My family originated from Eastern Europe, which is why sauerkraut is a staple dish around our dinner table. I have not had a Christmas dinner that wasn’t accompanied by fermented red cabbage and sauerkraut. Not only are these dishes delicious, but they also provide numerous health benefits. Tasty and healthy: two birds, one stone!
What exactly are fermented foods? Where did they come from? What purpose have they served throughout history? What role do they play today? These are all great questions. If you are looking to improve your gut health (as well as your overall immune system), then you’re in the right place.
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Benefits of Fermented Foods
The majority of the health benefits from fermented foods are due to probiotics. You have probably heard this term within the yogurt and dairy industry. Although probiotics are still present in various food options, the amount of enzymes and probiotics have declined in terms of the average Western diet.
This is largely due to the ways in which are foods are processed. There’s a substantial difference between many foods that are offered at the supermarket, and those that you make at home. Due to pasteurization, for example, many of the good, healthy bacteria have been killed.
Should you strive to eat more fermented foods? If so, why? The following key benefits will have you fermenting all kinds of goodies in no time. Plus, they taste incredible; the fact that fermented foods are delicious is simply an added bonus.
- Supports Digestive Health: When foods are fermented, they produce beneficial bacteria and enzymes. Basically, these bacterias help pre-digest foods, supporting your digestion system. When you eat fermented foods, you support a more balanced digestive tract. This is of course due to the presence of good bacteria.
- Increases Absorption of Nutrients: Due to balanced bacteria and pre-digested foods, you are able to absorb more nutrients. Not only does the absorption of nutrients increase, but the nutritional content increases as well. For instance, the production of sauerkraut increases vitamin C content. Due to increased nutrient absorption, fermented foods have been linked to a number of diseases and ailments. Not only do they aid in digestive health, but they have shown positive results regarding cancer, diabetes, the flu, and more.
- Boosts Immune Health: While focusing on both gut and overall health, your immune system is a top priority. If you suffer from a weak immune system, you could potentially expose yourself to a number of ailments and health concerns. Since your gut is one of the key components regarding your immune system, fermented foods can help boost your overall immunity. It has been found that one’s gut health can influence allergies, levels of inflammation, and autoimmune disorders.
The Top Five Fermented Foods to Support Gut Health
You may be thinking, that’s all well and good, but how do I apply these benefits to my life? Although fermentation may be a dying art in Western culture, you can ferment foods in your own home with ease. Not only will you boost your health, but fermentation can provide you with a lot of food on a small budget. The following five foods will support your gut health, while you learn a useful skill in the kitchen:
- Sauerkraut: We’ll start with a food that most people are familiar with, and is most certainly a personal favourite of mine. This dish is simply fermented cabbage, which can accompany a wide range of meals. Not only does sauerkraut contain beneficial bacteria, but is also known to be a natural cure for yeast infections. In Korea, their version of sauerkraut is known as kimchee (which I must admit is even tastier, as it is spiced). Research has linked kimchee to all of the same benefits as sauerkraut, plus it has antibiotic effects. Start making sauerkraut or kimchee at home today.
- Miso: Miso has a distinct flavour, adding digestive support to a variety of meals. This thick paste is made from fermented soybeans, providing your body with a number of beneficial vitamins and minerals. Miso helps stimulate digestive fluids in the stomach, while restoring probiotics, and helps other foods digest. Start to incorporate Japanese miso paste into your soups, marinades, spreads, and sauces for improved gut health.
- Kombucha: This fermented drink is made from tea, bacteria, sugar, and yeast. It provides a boatload of benefits, including improved digestion. It’s also known to aid in one’s weight loss efforts, while supporting immune function, boosting energy, and detoxifying the body. If you’d like to make this probiotic-packed beverage, kombucha can help you improve your digestive health.
- Pickles: The saying should more along the lines of: a pickle a day, keeps the doctor away. I started pickling all kinds of fun things last summer, so I know you can too! Just as probiotics are found in yogurt and sauerkraut, they’re found in pickles as well. Once again, this will aid in digestive health, immune function, and inflammation. To make your own pickles, follow these steps.
- Kefir: This fermented milk drink is tangy, yet creamy. It’s also packed with an abundance of helpful probiotics, keeping your gut health in tip-top shape. In order to make milk kefir, all you need is milk and kefir grains (although they’re not technically grains). Not only will you gain access to gut-healthy probiotics; but through fermentation, the protein found in milk becomes easier to digest.
History of Fermented Foods
If you’re not familiar with fermented foods: they are food items that have undergone a process known as lacto-fermentation. This is a process which preserves food, based on the natural bacteria that feed on sugars and starches. When we ingest these fermented foods, we also obtain good bacteria.
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The act of fermenting foods has been seen throughout history, across all cultures. It is believed that fermentation began as early as 6000 BC. From Ancient Egypt, to Ancient Greece; each society utilized the benefits of fermented foods.
Since then, fermentation has been practiced throughout the world. It wasn’t until the invention of the microscope (late 1500s), that we began to understand the wonderful world of microorganisms. Fermentation has its roots in various cultures, especially within East Asia.
Today, we continue to ferment foods in order to preserve and support digestive health. As issues such as obesity and irritable bowel syndrome continue to rise, people are looking for diets which support digestive and gut health.
The good bacteria that is found within fermented food is becoming increasingly popular for this exact reason. It is also encouraging that people can make a number of fermented foods within their own kitchen. Once you begin fermenting foods, you will be hooked. I sure was!
Although fermented foods are gaining popularity, they’re nothing new. The process of fermenting food has been around for thousands of years (and for good reason). If you would like to support your gut health, start incorporating more fermented foods into your daily diet. Once you become familiar with various recipes, you can get creative. Have fun, while aiding your digestive health and immune system.