Fermented foods may not have the most delicious-sounding name, but their benefits certainly make up for it. Here you’ll learn more about the health benefits of fermented foods and why you should add them to your diet.
Let’s first delve into the term probiotics. You may be familiar with the term because of probiotic supplements. But you can also get probiotics from your diet by eating fermented foods. Both are beneficial.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines probiotics as:
Live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host.1
In other words, probiotic bacteria are live microbes that deliver health benefits to you – their host.
As it turns out, the human body has about 100 trillion bacteria (both good and bad) living in the gut. You’ll often hear the term “gut microbiota” used to describe this colony. Feeding good bacteria and keeping their population high appears to be beneficial for optimal health.2
What Are Fermented Foods?
When you think of the word “fermented,” you might think it means that your food has gone bad. Not true. Fermentation is a chemical process by which bacteria, yeasts, or other microorganisms break down food.3 And, this can be a great thing.
Why? Well, let’s use sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) as an example. As cabbage ferments in saltwater brine, it becomes rich in lactic acid-producing, probiotic bacteria.
The lactic acid produced often appears as tiny bubbles of gas. This adds flavor to the sauerkraut cabbage. But it also helps to preserve it by stopping the growth of harmful bacteria.4
The best part is that these beneficial bacteria also help encourage the growth of more friendly bacteria in your digestive tract.
Fermented products are all around you. In fact, some foods you might not have realized are fermented. These include kimchi, coconut or almond milk yogurt, apple cider vinegar, and even chickpea miso soup. Kombucha and beet Kvass are examples of fermented drinks.5,6,7,8
Benefits Of Fermented Foods: Reasons To Add Fermented Foods To Your Diet
The exciting thing about fermented foods is that almost any vegetable can be made probiotic. You’re probably already familiar with the most well known of fermented vegetables – pickles. Pickles are fermented cucumbers.
However, don’t be fooled by many pickle brands on the supermarket shelf. They contain cucumbers in vinegar, which is different to fermentation. These do not contain probiotic bacterium.9
Instead, you’ll want to look for cucumbers that are pickled or fermented in brine (salt water).
Sometimes, the ingredients list will include lactic acid as well. Then you’ll know that beneficial bacteria are packed into the jar.
Fermenting vegetables at home is so simple. All it takes is a little patience. Keep reading below for a recipe to make your own fermented veggies.
So, What Are The Health Benefits Of Probiotic Foods?
The health benefits of fermented foods has been, and continues to be, heavily researched. And the research is very exciting.
Research has shown that probiotic foods (and their abundance of beneficial bacteria) may help:
- Support digestive health
- Support the immune system
- Aid skin and allergy issues
- Assist lactose intolerance
- Support the body while taking antibiotics (which kill both good and bad bacteria)
- Support a positive mood10,11
Fermentation Process For A Healthy Gut: How To Ferment At Home
Introducing beneficial microorganisms to the gut microbiome can be a wonderful DIY boost for your body. And, it’s easy to ferment your favorite veggies at home.
Pickled veggies can be made from almost any vegetable. You may enjoy attempting to make your favorite restaurant’s fermented kimchi (also a cabbage-based dish.) Or, you could try perfecting those pickles you buy at the store. Better yet, you could try something you’ve never had – like fermented beets.
Fermenting veggies is as easy as placing veggies in salt water. You don’t need any fancy equipment to kickstart the fermentation process. Here is a simple recipe for lacto-fermented vegetables – but you can absolutely substitute any of these vegetables for whatever you have at home.
Recipe For Lacto-Fermented Vegetables
What You’ll Need
- 3 Tbsp of non-iodized salt
- 1 quart of water (use bottled or filtered; chlorine may inhibit the fermentation process)
- 1 cup of carrots (chopped)
- 1 cup of cauliflower florets (chopped small)
- 1 cup of beets (chopped)
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
- 2 sprigs of rosemary (or dill)
- 1 tsp of coriander seeds or black peppercorns
What To Do
- Thoroughly wash a large glass mason jar (64 oz) and let it dry.
- Rinse your chosen veggies with bottled or filtered water, and chop them accordingly.
- Dissolve non-iodized salt completely in the water.
- Place garlic and herbs into the mason jar first.
- Add the vegetables. Your aim is to pack them tightly, but leave a half-inch of space at the top of the jar to allow for expansion by the lactic acid gas.
- Pour the salt brine over the veggies, completely covering them (this helps prevent mold from forming). Ensure you still allow for that half-inch of space as a buffer zone. Tightly seal the jar.
- Leave the jar for 48 hours at room temperature, then remove the lid and examine. Your mix should smell a little sour, and you should see some lactic acid bacteria bubbles.
- Repeat this step once a day to help release some of the gas.
The vegetables are usually at their tastiest between 5 and 10 days. The longer the fermentation process, the more “tangy” they’ll taste. But you can go much longer than 10 days if you want to.
Once the veggies taste the way you like them, place the jar in the refrigerator to stop further fermentation. You can keep your veggies like this for several months.
What If Mold Appears On Top Of Your Veggies?
As you saw, lactic acid makes it almost impossible for other organisms to grow. This is why fermentation has been a very safe way to preserve food for centuries.
However, in the rare case that you find a little white mold growing on top, don’t necessarily toss the veggies out. This white mold is often harmless, and it can be scraped off. But, if the whole jar appears affected, toss your veggies and start again.
Bottom line – if it smells or tastes bad, you’ll know it.
For more info on food safety and fermentation, check out this document.
How To Incorporate More Fermented Foods Into Your Diet
If you’re not up for making your own fermented foods, there are plenty of ways to add more of these nutrients to your diet:
- Coconut or almond-based yogurt is an easy topping for breakfast cereal.
- Replace soda with kombucha. Kombucha comes in many delicious flavors. Just make sure to buy a brand that doesn’t have added sugar.
- Sauerkraut or kimchi can be added to your lunch or dinner as an easy topping or side dish. They’re both also tasty on sandwiches.
- Use apple cider vinegar (fermented from apples) in salad dressings and marinades.
The Benefits Of Fermented Foods: Expand The Nutrients In Your Meals
The more you read about fermentation, the more fascinating it becomes. It can feel great to feed your body these outstanding nutrients.
If you’re looking for other ways to add to your happy gut bacteria, you could also add a good lactobacillus probiotic supplement in addition to eating more probiotics in your diet and you might consider prebiotics.
Prebiotics don’t start as fermented foods, but they become fermented in your gut when your gut bugs feed on them. This then helps the growth of more friendly gut bugs. Prebiotic foods include asparagus, garlic, onion, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, tomatoes, rye, and beans.12
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