Before I started eating real foods, things like sauerkraut, plain yogurt, kombucha and strong aged cheese were not even on my radar. These foods tasted and smelled too strong to me and I had no interest in them. I preferred my bland carbohydrates- thank you very much!
Fast forward a couple years, and I noticed that I started to enjoy these foods and even wanted them from time to time. I was always afraid to try making them myself, but as I read more and more about their health benefits, I was eventually brave enough to try it.
Now that I have, I will never go back!
What Are Fermented Foods?
Fermented foods are foods that have been through a process of lactofermentation in which natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food creating lactic acid. This process preserves the food, and creates beneficial enzymes, b-vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, and various strains of probiotics.
Natural fermentation of foods has also been shown to preserve nutrients in food and break the food down to a more digestible form. This, along with the bevy of probiotics created during the fermentation process, could explain the link between consumption of fermented foods and improved digestion.
Cultures around the world have been eating fermented foods for years, from Sauerkraut in Germany to Kimichi in Korea and everywhere in between. Studies have even shown the link between probiotic rich foods and overall health (PDF). Sadly, with the advances in technology and food preparation, these time-honored traditional foods have been largely lost in our society.
Where Have All the Fermented Foods Gone?
The amount of probiotics and enzymes available in the average diet has declined sharply over the last few decades as pasteurized milk has replaced raw, pasteurized yogurt has replaced homemade, vinegar based pickels and sauerkraut have replaced traditional lacto-fermented versions…the list goes on.
Even the much dreaded grains were safer to eat in earlier times since their preparation included soaking, sprouting and fermenting, which largely reduces the anti-nutrient content and makes them less harmful (I still didn’t say good!).
Instead of the nutrient rich foods full of enzymes and probiotics that our grandparents probably ate, the average diet today consists mainly of sugar laden, lab created dead foods.
Why Eat Fermented Foods?
Besides the fact that they taste great and really grow on you, there are several great reasons to start making and eating fermented foods:
- Probiotics– Eating fermented foods and drinking fermented drinks like Kefir and Kombucha will introduce beneficial bacteria into your digestive system and help the balance of bacteria in your digestive system. Probiotics have also been shown to help slow or reverse some diseases, improve bowel health, aid digestion, and improve immunity!
- Absorb Food Better– Having the proper balance of gut bacteria and enough digestive enzymes helps you absorb more of the nutrients in the foods you eat. Pair this with your healthy real food diet, and you will absorb many more nutrients from the foods you eat. You won’t need as many supplements and vitamins, and you’ll be absorbing more of the live nutrients in your foods.
- Budget Friendly– Incorporating healthy foods into your diet can get expensive, but not so with fermented foods. You can make your own whey at home for a couple of dollars, and using that and sea salt, ferment many foods very inexpensively. Drinks like Water Kefir and Kombucha can be made at home also and cost only pennies per serving. Adding these things to your diet can also cut down on the number of supplements you need, helping the budget further.
- Preserves Food Easily– Homemade salsa only lasts a few days in the fridge- Fermented homemade salsa lasts months! The same goes for sauerkraut, pickles, beets and other garden foods. Lacto-fermentation allows you to store these foods for longer periods of time without losing the nutrients like you would with traditional canning.
Bring on the Bacteria! How to Incorporate Fermented Foods Into Your Diet
I’ll be delving into this more in the next few weeks and providing some recipes, but adding fermented foods to your diet can be an easy process (and can save you money on probiotics and digestive enzyme supplements!)
On a basic level, you can make foods like sauerkraut with just cabbage, water and salt on your counter (that recipe can be adjusted down to make 1 head of cabbage worth in a quart size jar).
You can also incorporate fermented drinks like Water Kefir and Kombucha (cultures available here) which are inexpensive to make and can be carbonated like soda!
Are you a fan of fermented foods or are you still unsure? If you already eat fermented foods, please share your favorites!