Why Are Fermented Foods Good For You?
The Tangy, Sweet, Pungent, and sometimes Spicy Super Food, everyone should be eating!
What Are Fermented Foods?
Fermented foods in the simplest sense are foods that have been preserved through a process called Lacto-fermentation. Lacto-fermentation occurs when bacteria process sugars and starches found in food and create lactic acid. This process of preservation creates various beneficial enzymes, b-vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids and various strains of prebiotics and probiotics. Don’t worry I’ll get into these a little later.
Natural Fermentation has been found to preserve the nutrients in foods and break down foods into a form more easily digestible by the body. This along with the prebiotics and probiotics created during the process are what has been found to improved digestive health and the benefits that come along with it.
Fermented foods can be found in the diets of cultures from around the world, from Sauerkraut in Germany, Kimchi found in Korean diets, Kefir found in Russia, and Lassi found in Indian cultures. Fermentation of foods has been in practice for millennia with evidence dating back to 7000 to 6000 BCE in Jiahu, China. Sadly, modern times until recently, have seen a decline in these traditional foods. All that being said, naturally fermented foods are extremely good for us both nutritionally and health-wise, even if they may take some adjustment to become a custom to eating.
Where Have All the Fermented Foods Gone?
It’s a fair question.. with all the food available in stores, why is it that fermented foods have only recently seen a resurgence in popularity?? The amount if beneficial enzymes and prebiotics and probiotics found in the average diet have been severely lacking for what could easily amount to decades. Modern times has seen fermented foods replaced with what amounts to over processed garbage. Pasteurized milk has replaced rich raw milk, yogurt has gone from homemade cultures to mass marketed sugar-laden junk, fermented vegetables have become bastardized pickle products and the list goes on. Much of what was once traditional Lacto-fermented foods has been replaced by heavily processed mass produced food products.
Why Eat Fermented Foods?
Well, they’re good for you it really is that simple. There’s a long list of reasons why from Essential nutrients, immune system support, detoxification, Prebiotics, probiotics, diabetes control, obesity problems, the list goes on..( I’ll go into these here in a bit). Those reasons aside, they taste awesome and tend to become addicting once you’ve become accustomed to eating them. You’ll find yourself eating less junk food for snacks and reaching for some kimchi or some coleslaw instead. Instead of some sugary high fructose laden soda perhaps some Kombucha or Kefir to drink.. you still get the tang and in some cases, carbonated goodness without the processed sugars and other crap found in sodas.
- Essential Nutrients- Fermented Foods have been found to have high levels of many vitamins, proteins, amino acids, and other essential minerals like calcium, iron, potassium and many others. For instance Kinema which is a fermented soybean dish, similar to natto, has been found to contain a pH of 7.9, 454 kcal/100 g, total amino acids 42618 mg/100 g, free amino acids 5129 mg/100 g, Ca (Calcium) 432 mg/100 g, Na (Sodium) 27.7 mg/100 g, Fe (Iron) 17.7 mg/100 g, Mn (Manganese) 5.4 mg/100 g, and Zn (Zink) 4.5 mg/100 g. It also has B group vitamins and minerals. It is rich in all essential amino acids which constitute 52.6% of its protein, comparable to that of hen’s egg and milk proteins. Traditionally prepared Kinema, contains 8 mg B1, 12 mg B2, 45 mg B3, 683 mg Ca, 4 mg Cu, 18 mg Fe, 494 mg Mg, 10 mg Mn, 1257 mg P, 2077 mg K, 13 mg Zn, and <0.5 mg of Cd, Cr, Pb, Ni, and Na per kg. Now this is just one example and the nutritive values obviously vary depending on the dish but we can see that it covers a wide range of nutritional needs.
- Prebiotics- I can see the looks on your faces already… What are prebiotics?? Did you mean probiotics?.. and the answer is nope, I didn’t. We hear about probiotics all the time but we rarely hear about prebiotics. Well, that’s why I’ve decided to mention this in here. Prebiotics are selectively used by microorganisms for health bene What this means is its basically health food for the bacteria found in our guts. Prebiotics can be found naturally in onions, garlic, bananas and a few other items, its also found in mothers milk. Prebiotics work with probiotics to help maintain gut health. I’m thinking I might do a post covering more on this because there’s quite a bit involved, more than I want to cover here.
- Probiotics- We’re innodated with probiotics right now, we see the labels everywhere we look on so many products in the store it’s almost overwhelming so I’m just going to give a basic overview here. Probiotics are live microorganisms that help support the natural bacteria that live in us. They help our immune system function properly, aid in digestion by breaking down some foods we can’t digest easily, keep harmful microbes in check, produce vitamins and aid in nutrient absorption. Some probiotics help reduce antibiotic diarrhea, manage digestive issues, reduce colic symptoms, eczema in infants, help with the digestion of lactose and a host of other things too numerous to list here. They’re the primary benefit to eating fermented foods. I could probably do an entire post on probiotics alone.
- Immune System- So how does eating fermented foods help the immune system? It’s a good question and a reasonable one to ask. The answer to that is pretty straightforward honestly. Its estimated that 80% or our immune system is located in our gut. Probiotics play a crucial role in the development and operation of the mucosal immune system in your digestive tract and aid in the production of antibodies to pathogens. This makes a healthy gut a major factor in maintaining optimal health, as a robust immune system is your top defense system against disease. Fermented food is a great source of probiotics means good for the immune system. See pretty straightforward.
- Diabetes Control- Fermented foods may help treat some forms of Diabetes. According to a study done in Denmark, Bacterial populations in the gut of diabetics differ from that of non-diabetics. The results indicate that type 2 diabetes in humans is linked to compositional changes in intestinal microbiota.
A healthy diet low in sugars and high in raw whole foods and fermented foods allows your beneficial gut bacteria to flourish.
- Obesity Control- Probiotics may help fight obesity. Restoring gut flora can lead to better digestion of foods and increased metabolism allowing the body to burn through fat stores more readily.
- Absorb Food Better– Having the proper balance of gut bacteria and enough digestive enzymes helps you absorb more of the nutrients in the foods you eat. Pair this with your healthy real food diet, and you will absorb many more nutrients from the foods you eat.
- Budget-Friendly– Fermented foods when made at home can be extremely cost-effective, many homes have the necessary ingredients already. And by making them at home you know exactly whats in them.
- Preserves Food– Fermentation at its core is a way to preserve food for longer periods of time. Think of the last batch of salsa you made. It doesn’t last very long stored in the fridge and has to be used or thrown away. Fermented homemade salsa, on the other hand, will last for months and can be made in large batches. The same goes for sauerkraut, pickles, beets and many other foods. Fermentation allows preservations of foods for longer periods without losing nutrients.
Pickled Versus Fermented Foods.
Earlier I mentioned bastardized pickles and fermented foods so I’m going to expand on that a little bit here. Fermented foods and pickles are not necessarily the same thing and that’s not a bad thing. It’s just something that needs to be stated.
Pickled foods, unlike fermented foods, typically use an acidic brine solution to preserve the foods rather than living cultures. This brine solution doesn’t allow for live bacteria to survive the process. Pickling, however, does have the benefits of creating foods that are high in electrolytes which are also essential for our bodies so that’s a win there.
Now it should be noted that most pickled stuff and “fermented stuff” found on the store shelves isn’t the same and this is where the bastardized comment comes into play. When most of our commercial foods are produced they are pasteurized during the canning process. The high heat exposure the foods undergo during this process destroys the live cultures in fermented foods and degrades the electrolytes found in pickled produce, thus removing the actual benefits of eating them in the first place.. so bastardized pickle products.
Taking the time to make them at home or finding someone that makes them is an easy way to avoid that.
This about wraps up what I’ve wanted to cover, I’m going to add some recipes in time as I find some that I like and will add links and expand on it later.