I have only recently discovered a newfound love of fermented foods and am excited to hear that the global trend for eating them as well as the increased focus on their incredible health benefits has been growing steadily in recent years. Of course, fermented foods are nothing new, and the Neolithic tradition of fermentation was originally developed as a preservation method. Asian civilizations, in particular, have a history of fermenting a large number of foods.
What are Fermented Foods?
Essentially, fermented foods are foods produced or preserved by the action of microorganisms. The most important element in this process is lacto-fermentation. Lactic acid is created when natural bacteria feed on the starch and sugar in the food, and this process leads to it being preserved. Beneficial enzymes are also created, such as Omega-3 fatty acids, b-vitamins and probiotics, helping to preserve nutrients and break down the food to a more digestible form. This could explain the link between fermented foods and improved digestion.
Fermentation is an inconsistent process, and no two batches of traditionally fermented foods may taste exactly the same. While this is not a bad thing for anybody experimenting with making their own fermented food at home, it is a problem for commercially processed food producers, who want a consistent taste, texture, color and smell to their products. Commercial processes have been developed to standardize the results, but high-heat pasteurization, the acidic pH of vinegar and refrigeration all slow or stop the fermentation process. Unfortunately, these modern techniques effectively kill off all the lactic acid producing bacteria and short-circuit their important contribution to overall health.
Fermented Foods and Youth Preservation
Before we take a look at some popular fermented foods, and the reasons I eat them and you should too (other than the fact they’re delicious!), I want to examine the link between fermented foods and youth preservation.
The body’s ecosystem is full of good bacteria and yeast, also known as probiotics, living in our intestines and keeping us strong and healthy. Sadly, a lot of people’s inner ecosystems have become damaged by processed foods, stressful lifestyles and environmental toxins. As we age, we begin to notice the effects on our health, skin and weight.
Increasing your body’s supply of probiotics by eating fermented foods can aid in your mission to fight signs of aging. Healthy bacteria helps immune cells fight diseases and assists with the proper digestion of food – encouraging you to maintain a healthy weight. Microflora also reduce cravings for sugar, alcohol and carbohydrates.
Your skin is obviously an important part of youth preservation, and good gut bacteria helps keep your body supplied with the nutrients your skin thrives on, as well as eliminating toxins and free radicals that can damage skin and cause early signs of aging. Conversely, bad bacteria are linked to leaky gut, creating inflammation throughout your body, including blotchy, old-looking skin.
Another area of youth prevention aided by fermented foods and probiotics is your hair. Each hair follicle is surrounded by blood vessels, and the healthy bacteria in your intestines attack pathogens, helping to keep your blood clean and healthy. Healthy blood nourishes hair, nails and skin. More good reason to eat kimchi!
Examples of Fermented Foods
Kombucha is a fermented beverage of black tea and sugar – which can be obtained from various sources, such as fruit, honey or cane sugar. The sugar reacts with a colony of yeast and bacteria, beginning the fermentation process and causing the kombucha to become carbonated. Kombucha has been around for more than 2000 years, is simple and cheap to make at home, and has a rich anecdotal history of health benefits. B-vitamins, enzymes, vinegar and a high concentration of acetic, gluconic and lactic acids can be found in kombucha, helping with immune system support, improved digestion and reduced joint pain.
Not to be confused with vinegary, pickled cabbage, sauerkraut is one of the most globally popular fermented foods. The bacteria and yeasts required for fermentation are found naturally on the cabbage leaves and the only other ingredient required is salt – so if you’re buying it rather than making your own, avoid brands with added chemical preservatives. Cabbage contains isothiocyanate compounds, which have cancer-fighting properties, and like all fermented food, the increased healthy flora in your intestine helps your immune system fight infection.
Let’s start with an important difference – some pickles can be fermented, but others are not. While fermentation is considered a pickling method, pickling with vinegar is just a simple way of preserving food and does not necessarily feature the oh-so-important lacto-fermentation process. You will probably find truly fermented pickles in the refrigerated section of the store. Make sure to read the packaging carefully and look for the probiotic content, and labels that say “live cultures.” Pickles contain lots of minerals, antioxidants and vitamins, such as vitamin K, which is essential for building strong bones and preventing heart disease.
Unsurprisingly, yogurt is the most consumed fermented dairy product in the United States. Greek yogurt is a great, healthy way to boost your protein levels and it tastes great. Protein is vital for building muscle, repairing tissue and cell growth, and as you age, you need more protein to keep your skin looking young. Another major anti-aging benefit of probiotic yogurt is the iodine content. “People today tend to be iodine deficient, which can cause serious problems, including rapid fluctuations in weight,” says Shane Griffin, a certified nutritional practitioner.“ For people with weight problems, increasing iodine levels in their diet increases the thyroid’s activity and in turn increases their metabolism promoting weight loss.” Just be sure to avoid flavored yogurts with added sugar and choose organic when possible. Better yet, make your own!
Vegans and lactose intolerant foodies don’t need to miss out on the benefits of fermentation in yogurt and can now choose raw coconut yogurt.
The fermented, low-fat and high-fiber dish of vegetables (mainly cabbage) and seasonings is Korea’s national dish and is eaten with virtually every meal. If you think that might get boring, don’t worry, there are more than 300 different varieties of kimchi, depending on the main vegetable ingredient used, and the region or season in which they’re made! Research has been carried out on the antioxidant properties of kimchi, and also the benefits of its immune-stimulating activities. The youth preservation benefits aren’t just focused on the insides of the body – the selenium found in kimchi keeps your hair and skin healthy, preventing wrinkles. Be aware that kimchi is very high in salt. About 670 milligrams of sodium per 100-gram serving. High sodium diets may lead to high blood pressure and congestive heart failure. The best way to have your kimchi and eat it too is to make your own low sodium version.
How Much Fermented Food Should you eat?
If you start adding probiotic-rich foods to your diet, you may notice common side effects, such as bloating and gas. This is caused by the bacteria in fermented foods cleaning up your digestive system. There may be other symptoms that persist, and this could be due to the amount of probiotics you’re consuming. Pay close attention to your body and consider building up your intake slowly.