Sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi and kefir are rising in popularity here in Australia, with offerings like yoghurt being a mainstay on the cultured foods scene.
An old school method of food preparation and preservation, it seems pickling beetroot and brewing vinegar serves more than keeping food stocked for the winter.
Fermented food for thought
For thousands of years, fermenting and pickling have been used for the preparation of various food and drink, including bread, cheese and wine; a tradition that runs strong in ancient culture and diets around the globe.1
Fermentation is a process in which carbohydrates from vegetables or beans are broken down, undertaken by yeast, mould, bacteria or enzymes. Salt can be added to inhibit growth of harmful bacteria, allowing growth of the beneficial guys such as lactic acid bacteria (LAB) (including Lactobacillus) and Bifidobacteria strains. Such microbes convert the sugars into lactic acid, which acts as the preserving agent. Cool!
It is a great method for energy efficient food preservation, reducing the need for refrigeration or other forms of keeping food, as well as utilising foods growing in abundance or that aren’t particularly palatable that might otherwise be chucked!1
Traditional practices and energy efficiency are both great – but how do fermented foods keep us happier and healthier?
Fermented food and the body
As research continues to find, the link between the status of our microbiome and mental, immune, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and overall health is strengthening.2;3
Due to the fermentation process, certain beneficial chemicals are enriched and new phytochemicals formed, having a positive effect on our intestinal gut bugs and resulting in powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity.4
Depending on the method, nutrient content and digestibility of some fermented foods may be enhanced; this includes the availability of minerals, vitamins and proteins.1 Foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and galacto-oligosaccharides (a non-digestible carbohydrate synthesised from lactose by LAB) in fermented dairy may also act as prebiotics, feeding our helpful gut bugs.
We can’t yet guarantee all the good bacteria flourishing in such foods will make it to your intestine and set up house. But good news! It seems some do, taking up temporary residence and being of benefit to existing gut flora.5
They also appear to inhibit the proliferation of opportunistic pathogens, and assist production of short-chain fatty acids. By curbing pathogenic growth, the incidence of illness and disease states such as inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and even type 2 diabetes can be reduced.
And short-chain fatty acids, including butyrate, are found to assist in energy metabolism and promote intestinal cell health, therefore it may help mitigate a myriad of disease states by maintaining intestinal lining integrity, healing leaky gut.5;6
So, could it be that as we have developed more advanced ways to preserve and transport foods, we have lost an important element of our diet that may in turn be affecting our health?
Perhaps. But that doesn’t mean it is too late to start getting fermented!
Wanna get your ferment on?
There are a few things to consider when seeking to support gut health.
Diversity of foods is key, so try to eat a variety of foods – especially vegetables – and sources of fermented foods.
Additionally, chomp down on prebiotic foods, as these are very helpful to encourage the flourish of existing good gut bugs.
And whilst many will receive benefit from including some fermented goodness in the diet, especially following a lifetime of a typical Western diet dominated by sugar and processed foods, try not to go overboard. You are ingesting live culture, some of which may or may not make it to your intestinal tract,5 and excess consumption may not be helpful (as with too much of anything, really!). Just be aware of any adverse effects – like bloating, gas or altered bowel movements – and if you experience them, ease up on the amount you are ingesting.
Try sauerkraut, kimchi, plain, Greek or coconut yoghurt, kefir or kombucha. With drinks such as kombucha, be wary of the residual sugars. While 100ml of this delightfully fizzy drink can contain very little (<1g), if any sweet stuff, there can be as much as 2-6g, depending on the brand or how you have brewed it at home.
Other foods include miso, shoyu, nampla and tempeh, and even pickled olives and corn!
Whilst you can buy fermented goods at supermarkets, local produce markets and health foods stores, why not try making your own?
That Sugar Guide has easy to follow steps for getting your own kombucha brew going, and there are plenty of instructions and tools out there to make your own yoghurt! You could even get hold of a sourdough starter culture, and bake some seriously delicious and nutritious bread (far superior to the Wonder White supermarket sliced stuff).
Go get your ferment on!
By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med.)
- Battcock, M & Azam-Ali, S 1998, ‘Fermented fruits and vegetables: A global perspective’, FAO Agricultural Services Bulletin, no. 134, viewed 18 July 2016, <http://www.fao.org/docrep/x0560e/x0560e00.htm#con>
- Kechagia, M Basoulis, D SKonstantopoulou, S Dimitriadi, D Gyftopoulou, K Skarmoutsou, K and Fakiri, EM 2013, Health Benefits of Probiotics: A Review, ISRN Nutrition, vol. 2013, Article ID 481651
- Tillisch K, Labus J, Kilpatrick L, Jiang Z, Stains J, Ebrat B, Guyonnet D, Legrain-Raspaud S, Trotin B, Naliboff B, & Mayer EA 2013, Consumption of fermented milk product with probiotic modulates brain activity, Gastroenterology, no. 144, no. 7, pp. 1394-1401
- Selhub, EM, Logan, AC, & Bested, AC 2014, ‘Fermented foods, microbiota, and mental health: ancient practice meets nutritional psychiatry’, Journal of Physiological Anthropology.
- Derrien M & van Hylckama Vlieg JE 2015, ‘Fate, activity, and impact of ingested bacteria within the human gut microbiota’, Trends in Microbiology,23, no. 6, pp354-366.
- den Besten, G, van Eunen, K, Groen, AK, Venema, K, Reijngoud, D, & Bakker, BM 2013, ‘The role of short-chain fatty acids in the interplay between diet, gut microbiota, and host energy metabolism’, Journal Of Lipid Research, vol. 54, no. 9, pp. 2325-2340.