Why add fermented foods to your diet?
Bacteria is usually something we work extra hard to avoid. As Americans, this has become alarmingly apparent in our intestines, the so-called gut, thanks to our rich diet of processed foods and our love of antibiotics. Over time, this has caused our healthy gut bacteria to become depleted. There is hope, however. One excellent way to help put back the good bacteria is through fermented foods.
Fermented foods are “living” foods. This means they are aged or cured foods that have been exposed to bacteria and yeasts causing microorganisms to form that eliminate the toxic ones. These microorganisms then help balance the intestinal flora in the gut when we eat fermented foods.
“Fermenting can make foods easier to digest and the nutrients in the food easier to absorb,” says Catherine LaBella, registered dietitian at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Illinois.
Because these foods help support our digestive system, they also do wonders to boost the immune system. Consider the healthy bacteria fermented foods provide as the oil that keeps your immune system running like a finely tuned machine.
Though it seems the words “fermented foods” have only been tossed around in the past few years, the concept is actually nothing new. Since ancient times, people the worldwide over have been enjoying fermented food. Historically, it was used as a way to preserve foods.
With the advent of refrigerators, much of the prep work is already done, and foods are able to be preserved for even longer. The next step then with fermented foods is simply to enjoy them.
For some, the thought of consuming food exposed to bacteria to get good bacteria may still be too much to stomach. Fear not. You may already be eating fermented foods. These include coffee, cheese, chocolate and wine. Some others that may not be as obvious include:
- Kombucha—Fermented black tea with fizz
- Sauerkraut—Fermented cabbage
- Pickles—Fermented cucumbers
- Coconut yogurt— Dairy-free probiotic
- Miso—Fermented soybeans and grains
- Tempeh— Fermented soybeans
- Kimchi—Fermented cabbage
A word of caution
Although fermented foods can be good for your health, don’t throw caution to the wind just yet. LaBella offers a few things to be aware of when choosing them. “Fermented foods can be a good choice of probiotics, if they’re prepared using bacteria or yeast. Some foods, like pickles and some sauerkraut, may be fermented with just vinegar and may not afford you the same health benefits,” she says.
“Pasteurizing cheese also kills off the probiotics used in fermentation,” adds LaBella. “Pregnant women need to avoid unpasteurized cheese because it may carry listeria, a bacteria that can be harmful to both mother and baby,” she explains.
Others who may also want to steer clear of fermented foods are those taking monoamine oxidase inhibitors or MAOI, a class of drugs used to treat depression and other disorders.
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.