The Health Benefits of Fermented Foods

As a nerd of all things related to gut health, I thought that I’d write a blog post about fermented foods!

Why fermented foods? Fermented foods are amazing for your guts! The health benefits of fermented foods are immense and I will cover a few of these benefits in this post. I will also share what fermentation is, nutrients found in fermented foods, and a few fermented foods that you can make from home.

 

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What Is Fermentation?

The Health Benefits of Fermented Foods
Photo by The Matter of Food on Unsplash

Fermentation is a chemical reaction. It’s a process where molecules, like glucose are broken down anaerobically. Fermentation happens when bacteria and yeasts break down and alter the microbes of the food.

In the past, people used fermentation mainly to preserve foods so that they would have a longer shelf life. Fermentation was also used to improve the flavor of certain foods.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries new approaches to food preservation were developed. Canning, pasteurization, refrigeration, freezing and preservatives were developed and slowly fermentation was considered less necessary.

However, as time has gone on, fermentation has become associated with many health benefits, which has caused many people to turn to fermentation to help support their health; specifically gut health.

Fermented food is good for you as it contains beneficial bacterial colonies. These colonies prevent spoilage and boost the nutritional value of the food.

These microorganisms that help with the fermentation process have very recently been associated with many health benefits. They are gaining a lot of attention!!

WHAT ABOUT PICKLED FOOD?

 

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Photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash

Pickled foods are not the same as fermented foods. The pickled vegetables that you buy from the supermarket shelves, the ones not refrigerated….pickled onions, pickled beets….pickles; these are all preserved in an acidic liquid – usually vinegar. Even though vinegar is a product of fermentation, these pickles are not fermented. These vegetables have been submerged in vinegar and then heated and pasteurized so there are no live and active cultures.

To find true fermented pickles…or other vegetables, look for these items in the refrigerated section of your local health food store.

Benefits of Eating Fermented Foods

As more research into fermented foods come to light, more information is being shared as to the benefits to your body of eating fermented foods. The microorganisms helping with the fermentation process provide us with a lot of health benefits. These microorganisms are known as probiotics

PROBIOTICS

What are probiotics? Probiotics are live bacteria!

The activity of these bacteria when fermenting the food/beverage, give these foods and beverages a distinct flavor and texture. The nutritional profile of the food being fermented is also upgraded.

Lactic Acid Bacteria are one of the most important bacteria groups in fermented foods! These bacteria groups are found in fermented dairy (Kefir), fermented vegetables (sauerkraut, kimchi) and fermented bread (sourdough bread).

From the Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB) Group, Lactobacillus, Streptococcus and Leuconostoc are the most predominant bacteria found in fermented foods.

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Probiotic

Other bacteria, yeast and fungi also add to food fermentation. Some of these include: S.Boulardii and Bifidobacterium dentium.

 

Consuming fermented foods means you are adding beneficial bacteria and enzymes to your intestinal flora. These bacteria and enzymes in turn make it easier for your body to digest food which then allows your body to more easily absorb the nutrients from the fermented food.

 

HEALTH BENEFITS

What are the health benefits of eating fermented foods?

During fermentation, Lactic Acid Bacteria synthesize vitamins and minerals and produce biologically active peptides (small chains of amino acids) with enzymes. These peptides have many health benefits.

  • The peptide CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) has a blood pressure lowering effect.
  • Exopolysaccharides (carbohydrate residues) show prebiotic properties. Prebiotics are food for your “good” gut bacteria.
  • Bioactive peptides have antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti allergenic and blood pressure lowering effects.

Some other health benefits of fermented foods are:

  1. Antioxidant
  2. Antimicrobial
  3. Anti-fungal
  4. Anti-inflammatory
  5. Anti-diabetic
  6. Anti-atherosclerotic activity.

Nutrients Found In Fermented Foods

Here is a list of the vitamins and nutrients that can be found in fermented foods.

 

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Complete B-Complex

B Vitamins: these vitamins are often found together in the same foods. This is the same for fermented foods. The two main B vitamins found in fermented foods are Folate (B9) and Riboflavin (B2). Vitamin B2 helps the body to break down fats, carbohydrates and proteins to produce energy.

Vitamin E: this fat soluble vitamin is an antioxidant that protects blood vessels from free radicals.

Vitamin K: this is a fat soluble vitamin that helps with blood clotting and calcium transportation.

Folic Acid: is a form of Vitamin B9. This vitamin helps with the formation of red blood cells. It is linked to reducing depression by increasing serotonin and dopamine levels. It is also required for the proper development of the fetal nervous system.

 

Optimized Folate
Optimized Folate

All of these vitamins are essential for good health and are more bio available in fermented foods.

Make Your Own Fermented Foods

You’ve learned what fermentation is and the nutrients found in fermented foods so now you can start making your own fermented foods!

Making your own fermented foods is quite simple and easy to do.

Sauerkraut is one of the easiest fermented foods to make at home. All you will need are cabbage, salt, water and caraway seeds. Pack these ingredients into a clean glass jar and leave to ferment for 3 to 10 days. Here are a few recipes on how to make sauerkraut.

How To Make Homemade Sauerkraut In A Mason Jar – www.thekitchn.com

How To Make Sauerkraut – www.minimalistbaker.com

I also found a great recipe that shows you how to ferment any vegetable! How To Ferment Vegetables – www.runnigtothekitchen.com

Another great fermented food to try is sourdough bread! Here’s a great recipe to get you started on your sourdough starter: Simple Sourdough Starter.

I’ll be honest.

I have not tried to ferment vegetables on my own. I printed off a few fermentation recipes, but have yet to make them. However, I did buy a very yummy sauerkraut that I eat daily and, have found it to be very helpful in digesting my food.

If you are still on the fence about making your own fermented foods, then start out like I have, and buy some sauerkraut, kimchi or kombucha from your local health food store. There are so many good brands to choose from!

Concerned that you won’t like the taste?

Start small!

Buy a small jar of sauerkraut, or better yet, a mixed fermented vegetable blend. Or start with kombucha! This fermented drink is tangy but all you need is about 2oz daily to start. You don’t need much to feel the benefits!

Conclusion

Fermented foods are easy to make and they are an inexpensive way to help assist your beneficial bacteria in growing strong and gaining more “good” bacteria.

If you do decide to give fermented foods a try, be sure to start low and slow. What I mean by that is, eat or drink just small amounts of fermented foods to start. If your body has never eaten these types of foods before, it may take a bit for your body to adjust. Of course, the more your body gets used to eating fermented foods, the more of these foods you will be able to eat.

You don’t need to eat heaps and heaps of fermented food to receive the benefits. A spoonful of fermented food or shot glass of fermentd drink daily and you will feel the benefits.

After reading this article, do you think you’re going to give fermented foods a try? Comment below and let me know!

Happy Fermenting!

xo

The Gut Nerd.

8 thoughts on “The Health Benefits of Fermented Foods”

  1. Thank you very much for this useful post. It’s the first time I read about fermented foods having some type of benefit. But with my new year’s resolutions I have started looking into Probiotics and am glad to come to your post. My main focus is upon getting meals that are rich in antioxidants.

    Reply
    • Hi Ann, Thanks for your comment! Yes! Lots of benefits to fermented foods! Plus an easy, less expensive way to get in those probiotics! Fruits and veggies are loaded with antioxidants so incorporating more of those into your daily meals and snacks will help you to achieve your goal to get in more antioxidants!

      Good luck to you and thanks again for taking the time to comment!

      xo

      Reply
  2. This was a very interesting read!  It’s amazing how many techniques of the past are coming back…and for good reason!  Now that we’ve seen what this modern processed food can do to our health, it’s no wonder have such gut problems!  I can vouch for the fact that fermented foods help.  I have made it myself with varying degrees of success but the sauerkraut was fabulous! It’s not hard to get started on this…like you say, just a Mason jar, salt and water (I didn’t use caraway seeds).  Give it a try, just once, and see how it goes!

    Reply
    • Hi Cynthia,

      Yes, processed foods are really causing problems for our guts! It’s good to see that fermented foods are getting more attention. I eat a small amount of fermented foods with almost every meal and I notice the difference in how I feel after a meal.  I WILL give making my own fermented veggies a try! It’s on my list of things to do!  Thanks for the encouragement!

      xo

      Anna

      Reply
  3. Hi Anna, Thanks for your post on fermented foods. When I was a child we would eat hot dogs and sauerkraut. My Grandma ate pork and sauerkraut. I haven’t had sauerkraut in a long while. What I am interested in is Sour Dough Bread Starter. I think if I dig down deep enough in your website, I may find a recipe. That, to me would be fun to try. I Tried making sourdough bread long ago, but think it would be fun to try again.

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention!

    Reply
    • Hi Carolyn, 

      Did you enjoy sauerkraut as a child? I didn’t like it as a kid, but I sure do love it now! There is a recipe link for making starter sourdough right in this article! Please give it a try!

      xo

      Anna

      Reply
  4. I really enjoyed reading your article on fermented foods.  I have heard of the health benefits of fermented foods but have never incorporated them into my diet.  I have had sourdough bread and I love it.  Maybe I will start with that!   I was surprised to learn that pickled foods are not the same as fermented foods, but it does make sense the way you explained it.

    Reply
    • Hi Kay! Sourdough is a great way to begin adding in fermented foods! Kefir water is really yummy as well to start with.  

      Yes, anything “pickled” that is sitting on the shelves of the local grocery store are not fermented.  Seems like it would be, but it is not.

      I hope you give the fermented foods a try! If you do, please do let me know!

      xo

      Anna

      Reply

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