Fermented food products continue to fill the grocery store shelves and you might even have a few in your kitchen right now! But do you know what they are and what they do. We’ll discuss what fermented foods are, how they work and how they can enhance YOUR life!
First what are fermented foods? They include foods like:
· And more!
Today, shopping in the supermarkets you might find some very unusual items showing up on the shelves such as a cold glass bottled beverage of Kombucha or a jar of spicy Kimchi. So, what is it about these foods that makes them so popular?
It’s because they’re packed with probiotics - the healthy bacteria that help your gut function optimally. Recently, there has been a great rise in research of these beneficial bacteria and why how they affect us. Did you know our bodies contain three times the number of bacteria cells than other organelle cells, and they play a vital, some would say determinate, role in our health?1 That is huge! And most of them live in our gut! The roles they play include but are not limited to:
· fighting pathogens
· improving digestion
· formation of neurotransmitters
· synthesis of some vitamins
· enhancing the bioavailability of food
· allergen exposure
· reduce the risk of chronic diseases
· slow the progression of liver cirrhosis
· and much more.2,3
So, it is no surprise that these bacteria cells play an important role in our bodies and that what bacteria we add to our gut can affect our health. Everyone can benefit from adding more beneficial bacteria to improve their overall health!
One of the most common sources of probiotics is Kombucha. What is Kombucha? Kombucha is a fermented tea typically flavored with sweet fruits and herbs. The process is quite simple: brewers use a tea such as black, green or white; mix in cane sugar and a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). The mix sits for a period of time and the yeast feed on the sugar producing an alcohol. No this does not mean it is loaded with alcohol. This is where the beneficial bacteria strains oxidize the alcohol in to acetic acid giving the drink a tart vinegary taste and smell. 4 While this is the main process, there are many other enzymes and bacteria produced.
Another unusual item popping up is Kimchi. The origins of Kimchi stem back from Korea 1000 B.C. Kimchi is typically cabbage that’s been fermented with vinegar and it’s packed with probiotic! The process was acquired because of the inability to refrigerate seasonal foods. The most popular vegetables used in this ferment are but not limited to: cabbages, carrots, onions, garlic, radishes, leeks and more. Of course, with the addition of spices, like cayenne pepper, to give it a kick! A similar process occurs when the mix sit the yeast feed off the sugar, in this case from the vegetables. Eventually, acetic acid is formed and preserves the mix for a long period of time.
You can feed and grow the healthy probiotics in your gut by also eating prebiotics. Prebiotics are fiber structures that are non-digestible and are found in foods like:
· wheat and wheat bran
· raw fruits and vegetables: bananas, chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes, Dandelion greens, onions (cooked too), garlic, asparagus and leeks
· acacia fiber
· and prebiotic supplements.4
The probiotics and prebiotic work synergistically to maintain a healthy colon in your intestines.
Make sure to incorporate some oats and raw fruits and veggies in your daily meals to get the most prebiotics in your diet!
So, if you want to boost your immune system and promote healthy digestion, the next time you are in the supermarket pick up one of these fermented treats! Your gut will thank you!
End note: For the most part, fermented foods can be a very beneficial addition to a healthy diet. However, research is still fairly limited regarding the safety of probiotics. So, if you are pregnant, breastfeeding (mom’s this warning is for your infants and children too), struggle with infections, or have a chronic underlying medical condition please consult your physician before consuming fermented foods.
1 Pearlmutter, D. (2015). Brain Maker. Brown Company.
2 Shulub, L. B. (2014). National Library of Medicine . Fermented foods, microbiota, and mental health: ancient practice meets nutritional psychiatry.
3 Kim, H. Y. (2016). A Review of Fermented Foods with Beneficial Effects on Brain and Cognitive Function. National Library of Medicine, 297-309.
4 Kavita (2015). Probiotics, Prebiotics and Synbiotic and review. Journal of Food Science and Technology, 7577-758