Fermented Foods for Gut Health

July 18, 2014

What’s next on the foodie radar? Foods that support gut health! We are paying more attention to how food makes us feel and it’s all about the gut.

What’s next on the foodie radar? Foods that support gut health! Today, Gluten free is all the rage, people are paying greater attention to how food actually makes them feel and they are realizing that it’s all about the gut. So what’s next, how can we support gut health? Well, fermented foods play a huge role in gut health and boast a long culinary history.

Historically, fermentation was one of the only ways to preserve food and ensure that populations were able to consume vegetables in the winter. It’s possible that the health benefits derived from pickled vegetables were well known to early civilization, as historical evidence even suggests laborers on the Great Wall of China consumed a version of pickled cabbage 2,000 years ago.

What is fermentation? It is the process that converts carbohydrates into alcohols or acids where many beneficial microorganisms i.e. probiotics are present. Beneficial bacteria help regulate our digestive system by enhancing the absorption of vitamins and minerals during digestion, thus increasing the nutritive value of foods. They also enhance immunity. Fermented foods offer even more than just probiotics; a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found a substance produced by fermented cabbage (sauerkraut), isothiocyanates, helped prevent the growth of cancer. Fermented foods have many important micronutrients; for example, tempeh, a fermented soy product, contains vitamin B12, which is usually only present in animal products and supplements. Getting nutrients through foods is ideal!

What are some fermented foods?

Kefir is a tangy, fermented milk product very similar to yogurt; it can be made from cows, goats or sheep’s milk and is delicious in smoothies or to drink on its own. Like yogurt with live and active cultures, it’s filled with probiotics to help digestion, the immune system, and assimilation of nutrients.

Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish made of pickled vegetables such as cabbage, green onion, radishes and seasonings  (similar to sauerkraut!)– these vary by region and season. It is the most popular side dish in Korean cuisine. The vegetables in Kimchi contribute to the overall nutritional value – it is rich in vitamin A, thiamine, riboflavin, calcium, and iron, as well as beneficial bacteria for the gut.

Miso commonly eaten as miso soup in Japanese restaurants, miso is rich in minerals as well as lactic acid bacteria that help with digestion. The live beneficial bacteria are only found in unpasteruized miso!

Kombucha is a tangy beverage made from, most often, black tea, the kombucha bacteria and yeast and sugar. The combination is allowed to ferment, leaving the product rich in enzymes, probiotics, and antioxidants. 

Tempeh is a traditional fermented soybean product originating in Indonesia. Tempeh's fermentation process gives it a higher content of protein, fiber and vitamins than non-fermented soy products and on top of that the nutrients are more easily digested.

There are other fermented products out there, but the above list is a good place to start. When purchasing fermented foods, make sure they were not pasteurized as this will eliminate all of the good bacteria you desire!