While humans have been fermenting foods for centuries to improve their taste and shelf life, only in recent years has the fermentation process been getting nutritional attention. This is likely because there's mounting evidence to suggest that not only do fermented foods taste good, but they also can provide some amazing health benefits. Read on for some tasty reasons to add fermented foods to your diet.
The fermentation process
In a nutshell, fermentation occurs when microorganisms including bacteria and yeast break down the components of food (mostly sugar) into gases, organic acids, or alcohol. The natural result is foods that are loaded with probiotics and prebiotics, which are friendly bacteria that can help keep the gut healthy, as well as nutrients to boost immunity.
What foods can be fermented
Practically any fruit or vegetable can be fermented—but so can foods like yogurt and eggs, fish and meat, and seeds and nuts. When fermentation occurs, the nutrients in these foods are expanded and their taste and texture changes. The most common fermented foods and beverages you'll see include kombucha, yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, miso, and tempeh. (But wine, beer, and cider can also be fermented!)
Common probiotics include Lactobacilli, which is found in yogurt but that also can naturally be found on the surfaces of some fruits and veggies. Common prebiotic-rich foods include garlic, onions, asparagus, tomatoes, honey, milk, rye, and barley.
How fermented foods improve health
With its mix of probiotics and prebiotics, fermented foods can aid in digestion, boost immunity, help reduce inflammation, and improve cardiovascular health, among other health benefits. And research so far has been promising on the positive effects of probiotics in preventing yeast infections and other vaginal imbalance conditions like bacterial vaginosis.
Specifically, the existence of probiotics helps improve the gut environment, while prebiotics are consumed by the body's microorganisms for improved overall gut health. This mix helps bring about a balance in the digestive system that may otherwise be disrupted by processed foods, antibiotics, and external environmental factors. With a healthier gut environment, the intestinal walls are stronger, which helps keep the good bacteria in—and the bad bacteria out.
How to add fermented foods to your diet
There are some great recipes here if you're adventurous enough to try fermenting foods on your own. But if you're not ready to jump into that world, don't worry. There are plenty of foods at natural grocery stores that sell fermented varieties. And this article provides you even more reasons to give fermented foods a try. Your gut will thank you!