Eating high-quality fermented foods can provide extraordinary health benefits ranging from heart health to cancer protection, immunity and even anti-aging?
People have been consuming fermented foods for hundreds of years. In the West, the most commonly known fermented foods include yogurt, sauerkraut, pickles and sourdough bread, and some of the lesser-known ones are tempeh and the fermented beverage kombucha tea. Around the world, the list is much longer, including items such as balao-balao, magou, lutefisk, nham, kefir, natto, and kimchi, among many others.
Fermented foods contain the beneficial flora Lactobacillus acidophilus—or “good bacteria.” These bacteria produce several byproducts, including lactic acid. Lactic acid actually preserves food and boosts health by inhibiting other “bad” bacteria.
Research Shows that Fermented Foods Improve Digestion, Immunity, and Overall Health
Many fermented foods have been extensively studied. Kimchi—a fermented spicy cabbage, staple in Korea—has proven medicinal, antimicrobial, and anti-aging properties. Scientists even found that chickens infected with avian flu began to recover when fed a kimchi extract. Kimchi is served in most Korean restaurants, and is now available in many Western grocery stores.
Natto, a fermented soy product popular in Japan, is another well-studied fermented food. It is recognized for its ability to lower cholesterol and improve heart health and blood pressure. Today, natto is the subject of several American scientific studies, and is available at many U.S. grocery stores and restaurants.
Fermented foods also play a role in treating and preventing colds and flu. A very robust new study of more than 3,000 people has recently demonstrated that those who ate yogurt regularly suffered far fewer colds.
Fermented Foods Deliver Beneficial Probiotics into the Body
Research shows that fermented foods can restore the balance of intestinal flora, and this leads to vastly improved intestinal health and digestion because of the introduction of probiotics into the digestive tract. Probiotics confer myriad benefits, including protection from colon cancer … relief from lactose intolerance and rotavirus diarrhea … reduction in children’s cavities … and prevention of reoccurrences of inflammatory bowel disease.
There is ample scientific evidence that shows that fermented foods can …
Aid in digestion
Support immune function and prevent illness
Increase overall nutritional status by adding B vitamins and anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids
Protect against harmful, pathogenic microorganisms
Getting Started with Fermented Foods: Quality Matters!
The Standard American Diet (SAD) is sorely lacking in fermented food, and the few we do eat regularly are usually cheaply produced for mass consumption. Most commercial sauerkraut and pickles, for instance, are preserved in vinegar instead of the traditional fermentation using various lactic acid bacteria. Additionally, commercial sauerkraut is usually pasteurized and lacks both taste and nutrients.
Before you reach for store-bought yogurt, be aware that most commercially available yogurt products are loaded with sugars (usually in the form of unhealthy high-fructose corn syrup) and fillers (such as gelatin). Whenever possible, look for yogurt that is made of organic whole milk, and sweetened with pure maple syrup or naturally milled sugar.
You might want to try natural, full-fat Greek style yogurt—or make your own yogurt (there are many good recipes online). Traditional sauerkraut can often be found at co-ops and health food stores. Kefir, high-quality aged cheeses, and kombucha tea are other options.
Kombucha tea is made from the Kombucha mushroom, which is not actually a mushroom, but rather a flat, pancake-like culture that resembles a mushroom. The culture used in Kombucha tea consists of several species of yeast and bacteria. Kombucha enthusiasts assert that the tea can boost the immune system, reverse the aging process and even cure cancer. Kombucha Botanica, manufactured by a Santa Cruz—based company, offers organic and raw kombucha tea that is refreshing and mildly sweet.
If you simply can’t acquire a taste for fermented foods, probiotic supplements with Lactobacillus and other beneficial bacteria may provide similar health benefits. But again, quality is paramount. Many probiotic supplements don’t live up to their promises. It’s advisable to check consumer reviews before purchasing.
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