Fermented foods have recently swept the health world but they actually have been around throughout most of history. Sauerkraut was consumed during the Roman Empire, yogurt has been an essential part of an Indian diet since the beginning, Asian cultures have pickled vegetables for centuries and Bulgarian cultures are well known for their fermented milk and kefir,
The process of fermentation is converting carbohydrates to alcohols or organic acids using bacteria or yeast in an airless environment. The fermentation process is what leavens bread and how sour foods create lactic acid to transform into sauerkraut and yogurt. Not to mention fermentation is key in creating the amazing worlds of cheese and alcohol.
Throughout the fermentation process, it’s almost like magic happens. Enzymes are created, probiotics grow, omega 3 fatty acids develop and vitamins are plentiful. Fermented foods also maintain their nutrient content and are more easily digested.
With the development of mass production, fermentation has been pushed to the wayside but it is finally making its comeback due to its myriad of health benefits. As mentioned one of the key benefits of fermentation is its probiotic content. Probiotics are the bacteria that live in your gut that have an impact on your digestive health, brain health, immune health, and play a large role in improving chronic diseases. Not only do fermented foods create probiotics but they also develop unknown compounds that rid your digestive tract of bad bacteria.
Omega 3 fatty acids are found in many fermented foods and are very important to nerve tissue, brain function, modifying our response to stress/inflammation, and are essential to other metabolic processes.
Fermented foods aid in the body’s production of acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is essential to nerve conduction and helps the stomach release digestive juices and gets your bowels moving.
Fermented foods are “pre-digested” this takes less of a toll on your digestive system to work at breaking down food. This is also very beneficial for people suffering from diabetes as the pre-digestion takes the pressure off your pancreas to not have to digest the carbohydrates fully.
Our immune system benefits immensely from fermented foods. Good gut health is essential to an optimal functioning immune system. An over functioning immune system can be just as detrimental as an under functioning one but with a balanced gut our immune system can react appropriately to incoming pathogens.
Specific fermented foods also have been shown to aid in weight loss, reduce cholesterol, help prevent colon cancer, and reduce inflammation. Fermented veggies are also packed with vitamins that can work as antioxidants. A healthy microbiome can be developed with the use of fermented foods and have powerful effects on your hormones, skin, mental state, immune function, and energy levels.
So now you know how great these foods are lets go through some examples.
Kefir: This product is a fermented milk product and has a yogurt like consistency. Kefir is high in B12, calcium, magnesium, vitamin K2, and biotin, folate, and probiotics. Kefir can help with IBS, helps prevent osteoporosis, can help with allergies, and kills candida.
Serving Size: 1cup: 135 calories, 7 g fat, 10 g carbs, 7 g protein
Kombucha: This is a fermented carbonated beverage of usually black tea and sugar although it can be made with other bases. Kombucha is chalked full of vitamins and can help the bodies detoxification processes. It also has antioxidant properties, can reduce joint pain, and is a great alternative to juice or pop. Just make sure to read the label and assess sugar levels.
Serving Size: Start with ½ cup-1 cup, as it can be quite acidic and work your way up. There are usually minimal calories, no protein, no fat, and aim for less than 5 g of sugar.
Sauerkraut: Sauerkraut again is full of vitamins and also contains tons of minerals like iron, copper, calcium, sodium, manganese, and magnesium. This fermented food can improve circulation, reduce cholesterol levels, and reduce inflammation, and is full of fiber.
Serving Size: 1 cup- 27 calories, 0.2 g fat, 6 g carbs, 1.29 g protein
Pickles: Pickles have a wide variety of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in them. Ideally you would want to pickle your own veggies to avoid some of the additives of store bought brands. If choosing store bought look for organic products.
Serving Size: 100 grams: 91 calories, 0.4 g fat, 21g carbs, 0.6 g protein
Miso: This thick paste is created through the fermentation of soybean usually. Miso helps with improving skin health and has some anti aging abilities through its antioxidant properties.
Serving Size: 1-2 tbsp. (very salty so depends on your taste) 34 calories, 1 g fat, 4 g carbs, 2 g protein.
Tempeh: Tempeh is another fermented soy product and can be used as a meat alternative. Amongst all the other mentioned benefits of fermented foods tempeh also has an effect on hormones and may reduce hormonal symptoms.
Serving Size: 3 oz.: 140 calories, 4.5 g fat, 10 g carbs, 16 g protein
Natto: This sticky product is again a fermented soy product and has a similar consistency to oatmeal. There is a key probiotic in natto that has an extremely beneficial impact on the immune system it is also a strong anti-inflammatory.
Serving Size: 1 cup: 371 calories, 19 g fat, 25 g carbohydrates, 31 g protein
Kimchi: This one is a personal favorite of mine and very easy to make. Kimchi has a cabbage base and then lots of vegetables are added and a kick of spices. This product has a benefit on the heart and is full of antioxidants and vitamins. For kimchi, you can have a little bit at each meal as it can be overpowering to eat all at once.
Serving Size: 2 tbsp.: calories 11, fat 0g, carbs 2.2g, protein 0g.
Yogurt: Yogurt is FULL of probiotics but you have to know what you are looking for when it comes to shopping for yogurt. The yogurt aisle has everything from glorified dessert yogurt to good quality healthy yogurt. Go for plain full fat organic yogurt when shopping and look at the sugar levels on the label!
Serving Size (full fat): ¾ cup: 165 calories, 10.5 g fat, 11 g carbs, 6 g protein
Ready to make your own fermented foods? Here is a basic layout.
Pick your veggies
There are not too many limits on what veggies you choose you just have to cut them up or grate them.
Choose your spices/ flavor
This is a taste preference, add trial and taste will be a good way to figure out what tastes you like the best. Garlic, spices, herbs, and peppercorns you name it, its all fair game
This is the liquid you will put your veggies in. The salt is key to keep out the bad bacteria and avoid mold. The amount of brine depends on how much veggies you use but a good standard would be 2 Tbsp. of sea salt to one liter of warm water. Add to a jug and stir until the salt is dissolved.
Mix it up
Get your jar and add your veggies and flavorings then pour the brine. In the jar your veggies should be completely covered, add a tight lid to the jar and keep it out of direct sunlight. Each day open the jar and release the built up gasses then recap it. The time it takes depends on the veggies you choose but check on the 2-3 day to see if a sour/vinegar smell arises. That’s when you know its ready to go!