Fermented foods have absolutely burst onto the healthy food scene over the last couple of years, but they have been in the tool kits of us Nutritional Therapists for quite some time.
Hippocrates once said, “All Disease Begins in The Gut.” There is no denying that optimising one’s gut health is now deemed to be important and it is one of the aspects I question most when working with patients. So, let me tell you a little more about why fermented foods form as part of the dietary recommendations in my Health Plans.
What is Fermentation
The fermentation of foods certainly isn’t new. It is a process that has been around for thousands of years and was useful for preserving foods. Fermenting food in simple terms, means that the sugars and carbohydrates in a food have been broken down by beneficial (or “good”) bacteria. In scientific terms, it involves a process called lacto-fermentation. During this process, natural bacteria (also called lactobacilli) feed on starches and sugars, converting them to lactic acid. This preserves the food and creates prebiotics and probiotics, along with other nutrients including b-vitamins (crucial for the nervous system, mental
function & digestion), omega-3 fatty acids (essential for brain health, fighting inflammation & cellular functioning) and beneficial enzymes (needed for digestion & metabolism).
What are Fermented Foods
Common fermented foods include: Kombucha, yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh, pickles, natto and sourdough.
Why Fermented Foods
There are many benefits of fermented foods. Firstly, fermented foods are live and
active. They are teeming with beneficial bacteria and yeast. They contain a variety of live cultures (probiotics) along with prebiotics which are simply the food the probiotics feast on to help them grow. Benefits include:
• Improving the digestion and absorption of vital nutrients
• Reducing constipation and bloating
• Improving the colonisation of intestinal, respiratory and urogenital tracts
• Lowering cholesterol and improving blood lipid profiles
• Improving mood, mental function and emotional stability
• Increasing energy and reducing stress
• Increasing acidity, inhibiting pathogenic bacteria and yeasts like Candida.
• Helping our bodies to detoxify & acts as a natural chelator of toxins, pesticides & harmful chemicals
Apart from being great for the gut they act on our immune system. The mucosa (gut lining) is a natural immunity barrier which helps ensure a strong immune system. When more probiotic rich foods are eaten, the good bacteria are supported and flourish. When more prebiotics are added to your diet the good bacteria have the perfect nutrition to get the upper hand. If things are out of balance, the disease-causing microbes can grow and may cause inflammation.
Unfortunately, not all fermented foods are created equal. Some fermented foods have been pasteurised so that they can be stored on the shelf at room temperature; this process kills off any live beneficial bacteria. If you are short on time and want to pick some up from the shops, you want it to be naturally fermented, so it should be stored in the refrigerator.
The best way to get your fermented food intake is by making it yourself. Fermented foods require minimal hands on time as it’s about mixing in the cultures and leaving them to do their job.
My favourite fermented foods are sauerkraut, kefir, kim-chi and kombucha.
Look after your gut and it will look after you!