Fermented foods and drinks are alive! They are rich in bacteria that perform essential functions in our bodies and improve our digestion, immune systems and even our psychological state. It’s all thanks to the live probiotic cultures that live inside these foods – if they’re not heated or cooked after fermentation.
But first, a fun fact. Did you know that in our bodies, bacteria outnumber our own cells by more than 10 to one? While they live in/on all parts of our bodies, most of these 100 trillion bacteria live in our gastrointestinal tract. And consuming fermented foods will only help them.
What is fermentation?
Fermentation refers to anaerobic metabolism, the production of energy from nutrients in the absence of oxygen. It is carried out by bacteria (such as lactobacillus or lactic acid bacteria), yeast, fungi and their enzymes.
Think of sourdough bread, sauerkraut, kimchi, traditional pickles, yogurt, cheese, sour porridge, condiments (such as traditional mustard, tomato sauce, hot sauces, vinegar and soy sauce), chocolate and vanilla, cured olives, tofu/tempeh, and wine, beer, kombucha or kefir and even coffee and some teas.
The benefits of fermented foods
The good bacteria in fermented foods and drinks provide many health benefits:
- They break down the food we would not otherwise be able to digest and makes nutrients more (bio)available.
- They produce certain nutrients, such as B and K vitamins.
- They remove antinutrients (compounds that block nutrient absorption).
- They outcompete pathogens in the gut.
- They influence immune responses in the gut and other parts of the body.
- They influence mood or psychological state (depression, anxiety, ADHD, etc.).
In addition to the health benefits, fermentation develops complex flavours: the sourness of pickles, the sharpness of cheese, the pungency of kimchi, and the umami of soy sauce or miso. In some cultures, fermented foods accompany almost every meal.
And did you know that fermentation was one of the earliest ways for humans to preserve and store food surpluses, through a process of acidification (usually lactic acid)?
Fermentation helps food to resist microbial spoilage and toxins and makes it less likely to transfer pathogens. This extends the life span of the food, without a need for high-energy technology or chemicals.
So, if you want to contribute to a healthier gut microbiome and experience the many health benefits this brings, try adding more fermented foods and drinks to your diet.
This article first appeared on the Abundance Wholesome Food blog.