Have you noticed that fermented foods are all the rage right now?! I feel like new brands of artisan kombucha, kimchi and sauerkraut are popping up every day. Whole Foods even predicted that probiotic-rich fermented foods will be a major food trend of 2016. It's funny because fermented foods aren't anything new. They've been prepared and consumed for thousands of years, but people are really starting to pay attention to them again because of their health benefits.
One of the big benefits of fermented foods is the healthy bacteria content and its ability to improve the health of our gut, which is critical to overall health. Gut flora is a major part of our immune system and an unhealthy gut can lead to more health issues than just digestive upset.
Did you know that about 90% of our serotonin is made in the digestive system? Serotonin plays an important part in the regulation of mood, sleep, learning, and the constriction of blood vessels. So taking care of our digestive systems can positively impact so much of our lives!
Without going into too much detail about gut health (because that could be a whole post on its own) I want to share some of the top benefits of fermented foods. I've been learning more about their importance and I think everyone should be eating more of them. Here's why:
- A healthy digestive system and gut — Fermented foods balance the ratio of good and bad bacteria in the gut. They also have a unique ability to balance the production of stomach acid. If production of hydrochloric acid by the stomach is low (or high), fermented foods can help increase (or decrease) the acidity of gastric juices.
- The fermentation process makes foods easier to digest — Some foods (like beans, milk and cruciferous vegetables) are hard for our bodies to digest. The act of fermenting starts the breakdown of the components that make digestion difficult. For instance, someone who had trouble digesting milk may respond fine with kefir because it's fermented and almost 100% lactose-free after the bacteria has metabolized the milk sugar. The same goes for cabbage. Sauerkraut is much easier to digest because the fermentation process breaks down the carbohydrates.
- Increased bioavailability of nutrients — Bacteria and enzymes in our gut are what help break down food to a form that our bodies can use. Many fermented foods are rich in enzyme activity that improve this process and increase the amount of nutrients our bodies absorb.
If you're looking to increase your consumption of fermented foods, here are a few things to try: tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, yogurt, natto, and/or miso. You don't have to eat a whole meal of fermented foods to get the benefits. Most are used as condiments and a few tablespoons a day is perfect.
When buying fermented foods, just be sure that they are lacto-fermented and/or stored in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. Items that are shelf-stable (like some sauerkraut varieties) have been pickled using vinegar or pasteurized and canned, which kills much of good bacteria you want. You can also easily make your own fermented foods at home. I actually just made my first batch of fermented veggies with Isaac's mom this past weekend. I can't wait to try them!!
Do you eat fermented foods on the regular? What's your favorite?