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Fermentation is a traditional way to preserve foods and dates back thousands of years, with most countries of the world having traditional foods that they ferment. The purpose of eating fermented foods is to restore your gut bacteria to a good balance so that your digestion improves, which means you are absorbing more nutrients from the foods you eat and you are improving your overall mental and physical health.
Fermented foods are foods that have been through a process of lactofermentation 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 probiotics. Allowing bacteria to form in a sealed jar of vegetables over a few months might not seem like the most appealing way to create a meal or side-dish, but fermentation plays an important role in balancing the bacteria in your gut.
There are two ways to ferment foods:
- Fermenting sugar with yeast to produce sugar alcohols; OR
- Using lactic acid-based bacteria (e.g. Lactobacillus) to act on dairy products or vegetables, which aids in their preservation and increases their good probiotic content. (In the case of Candida, this second method is particularly useful).
When talking about eating fermented foods for a healthy gut, the lactic acid-based bacterium is the process to look for. And, it isn’t necessary for you to learn how to ferment your own food as there are many options available to you in your local grocery store.
A note of caution: Not all fermented foods are good for restoring balance to your gut bacteria. Many mass-produced fermented foods, unfortunately, have little actual fermentation left in them (i.e. lacto-acidic beneficial bacteria). This is because of the added sugars, preservatives, colorings, or cheap vinegar used. These additives are used in place of a real fermentation process. Typical examples are the sauerkraut, kimchi, and olives that you find in your local supermarket. But, there is no need to panic. Educate yourself by reading the labels of these products and you will find that there are, indeed, options at the grocery market that fit your need for fermented foods.
Also if you purchasing fermented foods in the store, it is important that the food was not canned before the purchase. Canning will heat the food for preservation purposes, but will kill off the beneficial bacteria and thus not the the probiotic value that you are looking for.
Consider the following tips as guidelines for helping you choose and consume healthy, fermented foods:
- Look for foods with no sugar added. Fermented foods will typically have some residual sweetness from the natural sugars that remain in the food, so there should be no need to sweeten them further.
- Look for organic ingredients. Great fermented food options that can be certified organic include:
- Go unpasteurized. Processes like pasteurization and sterilization kill the beneficial bacteria. Even if bacteria are added back in and cultured after pasteurization, remember the enzymes in the food are still destroyed by pasteurizing. Those enzymes help you to digest foods more easily. (This means no canned fermented foods as I mentioned earlier.)
- Consume your fermented foods with fatty and protein-rich foods. Fatty and protein-rich foods tend to inhibit the natural production of beneficial lactobacillus bacteria in the gut. To offset this, it makes sense to eat a small portion of fermented foods at the same time.
My personal favorites include kombucha and jun (a fermented green tea with honey). And for the foods I like sauerkraut and kimchi (if my daughter makes it). Sauerkraut is one of the easier fermented foods to make. If you need a good tutorial, you can take a look at the one over at GAPS Diet Journey.
And if you want to do more of your own fermenting, I love this cookbook Traditionally Fermented Foods for recipes and tutorials to walk you through making some of your own goodness.
If you want to work more on your gut health, my course on gut health is available to work through at your own pace. I also do health coaching over gut health issues. Contact me for a free discovery call.
So what fermented foods do you like best? What are you eating in your diet regularly?