Fermented foods have been used as medicinal foods all across the globe for centuries. They have been long understood for their digestive healing and immune supportive properties, and should be part of our regular diet.
The topic of fermented foods is an entire book, in fact, and I highly recommend reading Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz, where you can learn the intricacies of the ancient history of fermentation, the many benefits it provides, and recipes to ferment your own foods at home.
Consider this a fermented food 101 course. Let’s begin by looking at what fermented foods are, and some key nutritional benefits.
Fermented foods, are foods that have gone through a natural lacto-fermentation process, so are, in a way, partially pre-digested. This process occurs when the naturally occurring bacteria present in food feeds on the sugars and starches, creating lactic acid. The end result of this process leaves you with increased preserved nutrient content, and many beneficial enzymes. And, they are chalked full of probiotics, which are healthy gut bacteria.
Often when we hear the word “bacteria,” we automatically consider this a bad thing, and one that we do not want. However, you might be surprised to know our gut is filled with millions of good and bad bacteria’s that work in conjunction, and are essential for not only digestive health, but proper immune health and function.
Fascinatingly, the bulk of our immune system lives in our gut. This means that without proper gut flora, we are much more susceptible to a myriad of diseases stemming from poor immune health, such as food allergies and sensitivities, seasonal allergies and asthma, frequent colds and infections, and more.
Leaky Gut And Probiotics
Leaky gut syndrome is at the root of every autoimmune condition, and a lack of healthy gut bacteria is a leading cause of both autoimmune and other common conditions (such as those listed above). Leaky gut syndrome (more technically termed increased intestinal permeability) occurs when our gut lining is damaged, and we have an imbalance of healthy vs. unhealthy gut flora. Fermented foods offer us a simple and effective way to achieve and maintain proper levels of gut flora, both preventing future disease and helping to treat existing symptoms.
Sadly, many ancient customs of fermentation have been lost, and we have moved worldwide towards more processed, refined foods. And if you look at the trend of degenerative disease, we certainly aren’t doing ourselves any favors.
Here Are 7 Top Fermented Food Choices To Incorporate Into Your Daily Diet:
- Raw Sauerkraut: This is traditionally fermented cabbage, but can include many other vegetables, as well. Be sure to purchase the raw form, as this is what offers the nutritional benefits. I love to include 1/4-1/2 cup on the side of any meal, and eating it daily is great for maintenance.
- Kimchi: Also a vegetable-based option, this is a typical Korean fermented dish. It is typically spicier, but can be enjoyed on the side of any meal.
- Kvass: Often made from beets, this is a fermented drink originating from Eastern Europe. You can include one serving per day (8-12 oz.), and purchase it at your local health food store or online.
- Kombucha Tea: Also a fermented drink, this is a tea and comes in it’s original (unflavored) version, and also with many varieties such as ginger, citrus, lavender, etc. The options are endless!
- Yogurt and Kefir: These are dairy-based fermented foods, and should be avoided by lactose intolerant individuals. When choosing yogurt, be sure to opt for whole fat, plain instead of low/no-fat options that have added sugar. Kefir is a fermented dairy beverage, and also comes in varying flavors.
- Miso: This traditional Japanese seasoning is made from fermented soy beans and salt. It is commonly served at Japanese restaurants, and can also be purchased in a paste or powder form to make at home. While more processed versions of soy (such as tofu or soy milk) can be highly inflammatory and are not recommended, miso is a healthy and delicious fermented food source.
- Pickles: While pickles made in the traditional method of allowing them to ferment in a mixture of salt and water make for a great fermented food, remember that pickles that have been made using vinegar are not fermented. Pickles are simply fermented cucumbers, which are low in calories and highly nutritious.
All of these fermented foods can also be made at home, and the book mentioned above offers some delicious recipes. Make fermented foods part of your daily diet by simply incorporating 1 serving (or more) per day alongside any meal. While more therapeutic doses of probiotics (in supplement form) can also be hugely beneficial in getting gut bacteria up to par, fermented foods are the key to proper maintenance.