By Dr. Justin Marchegiani
What Are Fermented Foods?
You may be familiar with fermented foods and beverages such as bread, wine, and beer. Ethanol fermentation gives us alcohols and bread, but there is another type of fermentation, lactic acid fermentation, which turns ordinary foods into probiotic powerhouses! Lactic acid fermentation uses lactobacillus to ferment dairy and vegetables. Fermentation has been used for centuries to preserve foods, create unique flavors, and for its distinctive health benefits.
Some of the best fermented foods are sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), kimchi (fermented cabbage and radishes), pickles (fermented cucumber), kombucha (fermented tea), kefir (traditionally milk, although water and coconut kefirs exist too!), yogurt (milk), and natto (fermented soybeans).
How Fermented Foods Can Heal Your Gut
Nutrient Availability: Fermented foods provide you with a wide range of nutrients, and also help you get more out of the other foods that you consume. Fermentation improves the availability, digestibility, and quantity of nutrients such as B vitamins.
Eat More Foods: Many people have a hard time digesting dairy. But when milk is fermented, like in the cases of kefir and yogurt, the lactose and casein actually become more easily digestible! The same holds true for soybeans; they are indigestible without the process of fermentation, which gives us tempeh, soy sauce, and miso.
Gut Infections: The microflora you get when you consume fermented foods create an unwelcoming environment for candida. These beneficial bacteria protect your gut and boost your immune system, effectively shutting the door on candida! Studies have also shown a lower risk of developing a H. pylori infection in individuals who consume fermented foods even just once a week! The probiotics found in fermented foods are able to help manage the inflammation that causes bloating, gas, and other symptoms of IBS, IBD, Crohn’s, and similar bowel diseases.
More Benefits of Fermented Foods
Mental Health: We are learning more and more about the gut-brain connection every day. Researchers are beginning to observe the positive effects of fermented foods on mental health, including the link between the microbiome and anxiety and depression. According to the findings, the effect of fermented foods on the gut may help you overcome mental health struggles!
Cognitive Function: Research is suggesting that the link between the gut and the brain also contributes to how cognitive function increases or declines. Fermented foods are being studied for their neuroprotective properties, including protecting against neurotoxicity and oxidative damage.
Weight Management: The composition of the microbiome is unique to every individual, however, similarities in gut composition have been observed among people who are lean and likewise among those who are obese. Fermented foods promote good bacteria, associated with being lean.
Choosing Fermented Foods
Be sure to look for organic, non-GMO products. You also want raw/unpasteurized fermented products, as pasteurization and heat will kill all of the good bacteria and probiotics. In the cases of kefir and yogurt, which are dairy, look for raw milk from grass-fed cows. Or, try goat’s milk products!
There’s no doubt fermented foods are beneficial for our health; they’ve been consumed for centuries all over the world! Be sure to get your daily dose of probiotics, but like all good things, consume fermented foods in moderation.