Diet and Nutrition

The Health Benefits of Fermented Foods

The Health Benefits of Fermented Foods

What is Fermented Food?

Fermented food involves the process of fermentation in which the food is exposed to bacteria, yeast, or combination of these microbes, which then breaks down the sugar and starch and converts it into lactic acid. These microbes can enter through the air in the environment or are added to the food directly. Lactic acid protects us and the food from harmful bacteria.

Fermented foods have already gone through the process of lacto-fermentation, which creates beneficial enzymes, vitamin B, omega-3 fatty acids, and probiotics. It also helps to preserve food. For years, people have been eating fermented foods such as kimchi in Korea, and sauerkraut in Germany. Studies have shown a relation between eating fermented food and maintaining overall heath. However, due to advances in technology, these traditional foods have lost their place in society.

Some different types of fermented food:

  • Kombucha - a fermented tea
  • Water kefir - similar to kombucha but does not use tea
  • Sauerkraut - fermented cabbage
  • Kimchi - fermented mixed vegetables
  • Fermented pickles - fermented cucumbers
  • Tempeh - includes fermented beans and grains
  • Miso- fermented soy beans
  • Yogurt and kefir - fermented milk

Health Benefits of Fermented Food

Gives your digestive system probiotics, or good bacteria

Fermented foods introduce probiotics, or good bacteria, into our digestive systems, balancing the bacteria in the gut by replacing bad bacteria. These probiotics create a healthy gut environment and help slow or reverse disease, boost immunity, aid digestion, and improve overall bowel health. Eating fermented foods every day gives you a supply of beneficial bacteria and replenishes them daily. 

Probiotics also help you avoid constipation and bloating, reduce diarrhea induced by traveling, and promote good mood and skin health. Since fermented foods contain nutrients that are already pre-digested, they also allow the nutrients to be easily absorbed by the body. Here are other benefits of fermented foods:

  • They boost immunity.
  • They reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.
  • Studies on animal subjects have shown that fermented foods may promote weight loss or maintain a healthy weight.
  • They restore the normal beneficial bacteria in the gut after a course of antibiotics.

Moreover, probiotics in the intestine help to digest those foods for which enzymes in our body are not always available. Phytic acid, found in grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts, is an antinutrient that bonds with other minerals such as calcium and iron, making their absorption difficult. One way of reducing phytic acid in food is through lactofermentation. Studies have revealed that almost 90 percent of the phytic acid present in soybeans, lima beans, and corn can be broken down by the probiotics created by fermentation. This helps improve the body's absorption of minerals. 

Helps the body absorb more nutrients

When food intake is healthy, the digestive system functions optimally, and the body is able to absorb more nutrients from the food. There is no need for supplements and vitamins, since the body is getting the recommended daily intake from healthy food. However, when the digestive system is not functioning well, the body finds it difficult to absorb the required nutrients. 

Fermented foods not only improve digestion but also increase the level of enzymes. This helps in the absorption of nutrients from food. The body is able to absorb more nutrients from food because of the balance of bacteria in the gut and an adequate amount of digestive enzymes. 
Also, since fermented foods contain nutrients that are already pre-digested, the nutrients are more easily absorbed by the body. For instance, when eating sauerkraut, a fermented food made from cabbage, its vitamin C content is more readily available to the body.

Delivers enzymes to your digestive system

In order to digest certain kinds of food, our body needs enzymes. Without these enzymes our body cannot absorb the food properly. This could result in bowel problems. These enzymes can be obtained from raw food, but digesting raw food is not always easy for our bodies since many components are present in that food. Fermentation keeps the food raw, and retains and enhances the enzymes in the food and delivers them to our gut. Hence, no pressure needs to be exerted by our body.  Also, the ability of raw fermented foods to balance the gut bacteria, balance the stomach pH levels, and deliver important enzymes increases the ability of the body to break down food so more nutrients are available to the body.

Studies have shown that through the breakdown of phytate and fortification of folate, fermented food increases the bioavailability of nutrients. An increase in the bioavailability of vitamin B and vitamin K2 was observed in people those who had increased their intake of foods such as homemade yogurt and sauerkraut. Other nutrients made bioavailable are riboflavin, omega-3 fatty acids, biotin, and folic acid.

Balances the production of stomach acid

Digestive discomfort caused by excess or too little stomach acid is relieved by eating fermented foods.  If stomach acid production is low, fermented food increases the level of acid released. If the hydrochloric acid is excessive, fermented food protects the stomach and intestinal linings.

With age, the amount of digestive juices released by the body for digestion tends to decrease. Fermented foods, such as buttermilk and pickled vegetables, help make up for this loss. The way to achieve this is to eat a small portion of fermented food once or twice daily with meals.

Helps the body produce acetylcholine

The transmission of nerve impulses is facilitated by acetylcholine, which is a neurotransmitter. Fermented foods help the body produce acetylcholine and aid in digestion. In relation to digestion, acetylcholine reduces constipation by increasing bowel movements. They also aid in the release of digestive juices and enzymes by the stomach, gall bladder, and pancreas.

Benefits people with diabetes

In fermented foods, the carbohydrate component in the lactic acid is already pre-digested, which means it is already broken down. This is beneficial to people with diabetes as the food does not place an additional burden on the pancreas to digest the carbohydrates as do normal carbohydrates. Fermented foods also improve the function of the pancreas, thus benefiting people with diabetes.

Cellulose, which the human digestive tract cannot absorb, is broken down during fermentation. Thus, fermented foods aid in digestion and the health of our bowels.

Inhibits the growth of pathogenic bacteria

Cholera and typhoid bacteria, as are other pathogenic bacteria, are sensitive to acidic environments. One study found that sauerkraut was effective in destroying pathogenic bacteria. In killing other strains of bacteria, the bacteria found in the lactic acid in sourdough bread were found to be more effective than other strains. The results also indicated that fermented foods were able to quickly eliminate super-bugs that were resistant to antibiotics.

Improves brain function

Fermented foods may provide some lasting solutions to psycho-emotional conditions. Research has revealed that brain function can be improved by probiotic activity. This can lead to a positive effect on mood and against fatigue. The production of certain neurochemicals can be increased by probiotics. One such neurochemical is gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA. It helps in relieving anxiety, improves mood, decreases the symptoms of PMS, and has also been found to treat ADHD. While GABA is available as a supplement in health stores, a deficiency can be treated more naturally with the help of GABA-rich lactobacillus-fermented foods as part of a diet rich in nutrients, and including saturated fats and proteins. 

Reduces the risk of eczema

Eczema is a skin inflammation that is considered an allergic reaction. The skin becomes red, itchy, and there are lesions that can become crusty and scaly.

Eczema is mostly seen in infants. Research has revealed that those who get eczema in childhood are more likely to develop hay fever, asthma, and other allergic conditions later in life. Studies have shown that pregnant women and nursing mothers who include probiotics in their diets may be able to pass on to their infants some of the benefits of probiotics, such as a reduced risk of getting eczema. 

Increases vitamin A and vitamin C levels

During the fermentation process, the fibrous part of the food is broken down, releasing vitamins. The lactic acid in fermented foods increases digestibility and thus increases the levels of vitamins A and C.

Promotes weight loss and helps healthy weight maintenance

Research has revealed that healthy gut flora helps in regulating energy availability and even promoting weight loss. When the amount of probiotics is higher, the metabolic rate also increases. Damage by bad bacteria, poor digestion, and inflammation increase the chances of metabolic disorders. These metabolic disorders have been linked to weight gain as the body loses the ability to burn calories.

Removes toxins from the body

The nutrients in the foods are broken down by the beneficial microorganisms. Natural chelators are created and bind to toxins and eliminate them from the body.

Relieves IBS symptoms

IBS is irritable bowel syndrome, which is a chronic condition. It affects the large intestine. Symptoms of IBS include stomach cramps, diarrhea, bloating, constipation, and flatulence. A study has shown that these symptoms can be alleviated by probiotics. Discomfort and bloating, especially, can be reduced. By consuming fermented milk containing Bifidobacterium animalis, the frequency of normal rather than loose, watery stool can be increased.

Promotes healthy skin

A Swedish study showed that infants had greater chances of developing eczema if their intestinal flora level was low. Also, excess toxins and undigested material in the gut can lead to leaky gut syndrome. If these materials are not eliminated from the body, the body tries to purge them through the skin, manifesting in pimples, rashes, eczema, and bumps. Fermented foods help replenish good gut flora, and detoxify and clean the body. Along with fermented foods, consuming animal fat and homemade bone broth promote healthy, radiant skin.

Fights cancer

The root cause of cancer is inflammation. Studies have shown that high levels of vitamin K2 can reduce the risk of prostrate cancer. Fermented foods are known to be rich in vitamin K2. A diet rich in fermented foods helps reduce inflammation. Cultured raw vegetables contain lactic acid, which can inhibit cell mutation and thus prevent colon cancer. Also, cabbage fermented into kimchi or sauerkraut is believed to have cancer-fighting properties due to increased glucosinolate compounds. 

Boosts immune function

If digestion is not working optimally, gut bacteria are not balanced. This affects the immune system, since 80 percent of the immune system surrounds the gastrointestinal tract. Some experts will even say that the largest immune organ in the body is the gut. If digestion is improved, the immune system will receive more of the nutrients required to make immunity-boosting compounds. Bowel health is also improved. Thus no, undigested particles can get into the bloodstream. If the gut's microbial balance is dysfunctional, it may cause many diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. 

An unhealthy gut it makes one more vulnerable to infections such as colds and the flu. The presence of good bacteria decreases the space for bad bacteria. If we reduce the compounds that the bad bacteria feed on, the more easily they can be replaced by good bacteria. This will reduce the risk of inflammation and reactions to foreign substances.

May prevent cavities

Studies have shown that the probiotic lactobacillus reuteri may inhibit the growth of the specific bacteria that cause cavities. They also help reduce the chances of gum disease and decrease plaque. L. reuteri is used as an ingredient in some milk-based products but they are also available in pill-form.

 

Key Takeaways

  • Fermentation is a chemical process in which sugar is converted into carbon dioxide and acid or alcohol by bacteria, yeast, or both.
  • The probiotics created through fermentation digest the food and make nutrients available.
  • Consuming fermented food has been linked to overall good health.