What are they? Why are they good for us? Where can I get them?
There is no doubt that fermented foods have been very popular lately, but the truth is that they have been used by humans for centuries. Thousands of years ago before refrigeration, fermenting was used to preserve food so it didn’t spoil and go to waste. Our ancestors also used to ferment foods to enhance taste and texture. Before modern medicine it was used to try to increase foods health promoting properties, by killing off ‘bad bacteria’ which makes us sick but increasing ‘good bacteria’ which enhances our health. More and more research is now showing that this good bacteria which can be found in fermented foods is beneficial for our gut health, which in turn has a big positive influence on our overall health.
More research needs to be done in this area, but fermented foods certainly have a role to play in good ‘gut health’. It is important to note that they ARE NOT a magic food that is going to make you a picture of health, but when they are incorporated in an overall good, healthy diet – they may play a role in making you even healthier.
What is fermented food?
Fermentation is a process of exposing certain foods to bacteria and yeasts along with a starter culture for a certain amount of time, to alter the foods properties. It is almost the space between fresh and rotten! Beer and wine are examples of fermenting, where yeast converts sugars to alcohol. Yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, kombucha tea are also examples of fermented foods, these ones use bacteria (like lactobacillus) to ferment. When bacteria is used to ferment foods it creates live microbes (probiotics) which have been shown to have a long list of health benefits.
Why are fermented foods good for us?
When you eat fermented foods, the bacteria in them help to balance your gut bacteria and stomach acids. They release enzymes in your gut which can make it easier for your body to extract and absorb the vitamins and minerals (nutrients) from the foods you eat. As I said before research is ongoing in this area but when foods are fermented with bacteria, it creates live microbes which is what we call probiotics. Probiotics have been shown to enhance gut health, improving digestion and can help the treatment of diarrhoea, constipation and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). Poor gut health has been linked with obesity, diabetes and cholesterol levels.
Where can I get fermented food?
You can either buy it, or make it your self. I have not attempted to make it so here some links on ‘how to’.
I like to buy my fermented foods in the form of:
Greek or traditional yoghurt – loaded with good bacteria, I like the plain flavours without added sugars (no more than about 6g of sugar per 100g). I go for plain versions like Barambah Organics or Chiobani or bio-dynamic.
Sauerkraut – this is fermented cabbage (pictured below). Available in many deli’s and health food stores in the refrigerated area.
Kombucha tea – Not every day as it is expensive! But it is a delicious alternative to fizzy drinks. It is made with tea and sugar, fermenting it with bacteria and yeast (the bacteria feed on the sugar during fermentation, so the end product does not contain much sugar). Also found in the refrigerated section of health food stores.
Kefir: a tangy drink product made with live kefir cultures, similar to yoghurt.
-Miso soup, soy sauce, tempeh, tofu are also fermented! But some types can be very processed and high in salt so best not to be eaten every day.
-Fermented foods can also include fermented beets, radishes, tomatoes, onions, garlic, kimchi (pictured below) and green beans.
When buying fermented food products you need to:
-Make sure they are actually fermented, not just pickled in vinegar. Fermented foods will usually say they are fermented somewhere on the label, or say they contain ‘live cultures’, or that they contain probiotics.
-Buy them from the refrigerated section of the store/supermarket, fermented foods on shelves are usually pasteurised (heated) which kills both the bad and good bacteria.
-Keep them cool. The beneficial live bacteria need to be kept cool to survive, so be sure to refrigerate the product
To reap the benefits of the good bacteria and probiotics from fermented foods, try eating them once or twice a day. On their own like a serve of yoghurt with fruit, or you can toss a small serving of fermented veggies like sauerkraut or kimchi through a salad/sandwich, or have them as a small side dish with a meal.