3 Health Benefits of Fermented Foods

person pouring water into jar of cucmbers to make pickles

Are you looking for a way to boost you and your family’s health? Do you know about the health benefits of fermented foods and that your number 1 weapon against sickness and disease could actually be in your kitchen?

Fermented foods are a trending topic in health circles today. I don’t blame them because there’s a good reason why.

As a mama of small kids, fermenting food is a really easy and natural way to boost and protect their health.

People have been fermenting for well, a really long time. Actually the first mention of fermentation in the Bible is when Noah stepped off the Ark, planted a vineyard then made wine.

Today though, we’ve lost a lot of the art of fermentation and tradition that kept people that have gone before us healthy.

You can go into a Supermarket today and find foods like preserved vegetables, tubs of yogurt and cheese but do these count as good for your health?

Most of the time, no.

Sadly, those pickles you buy are preserved in vinegar meaning no fermentation actually happened. Yogurt is fermented but then often pasteurized killing anything that was good in it to begin with and most cheese is loaded with preservatives and food colouring that takes away any benefit of eating it.

Before we jump into how fermented foods actually boost and benefit our health, let’s answer this question:

What is fermentation?

Fermentation is the breakdown of carbohydrates by bacteria and yeasts into alcohol or some form of  organic acid. Like for example, raw apple cider vinegar with the “mother” has a high content of acetic acid and lactic acid is found in fermented milk products.

Fermentation increases the shelf life of foods and creates a probiotic rich food.

Probiotics are what make fermented foods worth making and regularly consuming.

Our world is filled with foods that have been processed packaged refined and filled with sugar.

Today our guts are in need of real health giving food to not only heal but thrive. If you come from a Western Diet you know just how detrimental convenience foods are for  health.

These foods encourage the growth of pathogenic bacteria in our guts while inhibiting the growth of good ones. This sets the stage for illness and poor health; not just for us but for our kids and grand kids too.

Probiotics (or strains of good bacteria) in our guts are essential to improved health and longevity. They boost the immune system, regulate blood sugar levels and help in the digestion of our food to assimilate the vitamins and minerals that we need to thrive.

Since the gut is linked to the brain, a healthy gut can improve brain health and prevent diseases like Alzheimer’s and even anxiety and depression.

There are many reasons to make your own fermented foods but here are my top three:

3 health benefits of fermented foods

1. Better digestion and bioavailability of nutrients

Have you ever felt bloated after eating a meal or a certain food that you just couldn’t handle?

That can be a symptom of poor digestion that can cause a lot of discomfort in some people.

Fermented foods produce enzymes. Enzymes are basically proteins that make chemical reactions between cells happen faster. So during digestion, enzymes help break food down into smaller particles so that the nutrients can be more easily absorbed- one of the many health benefits of fermented foods.

Having good digestion is important. If the gut has some level of permeability, toxins, pathogens and undigested food leak into the blood stream. This creates inflammation and can result in a whole lot of different illnesses (especially chornic illness).

But, if you can have good digestion then nutrition can be absorbed into the blood stream and carried to cells all over the body for repair, growth and energy. Good digestion also helps the body detox and remove waste products.

For kids, I like to introduce small amounts of naturally fermented foods from a young age to help them have healthier digestion, less bloating and pain, healthy bowel movements and a stronger immune system.

But what about nutrient bioavailability?

What does that mean?

The bioavailability of nutrients is just a measure of how available the nutrients from the food consumed are to the body and whether they can be used.

Fermentation increases the nutrient content of food and makes those nutrients more useful. For example, this study showed that lactic-acid fermented vegetables (served with both high and low phytate foods) increased the absorption of iron.

2. Boosts the immune system

You’ve probably heard a lot about probiotics as one of the health benefits of fermented foods. Maybe you take a probiotic supplement but did you know that fermented foods are cheaper to make and offer a more powerful dose of probiotics than most supplements?

For example, in just 1 tablespoon of kefir there are about 10 billion beneficial bacteria. So if you consumed just a 1/4 cup of kefir you’d be getting more than what’s in most supplements.

Fermented foods have unique strains of bacteria than supplements. They also have what most probiotics on the market don’t and that is: prebiotics.

Without prebiotics, which is food for the beneficial bacteria (probiotics), beneficial strains living in your gut or even passing through can’t colonize.

I like how Dr. Catherine Shanahan in her book Deep Nutrition puts it:

“Probiotics work with our immune system. If pathogens hope to gain a foothold, they have to get past the phalanx of probiotics first. While you’re watching Survivor or Top Chef, microbes in your gut are making alliances and scheming against each other for control of your internal real estate.” p261

Fermented foods are a natural and completely easy way to fortify your gut with the right kind of microbes that will ensure your health and wellness.

3. Fermentation lowers phytic acid

Ever heard of phytic acid? I remember first reading about it and not really believing the claims about it. That’s because there’s a consensus that whole grain foods are better than white.

While that’s partially true, whole grains that haven’t been prepared properly contain something called phytic acid. Today most, if not all, whole grain foods you can buy at the supermarker haven’t. So the best way to properly prepare these foods for the most nutrtion is to prepare them at home.

That’s where things like soaking, sprouting and fermenting come in.

Phytic acid is a nutrient inhibitor. All seeds, nuts and grains have phosphorus stored as phytic acid. When phytic acid is bound to a mineral it becomes known as phytate. Whole grains and legumes tend to have the highest amount of phytates.

According to this study, more than half of the world’s population is difficient in micronutrients and one third is affected by anemia and zinc difficency.

That’s a pretty high number of people seriously difficient in key nutrients.

When we consume foods high in phytic acid we can lose some of our minerals in our guts. This can lead to things like tooth decay, anemia and poor immune system function. For kids especially, it can lead to poor overall development.

Fermentation is one of the ways to reduce these mineral inhibitors. Think of it as a way to unlock that food’s nutrient potential.

For example, we know that grains have a lot of minerals like calcium, iron and zinc. Fermenting grains is an easy way to unlock those minerals to make them bioavailable to us.

So, why ferment?

Because it’s really easy.

Fermented foods help the gut in properly digesting our foods. As well as make those foods beneficial to us. They are packed with beneficial bacteria that line our digestive tracts and perform all the tasks that make us healthy and they can help to remove some of those nutrient inhibitors in some foods that most people rely on today.

If you’ve never tried fermenting your own foods you should try! Fermented vegetables are a great way to start. If you have kids that are picky get them involved in the process! To make a jar of saurkraut all you need is cabbage, salt and water or pickle/saurkraut juice.

Fermented foods are an inexpensive and natural way to boost your health without much hassle. If you’ve ever wanted to try it, try it now and see how good it tastes and how better you’ll feel!

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