Fermented Foods – What You Need To Know
Fermented foods have fizzed onto the healthy food scene over the last few years, but we Nutritional Therapists have had them in our tool kits for quite some time already.
Hippocrates once said, “All Disease Begins in The Gut.” There is no denying that optimising one’s gut health is now deemed to be important and it is one of the aspects I question most when working with patients. So, let me tell you a little more about why fermented foods are so often part of the dietary recommendations in my Health Plans.
What is Fermentation? The fermentation of foods certainly isn’t new. It is a process that has been known about for thousands of years and was useful for preserving foods. Fermenting food in simple terms, means that the sugars and carbohydrates in a food have been broken down by beneficial (or “good”) bacteria. In scientific terms, it involves a process called lacto-fermentation. During this process, natural bacteria (also called lactobacilli) feed on starches and sugars, converting them to lactic acid. This preserves the food and creates prebiotics and probiotics, along with other nutrients including b-vitamins (crucial for the nervous system, mental function & digestion), omega-3 fatty acids (essential for brain health, fighting inflammation & cellular functioning) and beneficial enzymes (needed for digestion & metabolism).
What are Fermented Foods? Common fermented foods include: sourdough, kombucha, live yoghurt, kefir, blue cheese, apple cider vinegar, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh, pickles and natto.
Why Fermented Foods? There are many benefits of fermented foods. Firstly, fermented foods are live and active. They are teeming with beneficial bacteria and yeast. They contain a variety of live cultures (probiotics) along with prebiotics (the food the probiotics feast on to help them grow). Benefits include:
Improving the digestion and absorption of vital nutrients
Reducing constipation and bloatingImproving the colonisation of intestinal, respiratory and urogenital tracts
Lowering cholesterol and improving blood lipid profiles
Improving mood, mental function and emotional stability
Increasing energy and reducing stress
Increasing acidity, inhibiting pathogenic bacteria and yeasts like Candida
Helping our bodies to detoxify & acts as a natural chelator of toxins, pesticides & harmful chemicals
Apart from being great for the gut, they act on our immune system. The mucosa (gut lining) is a natural immunity barrier which helps ensure a strong immune system. When more probiotic-rich foods are eaten, the good bacteria are supported and flourish. When more prebiotics are added to your diet, the good bacteria have the perfect nutrition to get the upper hand. If things are out of balance, the disease-causing microbes can grow and may cause inflammation.
Does Everyone Benefit From Fermented Foods? Most people thrive and benefit from eating fermented foods on a regular basis. However those with histamine intolerance, may find that too many of these foods flare up their histamine symptoms like headaches, itching and sneezing. Those with Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) may also find that they cannot tolerate fermented foods at the beginning stages of their treatment, leading to bloating and associated anxiety and fatigue. This is because the gut is overloaded with bacteria already. Usually once the bacterial overgrowth is rebalanced, these foods can be added in slowly and are very beneficial in the longer term, especially after SIBO antibiotic treatment.
Unfortunately, not all fermented foods are created equal. Some fermented foods have been pasteurised so that they can be stored on the shelf at room temperature for longer; and this process kills off any live beneficial bacteria. Always aim to buy live unpasteurised fermented foods where possible.
The best way to get your fermented food intake is by making it yourself. Fermented foods require minimal hands on time as it’s about mixing in the cultures and leaving them to do their job. My favourite fermented foods are sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi and kombucha.
Look after your gut and it will look after you!