Have you heard about fermented food? The nutrition world is all abuzz about it.
But fermented food is really nothing new. It’s just that we have figured out how important our gut health is to our overall wellness.
Over 80% of our immune system is located in our gut. What we put in our tummies not only determines how well our bodies can fight off disease, but how we feel physically and emotionally every day.
What is Fermented Food?
Fermented food is food that has been through a process of ‘lacto-fermentation’ in which natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food creating lactic acid. This process not only preserves the food, but it creates health benefits as well.
Fermented food is also known as “cultured” food, a term that is most commonly associated with yogurt. But cultured and fermented food expand way beyond just yogurt.
What are the Benefits of Fermented Food?
Fermented food has these important health benefits:
- Provides important nutrients such as Vitamin K2 (which prevents heart disease), B-Vitamins, and essential fatty acids.
- Optimizes your immune system with probiotics and enzymes.
Probiotics have been shown to help slow or reverse some diseases, improve bowel health, aid digestion, and improve immunity.
Enzymes help you absorb more of the nutrients in the foods you eat. Enzymes break down elements that are sometimes difficult to digest, such as gluten and sugar.
Probiotics and enzymes available in the typical diet have declined sharply over the last few decades. Our diets are filled with sugar and processed food instead. Sure, we can take probiotic and enzyme supplements but a much better source is from fermented food.
- Detoxifies our bodies. The beneficial bacteria in these foods are highly potent detoxifiers, capable of drawing out a wide range of toxins and heavy metals.
What Kinds of Food are Fermented?
The best fermented foods are the ones you make yourself, but for many of us, that just ain’t happening. This list of fermented foods can be purchased, but caution is advised to carefully read the labels to be sure you are actually getting fermented food and not a lot of other additives and preservatives.
- Sauerkraut–fermented cabbage. Watch the sugar and preservatives in most commercial brands. Here’s an easy sauerkraut recipe to make your own.
- Kim chee (aka kimchi)–Korean version of fermented cabbage with chili pepper, salt, ginger, garlic and a variety of other spices. (I think it’s yucky.)
- Kombucha–fermented green tea. Kombucha is a tangy and slightly fizzy beverage drink. An excellent alternative to soft drinks. I am TOTALLY addicted to Kombucha! It ain’t cheap but you can make it yourself. Be sure to select kombucha with no sugar added. There is a small amount of alcohol in Kombucha but the legal limit is just 0.5 percent.
- Plain Yogurt–no sugar added. Most commercial yogurt is loaded with sugar and other additives. Avoid the lowfat and no-fat kinds and select whole milk yogurt. Add your own fruit. Read the ingredient label carefully. Yogurt can be made with coconut milk and other nut milks if you need to avoid dairy.
- Plain Kefir–is a tart yogurt-like drink that is traditionally made by fermenting dairy milk, but other vegan milk varieties can also be used such as coconut milk and nut milks.
- Cottage Cheese–traditional fermented cottage cheese is an excellent source of protein, calcium, and to a lesser degree, beneficial bacteria.
- Strong aged cheese–Not all cheese is fermented. Bacteria are added to give cream or milk a sour flavor. After the curds and whey are separated and the cheese is formed into a solid shape, specific kinds of mold are added to make specific kinds of cheese (like blue cheese) and fermented (aged) again.
- Sour Cream–originally the process to make sour cream was to let cream sour. Nowadays, the lactic-acid-producing bacteria Streptococcus lactis does the work.
- Pickled vegetables–pickled in a saltwater brine and not with vinegar.
- Natto–is a popular dish in Japan consisting of fermented soybeans. Its pungent smell and stringy texture strike some as unpleasant. Sounds appetizing, hunh?
- Miso— is a rich salty bean paste, created by fermenting mashed cooked beans and salt with a culture starter. Soybean is often the main ingredient found in Asian miso’s, but it can be made with other types of legumes.
- Tempeh–is a fermented bean cake. Most commercial varieties are made with soybeans but can be made with just about any bean. Tempeh is a good substitute for bacon in recipes.
- Tamari–is a thicker, less salty, fermented soy sauce that contains less wheat (and sometimes no wheat).
- Chutney— a lacto-fermented mix of herbs, fruit, and vegetables. Be aware that most commercial chutneys have preservatives.
- Naturally fermented beer and wine–Skip the pasteurized beer. Craft beer, microbrews and keg beer are typically not pasteurized.
- Fermented Salsa–not all salsa is fermented. Here is a simple recipe for fermented salsa.
- Rejuvelac–is a refreshing, slightly sour and fizzy liquid ferment made from a combination of sprouted grain and pure water. The traditional grain used is wheat berry but rejuvelac can be made from most any grain including gluten-free versions like millet or quinoa. I have not personally tried Rejuvelac. Have you?
Always choose organic products and avoid GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Read the label carefully!
When adding traditional fermented foods to your meals, the key is to eat a small portion of them on a very regular basis. Once or twice daily with meals is best.
Here’s your simple change for the day: Add fermented food to your diet!
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