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  • Writer's pictureCarina Hopen

The Health Benefits of Fermented Foods


What is fermentation?

Fermentation is a naturally occurring process that involves breaking down food substances with the help of beneficial bacteria, yeast, or even fungi. The microbes consume sugars and other compounds in the food, resulting in byproducts like organic acids, gases, and alcohol. This process not only imparts unique flavors but also preserves the food, extending its shelf life. But what's truly compelling are the functional benefits: The fermentation process enriches the food with probiotics and digestive enzymes that can have a myriad of health benefits.[1,2]

Quick Facts:

  • Probiotics: These are the beneficial bacteria introduced or generated during fermentation.

  • Enzymes: These are proteins that speed up chemical reactions, aiding in digestion.

  • Preservation: The acidic or alcoholic environment created by fermentation deters spoilage.


The Health Benefits of Fermented Foods

Gut Health

Your gut is not just a digestive organ; it's a complex ecosystem teeming with trillions of microbes. Probiotics found in fermented foods contribute to this ecosystem, aiding in digestion and nutrient absorption. They also out-compete harmful bacteria, maintaining a balanced gut microbiome, which is crucial for overall health.[3]


Immune Support

Did you know that 70-80% of your immune system resides in your gut? That's right! By enhancing gut health, probiotics play a crucial role in fortifying your immune system. Several studies indicate that a healthy gut microbiome can help fend off pathogens and reduce the frequency of infections.[4]


Anti-inflammatory Properties

Inflammation is a natural defense mechanism, but chronic inflammation can lead to various diseases. Probiotics and other bioactive compounds in fermented foods have anti-inflammatory properties that can help manage conditions like arthritis and even heart disease.[3]


Blood Sugar Regulation

Research suggests that a balanced gut microbiome may have a role in managing blood sugar levels. Fermented foods like kefir and yogurt are shown to have a stabilizing effect on blood sugar, which can be particularly beneficial for people with diabetes.[5]


Mood Enhancement

The gut-brain axis is a hot topic in scientific research. A balanced gut microbiome may impact neurotransmitters and mood-regulating hormones, potentially acting as a natural mood enhancer.[4]


Types of Fermented Foods

If you're new to the world of fermented foods, you're in for a treat—both flavor-wise and health-wise! Here are some popular options:[6]

  • Kimchi: A traditional Korean dish made of fermented vegetables, commonly cabbage, with a mix of seasonings.

  • Sauerkraut: German for "sour cabbage." Unlike cabbage packed in vinegar, this fermented version consists of finely chopped cabbage fermented by lactic acid bacteria.

  • Yogurt: Fermented milk products enriched with beneficial bacteria.

  • Kefir: A fermented milk drink, similar to yogurt but with a thinner consistency.

  • Tempeh: A fermented soy product that is a good source of complete protein.

  • Miso Paste: A Japanese seasoning made from fermented soybeans.

  • Kombucha: A fizzy drink made by fermenting sweetened tea with a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.

  • Pickles: Fermented cucumbers in a brine of water, salt, and spices.


Recipes and Suggested Uses for Fermented Foods

Here are some simple recipes for using fermented foods in your daily cooking:


Simple Kimchi Stir-Fried Rice

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups cooked jasmine or basmati rice (preferably day-old)

  • 1 cup kimchi, chopped

  • 1 tablespoon kimchi juice

  • 2 eggs, beaten

  • 1 small onion, diced

  • 2 green onions, sliced

  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce

  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil

Instructions:

  • Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the diced onion and sauté until translucent.

  • Add the chopped kimchi and kimchi juice. Stir-fry for 2-3 minutes.

  • Push the kimchi mixture to the side and pour the beaten eggs into the skillet. Quickly scramble the eggs.

  • Add the day-old rice to the skillet. Stir to combine all the ingredients.

  • Drizzle in the soy sauce and sesame oil, stirring to mix well.

  • Garnish with sliced green onions.


Greek Yogurt Veggie Dip

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup Greek yogurt

  • 1 clove garlic, minced

  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

  • 1 tablespoon chopped dill

  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley

  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  • In a bowl, mix the Greek yogurt, minced garlic, and lemon juice.

  • Stir in the chopped dill and parsley.

  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.

  • Chill for at least one hour to let the flavors come together.

  • Serve with raw vegetables or as a tangy spread for sandwiches.


Kombucha Vinaigrette

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup kombucha (any flavor - we love raspberry]

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

  • 1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup

  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  • In a jar with a lid, combine the kombucha, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, and sweetener.

  • Seal the jar and shake vigorously until well combined. [Be careful when opening.]

  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.

  • Enjoy with leafy greens or drizzle over protein for some zing.

 

Key Takeaways

  • Fermentation is a natural preservation method that enriches food with probiotics and enzymes.

  • Fermented foods offer numerous health benefits, ranging from gut health to mood enhancement.

  • Options: From sauerkraut to kombucha, there's likely a fermented food that suits your palate.


Are you looking for more guidance on improving your health with food? I’m here to help you meet your health goals - Please reach out to schedule a discovery call here.


REFERENCES

 

  1. Tamang, J. P., Watanabe, K., & Holzapfel, W. H. (2016). Review: Diversity of Microorganisms in Global Fermented Foods and Beverages. Frontiers in Microbiology, 7, 377. Link

  2. Rezac, S., Kok, C. R., Heermann, M., & Hutkins, R. (2018). Fermented Foods as a Dietary Source of Live Organisms. Frontiers in Microbiology, 9, 1785. Link

  3. Hill, C., Guarner, F., Reid, G., Gibson, G. R., Merenstein, D. J., Pot, B., ... & Calder, P. C. (2014). Expert consensus document: The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics consensus statement on the scope and appropriate use of the term probiotic. Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology, 11(8), 506–514. Link

  4. Hemarajata, P., & Versalovic, J. (2013). Effects of probiotics on gut microbiota: Mechanisms of intestinal immunomodulation and neuromodulation. Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology, 6(1), 39–51. Link

  5. Tilg, H., & Moschen, A. R. (2014). Microbiota and diabetes: an evolving relationship. Gut, 63(9), 1513–1521. Link

  6. Marco, M. L., Heeney, D., Binda, S., Cifelli, C. J., Cotter, P. D., Foligné, B., ... & Ouwehand, A. (2017). Health benefits of fermented foods: microbiota and beyond. Current Opinion in Biotechnology, 44, 94–102. Link

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