Fermented Foods: Add Some Culture to Your Diet

EatingYogurtCan’t tell your kombucha from your kimchi? If you’re wondering what’s behind the buzz about fermented foods, here’s what you need to know.

Bring on the bacteria!

Fermentation is all about the chemistry of breaking down a complex substance into simpler parts, with the help of bacteria, yeast or fungi. It’s a process that’s been used for centuries to preserve food and aid in digestion.

There are two common ways to do this: lacto-fermentation, which converts sugary lactose into lactic acid and gives food a distinctive sour taste; and alcohol fermentation, which uses yeast to convert natural sugars in fruit and grains into alcohol.

Good for your gut, skin and mood

Fermented foods have a wide range of health benefits, but perhaps the most important is their function as a probiotic. Fermented foods with active bacterial or yeast cultures supplement the many beneficial strains of bacteria that live in our gut. And because our gut houses the largest part of our immune system, keeping it healthy with fermented foods can help us fight infections, allergies and inflammation, say experts at Tufts University.

Another benefit of fermented foods? A mood boost. If you’ve been feeling slightly down or anxious lately, fermented foods can help, nutritional psychiatrists tell us. That may be because 95 percent of serotonin, the chemical in our bodies that regulates mood, is produced in our digestive tract. A healthy, probiotic-rich diet plays a big part in keeping the production of serotonin strong, helping reduce anxiety and improving our mental outlook.

Skin conditions such as acne, eczema and rosacea may also be improved through consumption of fermented foods, as dermatologists are looking at the relationship between a probiotic diet and good skin health.

Kimchi, kombucha and more                                                         

There are more fermented food options than you may realize—just be sure to look for labels featuring “live” or “active” cultures, meaning the food hasn’t been pasteurized, a process that kills good bacteria. (Note: Even though beer and wine are fermented, their active bacteria is killed off during production, sorry!)

Try adding some of these into your diet for a probiotic boost.

Kefir and kombucha beverages both have beneficial yeast and bacteria cultures. Kefir is usually made with cow or goat milk, coconut milk or water; it tastes tangy and packs a powerful punch of gut-helping probiotics. Kombucha is fizzy and made from fermented sweetened black or green tea, and has a slight vinegar smell—but fans love that it’s also high in antioxidants.

Other fermented favorites: Yogurt (look for ones with low sugar content) and tempeh are readily available and are excellent sources of protein and calcium. Tempeh, a whole soy food with a nutty flavor, can be used as a meat or tofu substitute. Sauerkraut and kimchi (a popular Korean condiment) are made from fermented cabbage, offering not only probiotic power, but also high levels of glucosinolate (which may lower the risk of cancer, say researchers at University of New Mexico). Just make sure you look for “live cultured” versions of sauerkraut and kimchi (pickles, too!), usually found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.

Fermented…supplements?

Fermented nutrition is becoming a popular component in supplements, since the fermentation process helps make nutrients more bioavailable, and easier to digest. Ones to try: Genuine Health’s Fermented Whole Body Nutrition and Genuine Health’s Fermented Vegan Proteins+, made with fermented grain proteins and organic vegetables.

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