Reviewed by Irene Pauline Humpelstetter, CNP
Are you a fan of fermented foods? You should be! A growing body of research shows that consuming fermented foods regularly can be hugely beneficial to your health.
Traditionally preserved using an ancient process, fermented foods boost shelf life and nutritional value, plus they provide helpful probiotics - live microorganisms that contribute to a healthy digestive system.
Despite their recent popularity as 'trendy', fermented foods have a long, rich history and have been used for generations by cultures worldwide.
Fermented foods have many health benefits for you. This article discusses an overview of fermentation, its evolution, health benefits, and more.
What is Fermentation
The fermentation process is a natural way for microbes, such as yeast and bacteria, to convert starches and sugars into acids and alcohol.
These acids and alcohols act as natural preservatives and give fermented foods a distinctive taste and tartness.
Fermentation also encourages the growth of probiotics, a beneficial bacteria. Probiotics have been shown to improve digestive and heart health and immune function.
The nutritional value of fermented foods is high. They contain vitamin K2, trace minerals, B vitamins, and probiotics. In addition, they are easy to prepare, and they are inexpensive. So we recommend adding fermented food to your diet to improve your overall well-being.
Health Benefits of Fermented Foods
1. Enhance your immune system to better defend against disease
Our skin and the lining of our intestinal system act as the first line of defense against the outside world.
Lymphocytes, which play an essential role in our immune system, reside in our gut lining. The compounds in cruciferous vegetables activate these cells, such as broccoli and cabbage. Keeping our gut healthy requires regular maintenance.
In addition to containing lactic acid bacteria (the good bacteria), fibre-rich fruits and vegetables also provide extra fibre for the good bacteria. Our digestive tract's immune system is also aided by good live bacteria, known as probiotics, generating antibodies that fight pathogens. Therefore, we must balance beneficial and harmful bacteria in the gut microflora or inner ecosystem. The following are the many health benefits of taking fermented foods.
2. Fermented foods help in controlling blood sugar levels.
Studies have shown a link between yogurt and lowering blood sugar. Additionally, it can decrease the chance of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes, which are closely related. To reap the most benefits from yogurt, choose the kind rich in probiotics.
3. Enhancing sleep and mood
Fermented foods contain prebiotics, which are non-digestible components that help promote beneficial bacteria in the gut. Consequently, fermented foods can boost your mental health because they contain prebiotics, promoting gut health and a wide variety of beneficial bacteria. The consumption of fermented foods is also linked to improved moods and sleep.
If you want to sleep better, feed your gut with fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut and kimchi before bedtime. During this process, serotonin levels are maintained, facilitating the stabilization of moods, regulating feelings of wellbeing and happiness, regulating anxiety, and promoting sleep. Additionally, compounds linked to fermentation promote good mental health.
4. They aid digestion and regularity of bowel movements.
Consuming fermented foods may promote healthy digestion and bowel movements. For example, the consistency and frequency of stools improved when kefir was administered to patients with chronic constipation. In addition to enhancing constipation, yogurt can also relieve slow intestinal transit.
For example, researchers have found that eating sourdough bread reduces the production of gas, bloating, abdominal discomfort, and lower levels of hydrogen in the breath, compared to non-fermented bread.
5. It helps in building strong bones.
A great way to build strong bones is to consume fermented milk, which has been shown to enhance bone health. A fermented milk product is packed with many nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D, phosphorus, vitamin K2 and protein, essential nutrients for good bone health. Consuming kefir has improved bone mineral density and increased bone turnover.
Consuming fermented milk products may also help prevent bone loss in postmenopausal women at risk of estrogen deficiency.
6. Helps with high blood pressure
Eating fermented foods will reduce the risk of you having high blood pressure. Soy foods, such as miso and natto, are popular choices. Also recommended is fermented dairy, containing multiple valuable bacteria and yeast strains. In addition, fermented dairy blocks an enzyme responsible for raising blood pressure. Consuming fermented foods regularly can lower your blood pressure by a few points on both sides.
7. Fights obesity
Research suggests that certain bacteria may aid our bodies in retaining calories, while others may assist us in losing calories. So when losing weight, it's essential to restore your gut flora.
Consuming fermented foods is beneficial especially during a cleanse; they contain beneficial bacteria that help our body naturally eliminate toxins and even heavy metals. The healthy bacteria will create enough energy to detox while still having enough energy to continue to with your everyday life.
9. Enhances nutrient availability
Fermenting certain foods boosts their health potential. They also improve the body's ability to absorb vitamins and minerals from these foods. The reason for this is that some natural compounds, such as phytic acid found in legumes like soy beans, may inhibit our bodies from absorbing minerals like iron and zinc. We can remove these antinutrients by fermenting these foods, which makes their nutritional value more accessible to us. Similar benefits have been observed with sourdough, with higher mineral availability, a reduced glycemic response, and a more efficient breakdown of proteins.
Further, by improving your gut flora, you might promote their ability to produce vitamins B K.
10. Keeping your heart healthy
It might be possible to prevent heart disease by consuming fermented foods. According to a Finnish study, people who eat fermented dairy products that contain less than 3.5% fat have a much lower risk of coronary heart disease than people who eat other types of dairy products or high-fat fermented foods. A Swedish and a Dutch study found the same benefit.
11. Boost the health of your brain
Fermented foods have been shown to boost serotonin levels in the brain, a brain chemical known to feel good. There's a strong connection between the gut and the nervous system, so improving your gut biome can also improve your overall health. Additionally, it may help ease anxiety and depression, as well as improve cognitive function -- the way you think, remember, and learn.
12. Pain responses can be lowered
A gut microbiome can influence how you feel pain just as it can influence your emotions. The gut biome plays a crucial role in many chronic health conditions, such as belly pain, migraines, and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). There is evidence that enhancing gut bacteria, as well as other anti-inflammatory dietary changes, may improve symptoms of conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome.
13. Fermented foods promote gut health
The effects of fermented foods on the gut microbiome have been studied and documented extensively in scientific literature. The fermentation of milk into kefir increases the concentrations of Lactobacillus, Lactococcus, and Bifidobacteria in the gut microbiota, making it beneficial for those who suffer from gut problems. Consuming yogurt for 42 days effectively boosts intestinal Lactobacilli. A study found that consuming tempeh can increase immune response molecules such as Akkermansia muciniphila and immunoglobulin A in the intestine.
14. Improves skin health
Skin health may be enhanced by fermented foods through the gut microbiome, reduction in systemic inflammation, and increased insulin function. People who have acne may prefer fermented dairy products over non-fermented dairy products since fermentation can reduce insulin-like growth factor 1, which is a molecule found in dairy products that increases inflammation and sebum production, the cause of acne.
Types of Fermented Foods
Fermented foods have been cultivated worldwide for centuries, and many of us are familiar with them today. If you're interested in learning more about the history of fermentation, check out our recent blog post "The Phenomenon of Fermented Food in Human Culture."
Let's examine some of the most popular fermented foods and their unique characteristics.
Humans have consumed yogurt for thousands of years. It is mentioned in Ayurvedic texts that yogurt is beneficial to health. In yogurt, Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus are responsible for forming acid and thickening. It wasn't until 1909 that Russian biologist Élie Metchnikoff attributed Lactobacillus bacteria to yogurt's health-promoting properties.
The Caucasus Mountains are home to a fermented milk product called kefir. As it is fermented, it has a slightly effervescent and sour taste. It is made up of proteins, sugars, lipids, and bacteria. A symbiotic microbial culture is created when bacteria and yeast consume the minerals in the "grains." Cow, goat, and sheep milk can be used to make kefir.
A fermented milk product, cheese is produced by coagulating milk protein casein. The milk is acidified using microbes that produce lactic acid for fermentation to make cheese, and rennet enzymes are used for coagulation. When dairy solids separate from the liquid, they are often compressed into a form and aged, where various moulds can grow.
The milk's origin influences cheese's flavour, aroma, appearance, the microorganisms it is treated with, and the processing and ageing environment.
A fermented cabbage dish from northern China, sauerkraut originated in the 4th century BC, possibly introduced by the Mongols to Europe. It is possible to make sauerkraut using either a starter culture or a wild fermentation process.
Originally from Korea, Kimchi is a type of vegetable that has been salted and fermented. Kimchi is typically made of cabbage, radishes, chilli, peppers, garlic, onions, ginger, and salt. Occasionally, it may also include sesame seeds, apples, and pears. The predominant bacteria found in Kimchi are Leuconostoc bacteria, which produce lactic acid.
Known for its slightly alcoholic flavour, kombucha is a fermented beverage made from black or green tea and sugar. It is made of tea and sugar that is fermented to form a rubbery disk-shaped "symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast," also called a "scoby" or a "mother."