Updated: Apr 4
Fermented foods have been a long-standing staple in cultures all around the globe. In the past, the beneficial effects of fermented foods on health were not necessarily known, and people primarily used fermentation to
preserve foods, enhance shelf life, and improve flavour.
However, with the advent of refrigeration in the Western world, their prevalence vanished almost overnight and with that, also the many associated benefits that were uncovered. This shift in our eating habits has
had significant implications on our gut health and digestion. The process of fermenting foods not only preserves them but also has many beneficial impacts on our health.
What are fermented foods?
Fermented foods are created through a natural process of lacto-fermentation, which occurs when beneficial bacteria called lactobacilli convert the natural sugars found in food into lactic acid. This acidic and low oxygen environment prevents bad bacteria from growing and spoiling the food, while also preserving its natural nutrients and making them easier for our bodies to absorb and digest
There are many options when it comes to fermented foods. Some great choices include traditional yoghurt and kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh, natto, kombucha, pickled vegetables.
What are the benefits of fermented foods?
Research has demonstrated many benefits linked to the consumption of fermented foods. They are part of the diet of the Blue Zones regions, where the healthiest people of this planet are living. Research suggests that a key factor in their longevity – consuming fermented food has been linked to improved digestion, lower inflammation, higher levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut and better immune system.
Fermented foods are rich in probiotics and that's how they benefit your microbiome.
Beyond this fermented foods also increase the nutritional value of foods - during fermentation the microorganisms produce a whole host of essential vitamins like vitamin C, B12 and K. Through fermentation the nutrients become more "bioavailable", meaning that the proportion of the foods that can be absorbed by the body is increased.
So how to (re)introduce fermented foods into your diet?
Your grandparents were probably still consuming fermented and pickled foods as part of their diet. Maybe you can think back to some of the meals they prepared for you?
The best way to re-introduce fermented food into your diet is to start small. Incorporating just one fermented food item on a daily basis can make a big difference in your health and help reset your gut over time. These foods can be easily incorporated into your diet and consumed as a tasty snack, salad dressing or condiment.
It can be as easy as adding one table spoon a day of raw sauerkraut to your meal. Sauerkraut (even organic) has become easy to find in regular supermarkets. Or you may want to try Kimchi if you prefer something more spicy.
Kombucha is also an excellent place to begin that many people find easy to incorporate. You need a good brand though with a natural and pure brewing process.
When you select fermented foods, it's important to look for those that are rich in probiotics. These are the beneficial bacteria that help maintain the balance of your gut microbiome. So read the labels or look up the company behind the brand to find out where the ingredients come from, how the product was made and that product does actually contain high amounts of probiotics.
If you're more adventurous you may even try to make your own fermented foods at home.
Whether you’re looking to improve your digestion or just want to enjoy the delicious flavours that come with fermented foods, taking a few steps towards incorporating them into your diet is an excellent choice for your overall health and well-being.
So why not give it a try today? You have nothing to lose and potentially much to gain!
Find some inspiration in my free guide "Fermented foods in your daily routine - 5 recipes".
Şanlier N, Gökcen BB, Sezgin AC. Health benefits of fermented foods. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2019;59(3):506-527. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2017.1383355. Epub 2017 Oct 20. PMID: 28945458.