All fermented foods contain potentially beneficial bacteria and some contain other organisms such as yeast.
These beneficial microbes act as probiotics that support gut health.
Historically, the fermentation technique was used as a way to preserve food and beverages long before chilling days.
Fermentation is a natural process by which microorganisms such as yeast and bacteria convert carbohydrates such as starch and sugar into alcohol or acids. Alcohol or acids act as a natural preservative and give fermented foods a pronounced flavor and sourness. Fermentation also promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria known as probiotics. Probiotics have been shown to improve digestion and heart health as well as immune function.
The consumption of foods and beverages that undergo fermentation includes health benefits that extend beyond food preservation.
The transformation of sugar and starches increases the natural, beneficial bacteria in foods. Known as probiotic or “good” bacteria, this bacterium helps many health problems, especially digestive health.
Here are the benefits of fermented foods;
Improves Digestive Health
Probiotics produced during fermentation can help restore the balance of friendly bacteria in your gut and alleviate some digestive problems. Studies show that probiotics can reduce the uncomfortable symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a common digestive disorder.
A 6-week study in 274 adults with IBS found that consuming 125 grams of yogurt-like fermented milk improved symptoms of IBS, including bloating and stool frequency daily. What’s more, fermented foods can reduce the severity of diarrhea, bloating, gas, and constipation.
For these reasons, adding fermented foods to your diet can be helpful if you regularly have gut issues.
Boosts Your Immune System
Bacteria living in your gut have a significant impact on your immune system. Due to its high probiotic content, fermented foods can support your immune system and reduce your risk of infection such as the common cold.
Eating probiotic-rich foods can also help you recover faster when you’re sick.
Additionally, many fermented foods are rich in vitamin C, iron, and zinc – all of which have been proven to contribute to a stronger immune system.
Improves Food Digestion
Fermentation helps break down nutrients in foods, making them easier to digest than their unfermented counterparts. For example, lactose – the natural sugar in milk – is broken down into simpler sugars – glucose and galactose during fermentation. As a result, those who are lactose intolerant can often consume fermented dairy products such as kefir and yogurt. Also, fermentation helps break down and destroy antinutrients such as phytates and lectins, which are compounds found in seeds, nuts, grains, and legumes that inhibit nutrient absorption.
Therefore, consuming legumes such as fermented beans or tempeh increases the absorption of beneficial nutrients and makes them more nutritious than non-fermented alternatives.
Other Potential Benefits
Studies have shown that fermented foods can also regulate:
Mental health: Several studies have linked probiotics Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum to a reduction in symptoms of anxiety and depression. Both probiotics are found in fermented foods.
Weight loss: Although more research is needed, some studies have found links between weight loss and reduced belly fat with certain probiotics, including Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus gasseri.
Heart health: Fermented foods have been associated with a lower risk of heart disease. Probiotics can also modestly reduce blood pressure and help lower total and “bad” LDL cholesterol.
There are many different types of fermented foods consumed around the world, including:
- Sourdough and bread