Kombucha, Kimchi, even sauerkraut are receiving their fair share of attention as fermented foods enjoy their fame. But it this a fleeting fad or is it time to sit up and take notice? Firstly, fermentation means using bacteria or yeast to turn starches and sugars into acidic compounds. Hence, the tangy tasty you find in your jar of pickles.
Not only can fermentation provide some flavor “zip” but the bacteria responsible are considered to be of the “healthy” variety. So, healthy in fact that some experts in the field include fermented foods as a separate food group. But what is it that these foods offer that a bowl full of brown rice and steamed broccoli can’t provide? Probiotics, baby, probiotics!
Time then to briefly review probiotics and the role they can play in keeping us healthy, wealthy and wise…okay, maybe just healthy. But isn’t that enough?
Probiotics are “good” microorganisms that may contribute to keeping your digestive and immune systems in working order. Lactic acid bacteria are an example of a common probiotic. Probiotics are thought to be at the heart of the health benefits that fermented foods may offer. And what are these benefits? Well, there is some evidence that certain fermented foods might provide some protection against bladder cancer, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Research continues on the possibility that probiotics may offer some benefit in the treatment of obesity, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, hypertension, inflammatory conditions such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease and immune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis. Fermented foods are also being investigated as a one way of reducing the incidence of gut infection. And if you’re looking for a little boost to your brain power, it may interest you to know that fermented foods are also being investigated as potentially able to provide “neuroprotection” while improving cognitive abilities.
Not only can fermented foods help keep your gut colonized by healthy bacteria (aka flora), but they can also be a source of enzymes that improve digestion and nutrient absorption.
If you’re game for a trial of fermented foods, here are some of your options.
* Tempeh ·
* Sauerkraut ·
* Kimchi ·
* Kombucha ·
* Yogurt ·
* Miso ·
* Keifer ·
* Olives ·
* Soy Sauce ·
* Sourdough bread ·
* Certain cheeses ·
Just Remember that fermented foods aren’t without possible drawbacks. If your fermented food of choice is also high in sodium, you’ll have to keep an eye on your salt intake. And if alcohol isn’t your friend, drinking wine under the guise that it is a “healthy” fermented food, isn’t doing yourself any favors. Also, make sure the fermentation process was all good – there have been cases of botulism associated with fermentation gone wrong.
Bottom Line: Fermenting food is an ancient practice that continues to this day. Not only is it known to enhance flavor but it’s possible that fermented foods can provide health benefits not found within the typical food groups. Want to give it a go? Make sure that the potential pluses outweigh any downsides, make some room in your fridge, and give sauerkraut (or kefir or kombucha or…) a whirl. Just make sure it is a refrigerated variety to ensure the probiotics are still active!