It’s probably no surprise, but gut health and probiotics are big topics in the field of health and wellness right now. Although you can easily take a supplement to get a daily dose of beneficial gut bugs, a more whole foods-based strategy is to add fermented foods to your diet. Here’s your guide to fermented foods.
What are fermented foods?
Fermented foods are created through, you guessed it, fermentation. Fermentation is the process in which components of food, such as natural sugars, are broken down by bacteria and yeast. These elements convert carbohydrates to alcohol and other acids, which preserves a high nutrient content. That means foods that undergo fermentation are transformed foods that are packed with probiotics (aka nourishing gut bacteria) as well as a variety of other nutrients.
Benefits of eating fermented foods
Fermented foods deliver a number of health benefits including: balancing your gut bacteria and stomach acids thereby improving digestion, helping to boost immunity, decreasing inflammation and keeping your digestion on track. (Amen to that!)
Types of fermented foods to try
Here are some of the top fermented foods:
- Apple cider vinegar
- Coconut kefir
- Cultured buttermilk
- Fermented tempeh
- Lacto-fermented pickles and other vegetables (i.e. beets, garlic, green beans, onions, radishes and tomatoes)
One thing to note: since fermented foods contain live organisms, they should be consumed raw as cooking these foods will unfortunately kill the good bacteria and that’s what we want in our systems, so bottom line, don’t cook ‘em. Simply enjoy them on their own as is.
“These fermented foods are a great whole-food approach to having probiotics as a part of your diet. There are so many benefits to consuming them and lot of different options for people to choose. Drinking kombucha in the morning is my favorite way to incorporate fermented foods,” says Jess Harke, RDN.
3 tips for purchasing fermented food
When purchasing fermented foods, keep these three tips in mind:
#1 Buy organic
If possible, purchase fermented foods that are locally farmed, non-GMO and organic as these will be of the highest quality.
#2 Keep cool
Since fermented foods contain live bacteria, they must be kept cool to survive, so only purchase fermented foods in the refrigerated section of your local grocery store.
#3 Read the label
Fermented foods will have the phrase “fermented” printed somewhere on the label and should not be confused with “pickling” as these are two different things (pickled foods have been pickled in liquids like brine or vinegar, but have not been fermented unless it is otherwise stated on the label). Also, be sure the label does not say “pasteurized” as the pasteurization process eliminates the live cultures that can nourish your gut health.
Like with anything new, start incorporating small servings of fermented foods to your daily diet slowly. When it comes to fermented foods, a little bit goes a long way, so remember, less is more. Add a splash or two of raw ACV to your afternoon smoothie, add a spoonful of kimchi to your morning breakfast omelet or add a dollop of yogurt to your bowl of granola.
“Once you start enjoying more fermented foods, you could even try making some of your own. You’ll find starter kits for kefir in stores and can follow simple recipes to make your own kombucha and kimchi at home,” says Harke.