A strong immune system depends on a healthy digestive tract and if digestive health is not good chances are neither is the immune system. Healthy bacteria could be the answer and thats where fermented foods come into their own – they contain probiotics which are friendly bacteria that colonise our digestive track, keeping our bacterial flora balanced.
In one study people who ate at least 5 portions of fermented food a week had more good gut bacteria but they had to keep eating them. Other studies have found that people with too many bad bacteria absorb more calories from their food leading to weight gain. The good bacteria and yeasts on the surface of fermented food help break down sugars and starches so when food is eaten it is easier to digest. Some also boost good gut bacteria that help with immunity and weight control. Research from a recent phycological study suggested that fermented foods including yogurt and pickled vegetables could help to treat anxiety.
Fermented foods are foods that have been processed using yeasts or bacteria with the intent of changing the food’s organoleptic properties, or to preserve it. Eating a variety of fermented foods will introduce a diversified microflora in our bodies. The more diversified our microflora, the better we are equipped to battle infections and illness. Fermenting our foods before we eat them is like partially digesting them before we consume them, shown in some people who cannot tolerate milk but can eat yogurt. That’s because the lactose which is usually the part people can’t tolerate in milk, is broken down as the milk is fermented and turns into yogurt.
Fermented foods improve digestion and restore the proper balance of bacteria in the gut. This can be helpful in conditions of the gut, such as irritable bowel syndrome, lactose and gluten intolerance.
Fermenting food actually increases the vitamin content, fermented dairy products have shown an increased level of folic acid which is critical to producing healthy babies as well as pyroxidine, B vitamins, riboflavin and biotin depending on the strains of bacteria present.
Raw, fermented foods are rich in enzymes, which your body needs to digest, absorb, and utilise the nutrients in your food. As you age, your body’s supply of enzymes goes down.
By eating fermented food it helps us to absorb the nutrients we’re consuming. We need to absorb the nutrients for them to do us any good. When you improve digestion, you will improve absorption.
Some examples of fermented food are
- Live cultured pickles, sauerkraut, vegetables and kimchi
- Cheese made from raw milk
- Traditional fermented cottage cheese
- Whey, the liquid remaining after the curds and cream have been removed
- Unpasteurised miso (which has not been heated)
- Tempeh, made from fermented soybeans
- Fermented drinks and tea such as kombucha
- Soy sauce
- Fermented tofu
- Yogurt and kefir made with live cultures (not all commercially sold yogurt or frozen yogurt contains live cultures). Non-dairy yogurt varieties may also contain live cultures
- Naturally fermented and unpasteurised beers
Fermented foods have played an important role in human health for hundreds of years. Societies known for their longevity have always eaten some form of fermented food. The British Gut Project is analysing the gut bacteria of 2,000 people. The aim is to find out which species of bacteria exist in the gut and which groups in the population have the most species in their bodies. Ultimately, researchers will be able to answer the question of whether there is such a thing as a perfectly healthy gut – and what feeds it and maybe then we will know what we should eat, how much and how often.