You’ve probably heard at least once that fermented foods are good for your digestive tract. But have you ever explored the reasons why? We’re diving into those details today to answer your questions, and to figure out how fermented foods occur, and what benefits they actually offer to our digestive system.
What is Fermentation?
Fermenting foods is not new, in fact, it’s been around for thousands of years and is one of the earliest methods of food preservation. Fermentation is the process that happens when Microorganisms like bacteria and yeast are introduced to help break down some of the food’s components. Most often those components are Sugar or Glucose, and they are broken down into alcohol or acids.
Fermentation is able to preserve food because the microorganisms responsible for the fermentation end up overtaking and destroying any bad bacteria in the food would lead to food-borne illnesses. Any microorganisms that are left, are considered GOOD bacteria and are safe for consumption by humans. It’s important to note that although fermentation is relatively simple, proper fermentation does require specific safety steps in order to limit the chance of something going awry.
Fermentation is responsible for such delights as Wine, Beer, Liquor, Cheese, Sourdough, Yogurt, Etc. Each of these fermentation by-products requires specific steps and even different microorganisms to come out as intended.
Human Bodies and Fermentation
Fermentation happens in two main ways within the human body. The first is in our muscle cells. When our cells run out of their primary energy source, ATP, they start producing extra ATP through Lactic Acid Fermentation for more energy. If you’ve ever sprinted and experienced a stitch in your side, that’s most likely the build-up of this lactic acid being created by your muscle cells.
The second form of fermentation that our bodies go through is a huge part of our digestive process. Our guts are home to hundreds of different bacteria species, working in harmony with our digestive and immune systems to break down complex carbohydrates and aid in nutrient absorption. Our bodies rely on this gut biome to function properly and to help fend off any bad bacteria that make their way into our digestive tract. Each person’s biome is slightly different, ad those differences are dependent on the person’s environment, diet, and unique body needs and requirements.
How Fermented foods benefit the body
- Fermented food with a living population of good bacteria or yeast, also called “Probiotics”, help your body’s own gut biome maintain its balance. When a gut biome is lacking diversity, or when they are weak due to poor nutritional intake, it can lead to a number of health problems that affect your whole body. Symptoms can include inflammation, IBS, and leaky gut syndrome.
- Probiotics help with food digestion of complex carbs and synthesizing certain vitamins like B12 and vitamin K.
- Anti-biotics are incredibly useful for many health conditions, but even though they are intended to attack the bad bacteria, they can still wreak havoc on our healthy gut biome. Probiotics can help restore that good bacteria and keep our digestive system working smoothly.
- On top of that, your overall gut health is thought to be linked to so many other systems, including bladder health, oral care, plaque build-up, pain sensitivity, blood pressure and blood sugar, and even brain health.
What fermented foods should you be eating?
It’s important to remember that not all fermented foods are going to provide the same benefits. Wine, cheese, and sourdough may all involve fermentation, but the final products no longer contain any live probiotic cultures. If you’re looking to add some probiotics to your diet, we would suggest the following:
- Kefir – a fermented dairy drink, thinner than yogurt, and excellent with fresh berries.
- Yogurt with live cultures – again, make sure the yogurt you choose says it contains live cultures, as not all yogurt will.
- Kombucha – a fermented tea drink, fizzy, somewhat tart, but very refreshing.
- Tempeh – fermented soybeans that have been compressed into a cake or patty. Commonly uses as a vegan meat substitute.
- Miso – also made by fermenting soybeans, but is ground down to a past that can be used in soup or sauces.
- Kimchi – Korean fermented vegetables, commonly used as a condiment or side dish in Asian cuisine
- Sauerkraut – fermented cabbage from eastern European cuisine. Also used commonly as a condiment on a number of popular dishes.
Are fermented foods safe for everyone?
Fermented foods are generally considered safe for most people. Anyone with a Histamine Intolerance should, or anyone who is immuno-compromised should consult their doctor for individual guidance. And it’s also important to know where your fermented foods are coming from. It’s not safe to play with bacteria if you’re not sure what you’re doing. Proper fermentation requires sterile equipment and proper temperature control. Most commercially available fermented foods should be safe, but we highly recommend you follow a vetted recipe if you are attempting to ferment at home.
How much should you be eating?
There’s not really a right answer to this question. If you’re new to fermented foods, eating too much at once may lead to some uncomfortable bloating. A good place to start is a single serving per day for the first few weeks, and working up from there. Listen to your body, and talk to your doctor if anything doesn’t feel right. Every individual is different, and every probiotic stain is a little different. It may take time to find out what cultures benefit your body the most, and how often your gut really benefits from that extra boost.