Do you have more than the occasional abdominal upset? If you find yourself singing the Pepto-Bismol jingle most days, why not consider adding more fermented foods to your diet.
You don’t have to go to a fancy health food store to buy exotic-sounding ingredients. You probably have many staples in your pantry and fridge. Here’s the skinny on fermented foods and your gut and how they benefit your overall health.
What Is Fermentation?
You might think of the term “fermentation” in association with beer or wine. However, this food preparation method goes back thousands of years — as far as 6000 B.C. in the Fertile Crescent.
Many people ferment foods to protect them from decay and food-borne illnesses. In regions with poor sanitation, such measures let folks meet their caloric needs without coming down with potentially fatal diarrhea and vomiting from pathogens.
You benefit from the fruits of their labor today. Those snack-sized pickles that make a convenient late-night nosh or crisp addition to your neighborhood barbecue? They come preserved in salt brine and garlic — no cucumber from the produce section would stay fresh like a jar of gherkins.
5 Ways Fermented Foods Help Your Gut
How do fermented foods help your gut? Much of the secret lies in prebiotics and probiotics. What’s the difference? Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that exist naturally in your intestine, but you can also consume through your diet.
Prebiotics consists of the fiber these microscopic critters feast upon, and you can find both in fermented products. Here are five health benefits of getting more fermented foods in your diet.
1. They Provide Beneficial Enzymes
Your intestines need a healthy balance of enzymes to work at their best. During fermentation, microorganisms produce these fluids to break down complex compounds.
Your body can then access simple biomolecules critical to function. Proteinase, amylase and catalase all play crucial roles in keeping your pipes running smoothly.
2. They Encourage Healthy Bacteria
Perhaps the most critical beneficial property of fermented food is that they encourage healthy gastrointestinal flora. Changes in your intestinal microbiome may do everything from influencing your mood to causing painful flares in those with chronic health conditions.
Many of the neurotransmitters required for healthy mood function originate in your intestines. Scientists have found that your gut bacteria produce dopamine, GABA and norephedrine, to name a few. Imbalances in these substances can spur anxiety and depression.
3. They Help You Digest
Because fermented foods produce many of the enzymes needed for digestion while spurring further development in the gut, you might ease conditions such as heartburn, bloating and gas. You can see that our ancestors knew of this property even if they lacked the science to explain it.
For example, in the eastern European tradition, many individuals consume pork and sauerkraut as part of their holiday feasts. Meat takes longer to digest than many other substances, but they needed the rich fat to provide the necessary calories to beat the cold. Fermented cabbage helped them process the much-needed energy.
4. They Keep Your Stools More Solid
Did you keep wet wipes near your commode even before COVID-19? If you frequently have loose, watery stools that make a mess, fermented foods could help.
Because these foods help your gut produce more beneficial bacteria, your large intestine can do its job more effectively. As a result, you form stools that aren’t too firm to pass comfortably but maintain solidity.
5. They Enhance Your Immune Response
These days, everyone cares more about boosting their immune health. Eating more fermented foods could help.
Claudia Staubert and colleagues from the University of Leipzig recently published a study finding that humans possess a receptor in their cells that detects metabolites in fermented foods. When they do, it signals them to send your immune system into drive and gets them circulating throughout your body, scouring out pathogens.
How to Get More Fermented Foods in Your Diet?
If the benefits of fermented foods sound enticing, they should! Here are five ways to get more of these wonders in your diet.
- Eat more sauerkraut: You can make a homemade version and ferment other veggies, like cauliflower and red pepper, if you don’t like cabbage alone.
- Use Greek yogurt as a dressing: Want a simple salad dressing that wins awards from your family? Mix balsamic vinegar, a touch of olive oil, plain Greek yogurt and fresh herbs from your garden. It tastes incredible and takes minutes to make.
- Drink kombucha or kefir: If you puzzled over these beverages on grocery shelves, give them a try. They aren’t too sweet and may contain other beneficial herbs such as lavender and hibiscus.
- Mix up some miso soup: The miso that gives the homonymous soup its name is a fermented wonder.
- Tempt your tastebuds with tempeh: If you are a vegan, this fermented tofu tastes smokier than the plain version. It makes an ideal substitute for smoker “roasts” as the holidays near.
Fermented Foods Are Good for Your Gut and Overall Health
Fermented foods do wonders for your physical and even your mental health. Add more to your diet today and reap the benefits.
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