Fermented food is the new superfood of the year. As a process, fermentation dates back to many centuries ago. “Fermented food has always been a big part of various diets around the globe. Europe, especially Germany and Scandinavia, have always consumed a fair amount of fermented foods as a common food staple, from yogurt and fish, to vegetables. Asia also consumes a lot of fermented foods, especially Korea and Japan,” says Birgitta Lauren, a pre & postnatal healthologist, fitness and nutrition expert.
Fermented foods include several daily foods that you consume: bread, beer, cheese, wine, vinegar, soy sauce, pickles, yogurt, chocolate, and foods that have now become extremely common in kitchens such as sauerkraut, miso, pickles, kefir (a milk drink), kombucha (black or green tea), tempeh and kimchi.
“Fermented food has become a lot more popular now that people are starting to understand the many diverse roles the gut has when it comes to health. People are starting to understand that food can be so much more than just energy in, energy out,” says Brianna M Dorio, lifestyle coach, NASM-certified personal trainer and clinical nutritionist.
Fermenting is a great way to improve the shelf life of your food and now it has the added benefit of being good for your gut. Let’s take a closer look at this food trend.
Fermentation For A Happy Tummy
The fermentation process breaks down the food’s fibers, causing less work for the gastrointestinal tract and making food easier to digest. This in turn increases the nutrients we can absorb from it. Fermented food also contains enzymes that support the digestive process, which is useful if you have slow or difficult digestion.
“These foods help your body to create more good bacteria, which can aid immune support, vitamin production and neurotransmitter synthesis. We have more bacteria cells then we do DNA cells, hence the importance of maintaining a proper balance of gut bacteria,” says Dorio.
The live bacteria or probiotics in fermented foods restore the proper balance of bacteria in the gut, and are rich in enzymes, vitamins and nutrients. “Fermented foods create a healthy milieu of bacteria in our guts that help control everything from moods, digestion, better food absorption, to reproduction. It is also less expensive food that one can store for a long time. It’s a total win-win,” adds Lauren. A healthy gut affects the brain and hormonal levels too, so it can help in reducing anxiety and depression.
Don’t Go Overboard
A good way to add fermented foods into your meals every day is to start small; it’s about quality, not quantity. “Too much fermented foods without the addition and balance of non-acidic foods can be harsh on the stomach,” says Lauren.
If you eat too much, it can upset your stomach because the probiotics will trigger a stand-off between the good and bad bacteria. Experts suggest trying a quarter to half a cup of fermented food with breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“We have about three pounds worth of bacteria that line our intestinal tracts, and about 1,000 different species of bacteria that have been found in the gut, so I think the more you can eat the better. It is important that you add in fermented food gradually, as it might cause some initial bloating or flatulence until your body adjusts. If you find that you don’t like any of the fermented foods, you can still help improve your gut flora by adding a quality probiotic into your health routine,” says Dorio. She suggests taking around 50 billion CFUs as a baseline when supplementing with a daily probiotic.
How To Eat Fermented Food
In theory, any vegetable or fruit, yogurt and fish can be fermented. Lauren adds that salmon is much healthier fermented than smoked or char-grilled.
Dorio suggests a simple method. “Pick your favorite vegetable and get yourself a starter culture set (usually sold right at your local health food store) and a canning jar. Place your veggies in the jar and make sure they are completely covered with celery juice (it is used as the brine, since it contains natural sodium and prevents the growth of bacteria). Seal the jar and store it in a warm place for one to four days, depending on the food you are culturing. Remember to keep the temperature between 68 and 75 degrees as too much heat can kill the beneficial bacteria. When it is all done, be sure to store it in the fridge to end the fermentation process.”
Lauren prefers using fermented foods as a ‘side’ with other foods to complement a diet. “It can be yogurt with cereal, or fruit, it can be sauerkraut with chicken for lunch, pickles with homemade hamburger patties or just add a drink of kombucha to your meal,” she says.
Investing in good quality organic fermented foods can be just as beneficial. Take advantage of local farmers markets where you can usually find some of these goodies that are made with local, fresh ingredients. Here’s a quick and easy sauerkraut recipe you can try at home.