Cultured, or fermented, food have a huge number of health benefits. Cultured foods have been around for centuries. Long before refrigerators were invented people had to find ways to preserve food, especially during winter months when food was relatively scarce. From this necessity emerged fermented and pickled foods.
People around the world have been eating fermented foods for ages, from Sauerkraut in Germany to Kimichi in Korea and everywhere in between. With advances in technology the need for fermenting has been reduced. However recently there has been a resurgence in the consumption of fermented foods as studies have emerged showing a link between probiotic rich foods and overall health.
The Health Benefits of Fermented Food
Your gut health is so important to your overall health. Your gut has a much bigger role in immune function than what we thought. A new understanding of the essential role of gut microbes in the immune system may hold the key to dealing with some of the more significant health problems facing people in the world today.
Dr. Natalia Shulzhenko, author of a new report in Clinical Reviews in Allergy and Immunology, and assistant professor and physician in the OSU Department of Biomedical Sciences, stated:
The human gut plays a huge role in immune function. This is little appreciated by people who think its only role is digestion. The combined number of genes in the microbiota genome is 150 times larger than the person in which they reside. They do help us digest food, but they do a lot more than that.
Gut health is so important to our overall health. Fermented foods are one of the best ways to support and nourish our guts.
Think of fermented foods as a superfood for your gut. It’s like a multivitamin of hard working goodness, bundled up in one tasty morsel.
What are fermented foods?
Fermented foods are foods that have been through a process of lacto-fermentation in which natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food creating lactic acid. This process preserves the food, and creates beneficial enzymes, b-vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, and various strains of probiotics.
Why are fermented foods so good?
They help with digestion
The lactic acid that’s produced helps make the food more easily digestible, as well as increasing levels of vitamin’s C and A. The lactic acid also promotes the growth of healthy flora in the intestine. It produces enzymes which further help digestion (perfect for those with weak digestive systems, i.e. leaky gut).
When you’re able to digest your food better, your body is better able to absorb nutrients. You won’t need as many supplements as you will be better able to get the nutrition you need from food.
They’re full of good bacteria
Fermented foods are full of probiotics. Consuming fermented foods and drinking fermented drinks like Kefir and Kombucha will introduce beneficial bacteria into your digestive system and help the balance of bacteria in your digestive system. Probiotics are miracle works for your gut health and immune system.
It’s great for your skin
I’ve suffered from acne for years and found fermented vegetables to be super beneficial for my skin. I can’t claim fermented foods are a miracle cure by themselves, but they definitely help. An article I came across by Dr Thomas Cowan, from the Weston A Price Foundation had this to say about fermented veggies and acne:
A strategy for dealing with acne begins with effective “bowel cleansing” and healthy bowel flora (the normal lacto-bacteria that live in our intestines). This has always been considered the cornerstone of every natural acne treatment. The best remedy for this is for your teenager to eat about 1/4-1/2 cup of fresh, unpasteurized traditionally made sauerkraut every day and then take one teaspoon of Swedish Bitters in warm water before bed. Sauerkraut, however, should be the cornerstone of treatment as the high sulfur content of the cabbage is especially valuable in skin cleansing. (Cabbage juice is valued in Irish folk medicine for giving a beautiful complexion.)
Tip: 1/4 to 1/2 cup of sauerkraut a day is A LOT! Instead, I prefer a side of sauerkraut with my lunch, yoghurt for breakfast and a glass of kombucha. Way tastier.
They may help with cancer prevention
There have been studies conducted on fermented foods and their cancer preventative properties with encouraging results. Fermented foods are rich in vitamin K2, a known cancer fighter, and also high levels of glucosinolates. These compounds have been shown to have anti-cancer activity in laboratory research.
I’m not a doctor so my understanding is somewhat limited, but there is host of research out there that is easily accessible. If you’re interested in finding out more, check out this article, from Health Impact News, and follow up some of their quoted studies.
Types of fermented foods
Not all fermented foods are created equal though. The stuff generally available at the supermarket are pasturised, cooked or canned. In order for the vegetables to be nutritious is needs to be raw. Raw naturally fermented vegetables contains lactic acid and the living probiotic microorganisms that are the agents of fermentation. Cooking and pasturisation can kill off these living organisms.
There’s so many options here, you can choose what you enjoy and what’s easiest in incorporate into your diet. This is not an exhaustive list, just the most common fermented foods and the ones Im most familar with. Perhaps you can suggest some more to me?
What fermented foods do you eat? Have you found them to be beneficial? Share below.
Sources: Oregon State University. “Gut microbes closely linked to proper immune function, other health issues.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 September 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130916122214.htm>. Tom Cowan. “Acne” The Weston A. Price Foundation. <http://www.westonaprice.org/holistic-healthcare/acne/?qh=YToxOntpOjA7czoxMDoic2F1ZXJrcmF1dCI7fQ%3D%3D> “Sauerkraut: Anti-cancer Fermented Food that Restores Gut Flora.” Health Impact News, 14 November 2014. <http://healthimpactnews.com/2014/sauerkraut-anti-cancer-fermented-food-that-restores-gut-flora/#sthash.9N0FLUOX.dpuf> Sarah Wilson. “How to ferment vegetables” 24 April 2012. <http://www.sarahwilson.com/2012/04/how-to-ferment-vegetables/> Wellness Mama. “Health Benefits of Fermented Foods” <http://wellnessmama.com/2245/health-benefits-fermented-foods>