What’s all this hype about fermented foods?
By now, I can’t really forgive you if you don’t know what sauerkraut is. You only have to walk in to any health food store, take a glance at instagram or peruse the realms of the interwebs and the fermented food craze will smack you in the face. #guthealth anyone?
So what the heck are they?
Fermented foods are foods that have been through a process of 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 - which are vital for healing and re populating our guts with healthy bacteria. Natural fermentation of foods has also been shown to preserve nutrients in food and break the food down to a more digestible form.
This, along with the bevy of probiotics created during the fermentation process, could explain the link between consumption of fermented foods and improved digestion. Cultures around the world have been eating fermented foods for years. Think Sauerkraut in Germany and Kimichi in Korea.
Sadly, with the advances in technology and food preparation, these time-honored traditional foods have been largely lost in our society.
Where Have All the Fermented Foods Gone?
The amount of probiotics and enzymes available in the average diet has declined sharply over the last few decades as pasteurised milk has replaced raw un-homogenised dairy, pasteurised yogurt has replaced homemade, vinegar based pickles and canned sauerkraut have replaced traditional lacto-fermented versions…you get the idea.
Even grains, which many people now avoid, were safer to eat in earlier times since their preparation included soaking, sprouting and fermenting, which largely reduces the anti-nutrient content and makes them less harmful.
Instead of the nutrient-rich foods full of enzymes and probiotics that our grandparents probably ate, the average diet today consists mainly of sugar-laden, lab-created non foods.
Why Eat Fermented Foods?
Besides the fact that they taste great and really grow on you, there are several great reasons to start making and eating fermented foods:
Eating 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 have also been shown to help slow or reverse some diseases, improve bowel health, aid digestion, and improve immunity!
2. Absorb Food Better
Having the proper balance of gut bacteria and enough digestive enzymes helps you absorb more of the nutrients in the foods you eat. Pair this with your healthy real food diet, and you will absorb many more nutrients from the foods you eat. You won’t need as many supplements and vitamins, and you’ll be absorbing more of the live nutrients in your foods.
3. Budget Friendly
Incorporating healthy foods into your diet can get expensive, but not so with fermented foods. You can make your own whey at home for a couple of dollars, and using that and sea salt, ferment many foods very inexpensively. Drinks like Water Kefir and Kombucha can be made at home also and cost only pennies per serving. Adding these things to your diet can also cut down on the number of supplements you need, helping the budget further.
4. Preserves Food Easily
Homemade salsa only lasts a few days in the fridge- Fermented homemade salsa lasts months! The same goes for sauerkraut, pickles, beets and other garden foods. Lacto-fermentation allows you to store these foods for longer periods of time without losing the nutrients like you would with traditional canning. You can make sauerkraut with just cabbage salt water and time on your kitchen counter. Or, most health foods stores will stock a quality range of fermented foods. Additionally you could try adding fermented drinks into your day-to-day diet. Kefir and Kombucha are both great options. It can take 3-6 months of consistent use to start to notice the increased health benefits of fermented foods.
So keep going and slowly but surely your gut will thank you for it!