Why Fermentation is your Friend
If you’re new to the concept, fermented foods might sound a little bit unusual. But they’re actually one of the healthiest things you can eat – and most dietitians recommend you get at least one serving per day. Sure, there are some acquired tastes in the world of fermentation, like pungent kimchi or slimy natto. But you’re probably consuming some of the more mainstream fermented foods – such as kombucha, sauerkraut and yogurt – already. And if you’re not working these ingredients into your diet, here are some great reasons you should start.
When it comes to digestion and gut health, fermented foods are a win. We don’t want to freak you out, but right now there are about 100 trillion microorganisms in your gut – some good, and some not so good. When you eat fermented foods, they populate your digestive system with the good kind of bacteria, which helps drive out the bad bugs. This plays a key role in everything from metabolism to your immune system, and can help prevent everything from inflammation to diabetes.
How does it all work? First it’s a good idea to understand the basic process of fermentation – which is bacteria or yeast “feeding” on the natural sugars found in food. Once the process is complete, the fermented foods are filled with these “friendly” bacteria and enzymes. These bacteria also work to make nutrients easier to digest and absorb, as the cell walls get broken down, kickstarting the digestion process. For example, even lactose intolerant people can generally tolerate kefir, a fermented yogurt process. And fermented vegetables can be even healthier than their raw counterparts: the vitamin C in fermented cabbage is much easier to absorb. And fermentation can produce vitamin B in some foods that don’t even contain it while raw!
Get Your Ferment On
Ready to get started? Here are some fermented foods to try out.
Made from fermented soybeans, this pleasantly nutty plant-based protein can be roasted, sautéed or even sliced thin and turned into tempeh “bacon.” Not only is it packed with probiotics from the fermentation process – tempeh is also packed with nutrients said to reduce your risk of heart disease. Soy protein has been shown to decrease “bad” cholesterol – and may even contain helpful antioxidants.
Ten years ago, it was a niche product. Now, one in four people drinks it! So what is kombucha? A fermented, fizzy drink made from black or green tea. Although most studies are still pretty small at this point, the research is promising. This tart and tasty drink has been shown to support liver health, reduce blood sugar and lower “bad” cholesterol. For maximum benefits, look for a version that’s low in sugar, to boot.
Often found in Japanese cooking, this savoury seasoning paste is surprisingly versatile – we love it for everything from salad dressings to grilled fish or tofu. And in addition to being delicious, miso is packed with probiotics and other nutrients. Studies show that it might help with anything from reducing blood pressure to lowering your risk of stroke.
Like kombucha, kimchi is an ingredient not many western consumers knew about just years ago – but is rapidly growing in popularity now. And for good reason! This fermented cabbage dish has been shown to help lower cholesterol and reduce your resistance to insulin – which helps keep your blood sugar levels in check. Not sure how to work this funky flavour into your pantry? Try adding it to fried rice, using it to top Asian-inspired grain bowls or even adding it to your sandwiches.
Is the rest of this list still looking a bit too exotic for you? Try starting out simple, with a bowl of yogurt. This creamy, tangy fermented milk product comes packed with calcium, potassium and vitamin B12, among many other nutrients – and it’s said to help reduce blood pressure and help maintain a healthy weight. Just remember that not all yogurt contains those healthy probiotics – look for the words “live cultures” on the label, and you’ll know you’re getting the good stuff.
A Final Note
Before you rush out and fill your basket with all things pickled and fermented, a word of caution. If your body isn’t used to these foods, you definitely want to start small. Overloading your digestive system with fermented foods can lead to digestive discomfort while your system gets used to them. So start off with a few servings per week and work your way up. And as with all packaged foods, remember to read the labels. Look for options low in sugar and sodium, and make sure the rest of your plate stays balanced. Just a bit of common sense – but always worth repeating.
Now go forth and get in touch with your funky side! Question? Hit us up: firstname.lastname@example.org.