldwide are familiar with this fermented food in the all popular “miso soup”, which is the paste dissolved in hot water to create a rich broth.  The soup usually contains other ingredients like shiitake, vegetables, seaweeds, tofu, or tempeh. It is a traditional fermented food native to China and Japan but is used in all parts of Southeast Asia especially Korea, Vietnam, and Indonesia. Customarily, the soybean is the main ingredient found in Asian miso’s, but it can alternatively be made with other types of legumes. Under the process of natural fermentation, the cooked beans experience a biological transformation in which their proteins, oils, fats, and carbohydrates are converted into easily absorbed fatty acids, simple sugars, and amino acids. Miso contains iron, calcium, choline, tryptophan, folate, protein and vitamin K2.  It is important to note that these health properties are only found in unpasteurized versions, rather than pasteurized commercial products, which are void of any enzymes or beneficial microorganisms.  Most grocery stores now carry cartons of miso paste.  When making broth or soup, it is important to dissolve the paste in warm or hot water BELOW the boiling point to preserve its health benefits.
  • Swap regular condiments for fermented ones, like fermented mayo, ketchup, or mustard
  • Try a sourdough bread toast topped with sauerkraut or kimchi for an extra-fermented lunch
  • Consider lacto-fermenting your vegetables instead or baking or steaming them.  (Lacto Fermentation Fruit and Vegetable Recipes)

 

Snacks

  • Craving a four o’clock snack? Sip on a cold glass of kombucha or cool down with a refreshing yogurt or kefir popsicle

 

Dinner

  • Have some fun with a bowl of white rice, some kimchi, a fried egg, and any of your favorite vegetables
  • Go meatless with tempeh tacos or fajitas
  • Experiment with fermented chutneys
  • Top a burger, hot dog, or burrito with a big spoonful of sauerkraut

Note:   You may experience side effects initially if you are new to eating fermented foods or eat them somewhat sporadically.  Possible side effects include bloating, diarrhea, constipation, gas or indigestion.

One reason you may be hit with side effects is if you introduce fermented foods too quickly. Some people are sensitive to fermented foods, and need a slow initial introduction. If this is the case for you, you might want to start with a tablespoon of sauerkraut, instead of downing ½ cup of it. Work your way up slowly and your body will likely adapt.

Another reason could be that you’re eating them alongside protein-rich foods.  Because protein takes longer to digest, gas and bloating can possibly occur when eating protein with gut-friendly fermented food.

Be Mindful of the Salt in Fermented Foods

Keep in mind, too, that many fermented foods, like kimchi, miso, and sauerkraut, are high in sodium. For example, 4 Tablespoons of sauerkraut contain nearly 400 mg of sodium, or almost 20% of your Daily Value, and just 1 Tablespoon of miso has 775 mg of sodium. Regularly eating a lot of salty fermented foods could be problematic especially for people with high blood pressure. Salty foods can also dehydrate you pretty quickly, and cause your body to excrete more calcium.

Fermented foods can be very beneficial for you but like most things… moderation is key.

 

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