Fermented Foods: they’re good for you, they help your gut, they boost your immune system and we keep hearing that we should be eating more of them. Why don’t we? Often, items like sauerkraut and kefir can be expensive in natural markets, but are actually inexpensive and relatively easy to make. Here’s the low-down on what fermented foods can do for you and how to get more in your system!
What are fermented foods?
Fermented foods are foods that have been through a process of lacto-fermentation where natural bacteria feed on sugar and starch in the food and create lactic acid. This process preserves the nutrients of the food, creates beneficial enzymes, b-vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, and various probiotics, as well as breaks the food down to a more digestible form (so you get more nutrients from the foods you eat). The microflora that lives in fermented foods even creates a protective lining in the intestines and shields them against pathogenic factors, such as salmonella and E.coli. Items like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, tempeh, and miso are all fermented and full of probiotics.
Not all fermented foods are equal.
Although, most fermented items may contain probiotics, not all pickles and fermented dairy products are created equal. Pasteurizing milk kills both good and bad bacteria in milk, then pasteurizing yogurt further destroys many of the live cultures. When buying yogurt, you want to look for a product that says it contains live cultures. Vinegar based pickles don’t have probiotics whereas lacto-fermented versions do, so if you’re buying pickled items, look for something that says live and active cultures on the label.
If you want an easy way to get plenty of immune boosting live bacteria in your system, making your own kefir is a great way to start. You can make your own kefir or drinkable yogurt by ordering milk kefir grains online or a local source- such as your natural market. It’s as simple as putting your kefir grains in a cup of cow or goat milk with a lid or cheesecloth, then leaving it overnight or until it becomes thick. When your kefir is thick enough, strain the grains out, and drink your yogurt. Place the kefir grains back in a jar with milk and your next batch will be ready the next day.
Fermented foods are often higher in probiotics and have more strains of beneficial flora than probiotic supplements alone. Often times supplements contain bacteria only, while fermented items contain “food” (i.e. prebiotics) for the microflora to help promote their growth, so they introduce beneficial bacteria and help the balance of bacteria in your digestive system. Probiotics have also been shown to help slow or reverse some diseases, such as Celiac’s, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and respiratory infections, according to Life Extension Magazine.