Well the first question is what are fermented foods? Simple answer: Foods that have been produced or preserved by the action of beneficial bacteria such as kefir, yogurt, cottage cheese, sauerkraut, ketchup, tempeh, cod liver oil, miso, pickles, water kefir, sourdough bread, kombucha, beet kavas, kimchi, wine, beer, etc. Fermentation is actually an ancient method to preserve food and also enhances digestive health, flavor, and nutrient absorption.
Its common knowledge that your gut or digestive system is the key to your immune system. And its important to read the label to ensure that the foods have been fermented properly as in “live cultured”. For example not all ketchup is made using a natural fermentation process.
Did you know that fermentation also positivity correlates to improved mental health by influencing brain health? Recent research has found traditional dietary practices having a positive impact on mental health. This includes reduced anxiety, improved mental outlook, nerve cell resiliency, and diminished perceptions of stress. Beneficial bacteria helps reduce oxidative stress and inflammation which are both contributors to aging and poor health.
What happens is that chronic inflammation causes increased permeability of the intestinal barrier (a normal intestinal barrier is very selective on what is allowed through). When your intestinal lining is more porous then there is an increased access to the absorption of food antigens and environmental toxins, disturbed blood glucose control, and reduced nutrient availability1. How amazing for us today to reap the health benefits of this ancient practice that has been around for close to 10, 000 years. And we don’t even know or understand all the contributions of fermented foods to our health.
Interestingly to note is that when studying the traditional diets around the world, a broad diversity (more genre and species) of beneficial bacteria is found whereas a low range of microbial diversity is found in urban diets. Those populations consuming the traditional diets consume a variety of fermented foods1.
Another study explains that increased levels of carotenoids, an antioxidant known to protect against stroke and angina, was found in the gut and blood of healthy subjects as compared to stroke victims. “Thus, the increased incidence of carotenoid-producing bacteria in the gut of healthy subjects may offer clues to explain how the gut metagenome (bacteria genes) affects disease states.”2
How do I start out this process of incorporating fermented foods into my diet? A great place to start is asking around to see if friends or family already practice the art of fermentation and set up a day for a hands on demonstration. Or you can go to Cultures for Health.
1. Selhub, Eva. Fermented foods, microbiota, and mental health: ancient practice meets nutritional psychiatry. Journal of Physiological Anthropology, 33:2, 2014.
2. University of Gothenburg. Changes in gut bacteria protect against stroke, research finds. Science Daily, 2012.