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Benefits of Fermented Foods

Rachel O'Reilly

 

The process of fermenting food is a long practiced tradition that has been enjoyed by cultures around the world. In Japan, miso and natto are two types of fermented soy that are central to the cuisine. Throughout eastern and Central Europe, kefir is a widely consumed. And in Indonesia, tempeh is a traditional food. Today, foods like kimchi and sauerkraut are gaining as much attention as bone broth, and for good reason too! 

What is fermentation?

Fermentation is a process by which the starches and sugars in fruits and vegetables are transformed into lactic acid by lactobacilli, a type of bacteria present on the surface of all living things. Lactic acid is a natural preservative that prevents putrefying bacteria.

When fruits or vegetables are fermented, they become more digestible, and promote the growth of healthy flora in the gut.  The lactobacilli produce numerous helpful enzymes, antibiotic and anti-carcinogenic substances. They also support a healthy immune system, 70-80% of which resides in the gut.  A healthy digestive system will ensure optimal absorption of nutrients, and proper cleansing of metabolic waste and toxins. Among other things, healthy gut microbes:

  • promote normal gastrointestinal function
  • protect against infection
  • regulate metabolism
  • house the majority of immune cells

How it’s helpful for pregnancy  

Incorporating fermented, probiotic rich foods is important for anyone who wants optimal health, as it serves as the foundation for everything from having a strong immune system, to maintaining a healthy weight and happy mood. Women who are interested in getting pregnant, or who are already pregnant, will benefit from the strong foundational support that a healthy digestive system and flora can provide as their body takes course in the building of another human. Additionally, many mothers are often warned of harmful bacteria that can jeopardize pregnancy, such as listeria monocytogenes from soft unaged cheeses, for example. But having a healthy flora, especially if implemented prior to conception, can make susceptibility to these types of bacteria low. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut or lacto-fermented vegetables can also serve as a great source for women who crave sour foods. As an easy snack, enjoy some sauerkraut and diced avocado on gluten-free rice crackers, or wrap it up in a lightly toasted nori sheet. 

How to start incorporating into daily life

For many people, the taste of fermented foods is an acquired taste (remember the first time you tried beer?). The good news is, fermented foods are meant to be eaten as condiments, so you can start out small until you begin to like it.You can begin to support a healthy digestive system and flora with the following foods and beverages:

Dairy based:

- Look for those that are labeled “live and active cultures”

- Best to obtain from grass-fed cows and organic.

- Found from a local farmer would be ideal!

  • cultured butter/cream cheese/sour cream
  • kefir
  • lassi
  • yogurt (always get plain, full fat)

Vegetable based

- Should be labeled raw, and should be carried in the refrigerated section

  • Kimchee
  • Sauerkraut

Grain or Legume based

Note: heating and cooking will reduce living bacteria; choose organic/ non-GMO when possible

  • Miso
  • Natto
  • Tempeh

Other:

  • Kombucha
  • Water kefir, Coconut kefir
  • Beet kvass

 

Easy suggestions for daily intake:

  • 1-2 tablespoons of sauerkraut or kimchi with each meal
  • 1/2 cup of kombucha in the afternoon for a pick-me-up
  • 1/2 cup of live, active yogurt or kefir (try it in a smoothie)