Fermented foods like sauerkraut and kombucha tea are gaining popularity as the new super foods. Studies are showing that this ancient food preservation process offers numerous health benefits, including reduction of inflammation, improved immunity, better digestion and gut health, weight loss and improved mental health. Learn more about the science behind fermentation and if it’s a fad or here to stay.
The Fermentation Process
The fermentation of food and beverages is an ancient practice that has been used in nearly every culture around the world. Fermentation transforms the food with the use of good bacteria, fungi or enzymes. During the process, natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food, creating acids (like lactic acid) or alcohol. This not only preserves the food, but it enhances the food’s nutritional value, or the bioavailability of the nutrients. For example, the vitamin C in cabbage becomes more bioavailable when it’s fermented to become sauerkraut and kimchi. The process also creates beneficial enzymes, B-vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids and various strains of probiotics that improve digestion and gut health.
Because fermented foods are rich prebiotics, they help healthy gut bacteria to thrive and provide enzymes for better absorption of nutrients. Plus, natural fermentation of foods helps break food down to a more digestible form. Harder to digest carbohydrates and sugars in food, such as lactose, are consumed in the fermentation process making it easier to digest and reducing overall sugar content. This, along with the presence of probiotics created during the fermentation process, improves digestion.
Common fermented foods include:
Kombucha tea is made with fermented black or green tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast. It is made by adding the colony of bacteria with the sugar and tea, and allowing the mix to ferment. The resulting liquid contains vinegar, rich in B vitamins and prebiotics. Kombucha is said to have been used for centuries to cure a wide variety of illnesses.
Kefir is a fermented yogurt-style drink made from cow, goat or sheep, coconut, rice or soy milk and kefir grains. Kefir is high in protein and calcium and contains probiotics, which can help restore the balance of good bacteria in your stomach. It has a sour smell, similar to that of yogurt, and can be used just like yogurt in smoothies or fruit bowls.
Sauerkraut is a German classic made from finely chopped cabbage fermented by several lactic-acid-producing bacteria. The fermentation process releases many of the nutrients from the cabbage, making the fermented form higher in vitamins C and K, calcium, magnesium, folate, iron, potassium, copper and manganese.
Kimchi is the Korean version of sauerkraut, and contains a combination of fermented cabbage and spices, that’s packed with iron and vitamins A, B and C. Plus, its high fiber content will keep you fuller for longer and promote good digestive health.
Pickled or fermented vegetables are among the healthiest foods you can eat, packed with fiber, phytochemicals and probiotics. However, do not mistake true pickled vegetables with store-bought jarred pickles – they’re heated at high temperatures that kill the healthy bacteria.
Tempeh, a form of fermented soy beans, is a good source of vegetarian protein and calcium. Tempeh contains probiotics and amino acids, integral to making proteins to help the body break down food, grow and repair tissue.
Natto is fermented, cooked soybeans with a sticky, viscous coating. It’s high in protein and fiber and lower in sodium than miso or soy sauce. The fermentation process creates an abundance of vitamin K, which helps promote bone health and an enzyme called nattokinase – studied for its potential to reduce
Content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.