Why Eating Fermented Probiotic Foods is Important
We have all heard about superfoods that promise a wide variety of results for our health and vitality. Some of them make legitimate claims, but they don’t often take the full context of lifestyle and nutrition into account. It is also vital to consider the quality of the sources, how medical conditions can be affected, and how these things could interact with other foods or supplements. The beauty is that nature provides some amazing superfoods that our ancestors were in tune with when eating a whole foods diet was the standard, before processed food existed. These foods are nutrient dense, fuel our bodies, support a strong, healthy lifestyle and should be consistently abundant in our diets. The one we are focusing on today is fermented foods.
What are fermented foods?
Historically the fermentation technique was used as a way of preserving foods and drinks long before the days of refrigeration, but it also provides many health benefits. Fermented foods are defined as “foods or beverages produced through controlled microbial growth, and the conversion of food components through enzymatic action.” Fermentation in food processing is the process of converting carbohydrates to alcohol or organic acids using microorganisms - yeasts or bacteria - under anaerobic conditions. Many foods have historically undergone fermentation, including meat and fish, dairy, vegetables, soybeans, other legumes, cereals and fruits.
Fermented foods include:
Vegetables: sauerkraut, kimchi, and some pickles, but lots of veggies can be fermented
Legumes: natto, miso, and tempeh (all ferment soybeans)
Dairy: kefir, sour cream, and some cheeses
Beverages: beet kvass and kombucha
The good bacteria that live in our gut are crucial to our health. But there are some bad bacteria that also reside in the gut and it is important to achieve the right balance between the good and the bad bacteria. When the balance is shifted to having more bad bacteria, this is when we see symptoms such as bloating, constipation or diarrhea – termed dysbiosis.
Modern diets high in refined sugars and flours, combined with higher levels of stress and poor sleep hygiene can contribute to dysbiosis by feeding the bad bacteria, enabling them to flourish. Eliminating those foods with refined sugar and flour and adding probiotic-rich fermented foods can help bring the gut back into balance. Fermented foods have beneficial effects on digestion, absorption of nutrients, and the immune system (75% of our immune system is in the gut!). Fermented foods are rich in probiotic bacteria, so by consuming fermented foods you are adding good beneficial bacteria and enzymes to your overall intestinal flora, increasing the health of your gut microbiome and digestive system, and again, enhancing the immune system.
The good bacteria play many roles in our gut health:
Good bacteria help with the digestion of complex carbohydrates, breaking them down into substances that your body needs for various purposes.
The beneficial bacteria lower the pH in your intestines, which makes it harder for bad bacteria to survive. They also secrete antimicrobial proteins that kill off bad bacteria.
Good bacteria synthesize or produce many vitamins our bodies need, such as B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12 and K.
Good bacteria help with a diverse gut microbiota. Research shows that when this diversity is not present, there is some association with chronic disease, obesity, inflammatory conditions, IBS, and asthma.
Note: Eating fermented foods after a round of antibiotics can help restore your gut bacteria back to normal levels.
It is also important to mention that the gut and brain are linked through the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The gut is lined with neurons that can influence our emotions and feelings. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in mood, is made in the gut – 95% of it! So a healthy gut is clearly connected to healthy mood and behavior as well. It really is amazing how vital our gut health is to our overall health and wellness.
If you have issues eating fermented foods (feeling nauseous, bloated, etc.) you may be more sensitive to histamine-producing bacteria or foods. This can come from multiple causes, including poor gut health and conditions like SIBO. We recommend working with a functional clinician or nutritionist to explore and address this issue.
For the rest of you who can eat fermented foods with no issue, now you can see why we suggest eating fermented foods daily if possible. A small side of sauerkraut, a small glass of kombucha, or some fermented pickles with your meal are all ways to incorporate fermented foods into your daily lifestyle. The taste of some fermented foods can take some getting used to, so the key is to find some options that you enjoy so it is easy to make this change!
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