Fermented Foods For Health

Stomach upset? Eat fermented foods! You might think it’s a food fad, but since the 12th century cultures have been fermenting good things both for taste and digestive health.

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As one of the largest parts of our immune system, a great deal of our health can be linked to what’s ‘going on’ in the gut. 

And with digestion issues well on the rise and the number of complaints of leaky gut, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and other unfortunate gut based conditions increasing, one of the best ways to boost our health and alleviate the symptoms of these complaints is via introducing traditionally fermented foods to the diet.

While fermentation might currently seem like a trending food fad – just search #fermentation on instagram to see a whole host of home experiments in jars, – it’s not. Fermentation is an ancient and trusted technique that’s long been used to prepare and preserve food, and notably so in civilisations with great health and longevity.

So what is it that makes traditionally fermented food good for us and particularly for our guts? It comes down to three factors; the health benefits of the food being fermented, what happens to that food on a micro level while it’s being fermented, and what the finished product now additionally contains that’s being ingested by the body.

When a food is fermented or pickled microorganisms break it down. This makes the food not just more digestible, but the nutrients contained in the original ingredients far more accessible. For example, with many based on cabbage (one of the best vegetables), its cancer fighting properties increase, as does the body’s ability to access them.

Another plus? When we’re consuming fermented food, particularly in a condiment like style to accompany a main meal, it makes the digestion of the entire meal much easier. It’s also reported that when a fermented food enters our digestive tract they bring healing properties to the gut and restore balance. Ingested sugars and starches harm the good bacteria already living there, while fermented foods and the good bacteria within, restore balance to our gut flora.

As mentioned, many cultures have long ingested fermented foods with their meals. The Koreans have their kimchi, the Japanese regularly consume Miso, and the German’s have long eaten Sauerkraut with their protein and starch heavy meals. All are fermented stalwarts in their diets and certainly not food fads… read on for the benefits of each.

Sauerkraut
Being based on the cancer fighting powerhouse cabbage, sauerkraut is off to a good start. More so, considering the specific presence of Lactobacillus (good bacteria) involved in sauerkraut’s production, this German favourite just goes from strength to strength. For when the lactobacillus are ingested they assist the bacteria already existing within, working to improve digestion, immune function and our body’s absorption of nutrients. Place a little on your plate like you would mustard or another serving sauce at your next barbecue. Particularly good with pork for it helps the digestion of the rich meat.

Kimchi
Cabbage isn’t the only good thing found in Kimchi, it’s made on many others with cancer fighting properties like garlic, onion, radish and red peppers. Ginger is in there too, perfect for upset stomachs and long seen in Ayurvedic medicine as an all-encompassing remedy. Not only does it bring bacterial balance to the body, but also properties that fight against oxidisation (e.g ageing) and carcinogenic patters too. Mix through a hearty serving of homemade fried rice, thick with vegetables and spice. Possibly with a fried egg sitting atop.

Miso
The really good stuff that originated in Japan in the 12th century. It’s the type that’s been traditionally made on grains like barley and rice, fermented soybeans, and as enticing as it sounds – fungus. Just like sauerkraut and kimchi it supports digestion by adding beneficial microorganisms to the digestive tract and is also rich in B group vitamins – particularly good for Type A blood types. Combine a spoonful with boiling water and make into a broth, or use as the base for a more nourishing soup via the addition of vegetables and buckwheat noodles. Baked salmon glazed with miso is particularly delicious.

A note – in terms of sauerkraut and kimchi, either make your own, or buy those at the shop stored in the refrigerated section.  Ones that are not refrigerated can contain concerning levels of sugar and chemical preservatives, thereby erasing all the benefits of fermentation.

Image credits: fermented market jars (pepper passport), kimchi brussel sprouts (Bon Appetit), sauerkraut (My Own Labels), pork potatoes and sauerkraut (Gourmet Traveller), miso paste (BBC Food).

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