To most Americans, the term “fermented foods” may sound somewhat strange and even distasteful. Yet, many will be surprised that this ancient preparation and preservation technique actually produces delicious foods that are also incredibly healthy and important to our well-being click here.
Fermentation has been used by humans as early as 10,000 B.C. to preserve foods for long periods without the use of freezers or canning machines. Fermentation or culturing involves the chemical process of breaking a complicated food substance down into simpler parts, usually with the help of bacteria, yeasts, or fungi. Cultured dairy products, miso, olives, kimchi, pickles, sauerkraut, tempeh, beer, wine, and the aged sausages the French call “charcuterie” are some the most popular and delicious traditional fermented delicacies.
Why You Need Fermented Foods In Your Diet
Your body is a complex ecosystem made up of more than 100 trillion microbes. This system of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa living on your skin, in your mouth, nose, throat, lungs, gut, and urogenital tract is referred to as the human microbiome. In the last few years, there is a flurry of scientific information about how crucial this microbiome is to genetic expression, immune system, inflammation, body weight and composition, mental health, memory, and minimizing risks for numerous diseases, from diabetes to cancer.
Although there is still so much about the human microbiome that is not understood, there are some facts that are known for certain – your army of microorganisms is continuously affected by your environment, diet and lifestyle choices. If your microbiome is harmed and thrown out of balance (such as an overgrowth of bad bacteria, not enough good bacteria), all sorts of illnesses can result, both acute and chronic. The following are some factors that pose the gravest dangers to your microbiome:
Excess refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup in the diet
Genetically modified foods
Gluten, if you are sensitive or intolerant to it
Antibiotics (both taken as a drug or in meats and milk of factory farmed animals)
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Acid-blocking drugs used to treat acid reflux (Nexium, Prilosec, Prevacid)
Pesticides and herbicides, in particular glyphosate (Roundup)
In this day and age, your microbiome is perpetually facing assault from multiple fronts. A very effective way to help out your army of microorganisms is to eat more fermented foods regularly. Fermented foods are very rich in beneficial bacteria, they work as reinforcements for your good bacteria in the digestive system. Since 70-80% of your immune system lies in the gut, having the proper balance of gut flora is essential.
Benefits Of Eating Fermenting Foods
Apart from inoculating your gut with healthy bacteria, eating foods that have been fermented have other benefits too.
Fermentation enhances digestion of the food. Fermented foods have been partially broken down and pre-digested by bacteria or yeasts. That explains why people who cannot tolerate milk can usually eat yogurt as the lactose in milk has already been converted into lactic acid by the Lactobacilli bacteria.
Fermented foods improve your digestion. Your body needs adequate digestive enzymes to properly digest, absorb, and utilize the nutrients in food. However, as you age, your body naturally produces less. Fermented foods are rich in these digestive enzymes.
Fermented foods have higher levels of vitamin K2 and vitamins B9 (folate) and B12 (coalbumin). These vitamins are extremely important cofactors in many chemical reactions in the body. K2 is essential for keeping calcium in the bones and out of the arteries. Folate is used by the body to make DNA and is important for the healthy development of cells and brain health. B12 is needed for energy production and it keeps your nerves and red blood cells healthy.
Fermentation enriches the flavor of food. There is a reason why we like pairing wine with stinky cheeses, having sauerkraut on our hot dogs, or eating pickles with our sandwiches. Fermentation increases the depth and richness of the food’s flavor.
Watch Out For “Fake” Fermented Foods
Fermentation, like most things in nature, takes time and can be inconsistent. For instance, “true” sauerkraut is made by fermenting cabbage with the correct level of salinity and at the proper temperature. According to some experts, sauerkraut needs at least six months to fully mature and develop its flavor.