What’s the Hype About Fermented Foods? (July 2019)
We have seen these foods for a long time at the market, various restaurants and they are prevalent in many cultures. Carrying a bottle of kombucha has become as common as carrying a bottle of water or a cup of coffee. What is it about these foods that have people intrigued? Does sauerkraut, kimchi, dill pickles, miso or yogurt truly have superior nutrients that other foods do not?
All of these foods vary in taste, ingredients, and consistency but have one thing in common – the fermentation process. This is a slow process that requires various microorganisms (such as yeast, bacteria, or mold) and other foods which will feed onto starch or sugar. The end result is that these microorganisms are converted into alcohols, acids and carbon dioxide, nutrients that are beneficial for health and food preparation purposes.
The fermentation process is commonly used to make beer (from grains that are fermented), bread, kefir and tempeh (fermented bean cake). Research is showing that nutritional benefits are significant when foods are fermented, as they result in a decrease in risk reduction of coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetes and improve gut health.
The probiotics in these foods is supportive to helping digestion and brain functioning, as well as helping the body convert various food selections into forms that are easier to metabolize. For example, when I was in Japan the only vegetables that they serve are pickled/fermented ones. It seems that the people in Japan are aware that certain bacteria help with the conversion of flavonoids into more absorbable forms. I have found in my travels around the world, the people of these different countries seem to understand the importance of the various foods and, therefore, they become an important part of their culture.
It’s also important to note that, by eating fermented foods, new elements are created which helps the body with maximizing the nutrition that is being consumed. For example, various forms of dairy such as cheese, milk and kefir are more easily digested due to the lactic acid which is involved in anti-inflammatory and potentially antioxidant processes.
Another perk of fermented foods is the taste and the satisfaction that they provide. By adding an aged cheese to a meal, having sourdough bread with olive tapenade and including a glass of wine, flavor, taste and satisfaction go hand-in-hand. I always like to ask clients to pay attention to what foods appeal to them as opposed to eating what they perceive they “should be eating.”
Although a food may have significant benefit, if it’s not a food that is enjoyed or craved, I would not suggest “forcing” yourself to eat it. In the book Intuitive Eating, there is a chapter titled “Gently Nutrition” that discusses the importance of individuals being able to observe what food selections are of interest to them after they have healed their relationship to food and their body.
If we force ourselves to eat a particular food or food group, that will lead to resentment and perhaps binging. Remember having knowledge of a food is one thing, liking and craving it is another.
- Fernandez, M., et al. (2015). Impact on human health of microorganisms present in fermented dairy products: an overview. Biomed Res Int.
- Marco, M. L., et al. (2017). Health benefits of fermented foods: microbiota and beyond. Biotechnology, 44 : 94-102.
- Dennet, C. The facts about fermented foods (2018). Today’s Dietitian, 20:4, 24-48.
- Chilton, S. N., Burton, J. P., Reid, G. (2015). Inclusion of fermented foods in food guides around the world. Nutrients, 7:1, 390-404.