Boost Health Naturally

February 08, 2011

Was food once used as medicine? Have you heard of the benefits of fermented foods find out more here

Many of us are “looking back in time” for natural cures to boost our health and well being; to times when foods were used for healing, based on centuries of tradition, inherited wisdom, and careful attention to wellness. This interest, also coupled with a desire to understand ingredients and where our foods are coming from, has pushed many of these “ancient foods” into the more mainstream arena.

One of these categories of food that has gained popularity is fermented foods. Fermented foods include miso, tempeh, kimchi, yogurt, vinegar, wine and sauerkraut, and have been more recently noted for their health properties. Since ancient times, humans have been controlling the fermentation process of foods; and interestingly enough, the earliest evidence of winemaking dates from eight thousand years ago, in the Caucasus area.

What’s so great about fermented foods anyway?

Fermented foods and drinks help build and maintain our inner ecosystem, i.e. they make sure the digestive tract has ample beneficial bacteria. These beneficial bacteria help digest, synthesize, and assimilate nutrients necessary for good health. They also strengthen the immune system; 70 percent of which is housed in the intestines (digestive tract).

Fermentation is also thought to enhance the nutritional value of foods. Fermented foods contain higher amounts of vitamins and minerals, and because the fermentation process partially breaks down its contents, the nutrients are easier to digest or more bioavailable.

Fermented foods that have not undergone pasteurization (or tout the live active culture stamp), contain live, active cultures of probiotics which as mentioned above help maintain the beneficial bacteria in the gut.

How are they made?

Fermented foods are made using a natural process whereby good bacteria convert the carbohydrates (starch and sugar) in fruits and vegetables to lactic acid. The resulting acid acts as a preservative, which is the main reason fermentation has been popular since ancient times- when modern technology (like the refrigerator) was not around to prevent food from spoiling.

Some other examples of naturally fermented foods include cultured dairy products such as buttermilk, yogurt, kefir and cheese; sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), pickles, Greek olives, and kimchi. Fermentation is also employed in the leavening of bread.

Purchasing naturally fermented products in your supermarket may be a bit difficult because many commercially processed fermented foods are not actually fermented at all, but have ingredients added to produce some of the qualities of traditionally fermented food; or they have been pasteurized, which kills the beneficial bacteria and stops the fermentation process. Pasteurization is a necessary component of large-scale food production because it extends the shelf life and stops the production of gases from the bacteria, which could cause the bottles to explode due to an increase in pressure.

Ask the store manager in your supermarket to direct you towards the fermented foods in your local supermarket. Or visit a local health food store to experience the benefits of fermented foods.