We’ve all heard of probiotics. Some of us might take them while we’re on antibiotics to help counteract the wipe out effect that antibiotics have on the microbes in our gut. But perhaps what you didn’t know is that probiotics should be a part of your health maintenance routine. Actually scratch that. Probiotics should be a daily part of your eating routine. This isn’t just about getting yourself to the gym, this about how to incorporate what you consume in your daily diet to make you a happier and healthier person. Consider probiotics up there on the list with your daily intake of fruit and vegetables. It’s that important.
Fermented foods are one of the best ways to improve your gut health.
Whilst you can nip down to the chemist and pick up a jar of probiotic pills, fermented foods are the real deal. It’s like the difference between drinking orange juice out of bottle, mixed with preservatives and eating a fresh orange off the tree.
But what are fermented foods? And what’s so darn good about them?
Fermenting foods started as a way to keep vegetables for longer. Essentially you leave your vegetables to sit until the sugars and carbs become lactic acid. It’s the lactic acid that gives sauerkraut and pickles their sour taste. It’s also what turns fermented foods into probiotics, which boost all the good bacteria, or microbes in your digestive tract.
A study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology1 states, “Lactic acid bacteria are known to release various enzymes and vitamins into the intestinal lumen. This exert synergistic effects on digestion, alleviating symptoms of intestinal malabsorption, and produced lactic acid, which lowers the pH of the intestinal content and helps to inhibit the development of invasive pathogens such as Salmonella spp. or strains of E. coli”
How probiotics work exactly we’re yet to properly establish but what we do know is that the mechanism it exerts on the digestive system has to do with modifying the gut’s pH. It also has an affect on pathogenic material in your gut.
“Health benefit and therapeutic effects of probiotics The mechanisms by which probiotics exert their effects are largely unknown, but may involve modifying gut pH, antagonizing patho- gens through production of antimicrobial compounds, competing for pathogen binding and receptor sites as well as for available nutrients and growth factors, stimulating immunomodulatory cells, and producing lactase.”
This powerhouse of good bacteria and it’s effect on the microbe community in your digestive system is shown to aid digestion, increase immunity and reduce weight, not to mention the plethora of other healing modalities it addresses.
“There are a variety of proposed beneficial health effects of probiotics. Clinical symptoms that have been reportedly treated or have the potential to be treated with probiotics include diarrhoea, gastroenteritis, irritable bowel syndrome, and inflamma- tory bowel disease (IBD; Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), cancer, depressed immune function, inadequate lactase digestion, infant allergies, failure-to-thrive, hyper- lipidaemia, hepatic diseases, Helicobacter pylori infections, and others.”
And moreover, fermented foods may even have a place in addressing psychopathogical diseases by altering the microbiotia of the gut, through the process of consuming fermented foods.
In a study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology3 researchers found that fermented food may influence brain health via direct and indirect pathways. The study looked at fermentation of foods and the increase in the specific nutrient and phytochemical content of the food. The study found that consuming these types of food were particularly linked to positive mental health.
As our knowledge of the human microbiome increases, including its connection to mental health (for example, anxiety and depression), it is becoming increasingly clear that there are untold connections between our resident microbes and many aspects of physiology. Of relevance to this research are new findings concerning the ways in which fermentation alters dietary items pre-consumption, and in turn, the ways in which fermentation-enriched chemicals (for example, lactoferrin, bioactive peptides) and newly formed phytochemicals (for example, unique flavonoids) may act upon our own intestinal microbiota profile,” the study observed.
So what sort of fermented foods are out there and what should you look at eating?
The truth is fermented foods offer all different sorts of strains of probiotics. So what you want to do is mix it up to get the most out of your fermented food. It’s also interesting to note that the fermentation process also increases the nutrient levels in the food it’s fermenting. For example, the Vitamin C in cabbage which is the base ingredient in your sauerkraut is enhanced during the fermentation process. So you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck when you eat fermented food.
Yoghurt and or Coconut milk Yoghurt – Providing it’s bona fide all natural and contains live and active cultures you’re good to go. Stay away from the ones that are commercially pumped full of sugar and preservatives and are more of a desert than a health food! Coconut milk is made active by adding different sorts of cultures and fermenting it until it’s a bubbling pot of probiotics. It’s also a good option for those who are lactose intolerant.
Kefir – It’s kind of like yoghurt in so far as it’s a fermented milk product but it’s adrinkable form of yoghurt. It tastes a bit tangier but is packed full of probiotics, protein, calcium and Vitamin D.
Pickles – If you’ve got a vitamin K deficiency this is the one to reach for. It has a tonne of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Sauerkraut – This is one of the oldest recipes for fermented food. It’s where cabbage goes to be reincarnated as a far superior consumable item! It’s full of dietary fibre, Vitamin A, C, K and loads of the B’s. It’s a great source of iron, copper, calcium and magnesium. It’s kind of the super hero of fermented foods. Boosts digestive health, aids circulation, fights inflammation, reduces cholesterol and strengthens bones. Frankly you probably never need to eat another ingredient for the rest of your life.
Miso – This one has anti-aging properties and helps with a glowing complexion. It boosts your immune system, lowers your risk of cancer, it’s good for your bones and importantly it’s fantastic for your nervous system.
Tempeh – A little like tofu but nutty and firmer, it’s more of a cake-like product made from soybeans fermented with a fungus starter. Like it’s sister tofu, it’s a great vegetarian protein option and it’s often used to replace meat in burgers and thrown in stir-fries. It has a plethora of uses from reducing menopausal symptoms to increasing muscle recovery. It is jam packed with Vitamin B’s – B2, B3, B5 & B6. It’s full of iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium.
Kimchi – A Korean cabbage dish! It’s as old as the hills dating back to the 7th century. Kimchi is fermented cabbage and spices and seasoning. It’s used to improve cardiovascular and digestive health. It is high in antioxidants and is great for diabetes and obesity.
Kombucha – If you don’t fancy eating cabbage or yoghurt there’s always this fantastic tea. It’s a fermented black tea with sugar (fruit or honey or cane sugar) bacteria and yeast. The bacteria and yeast feed on the sugar starting the fermentation process which makes it carbonated. It’s a tangy drink high in probiotics and Vitamin B. Its secret ingredient is acetic acid that stabilises blood glucose levels, helps with sugar and carb cravings and helps you feel full.
 Probiotics and their fermented food products are beneficial for health. Parvez S, Malik KA, Ah Kang S, Kim HY. J Appl Microbiol. 2006 Jun; 100(6):1171-85.
 Probiotics as an alternative strategy for prevention and treatment of human diseases: a review. Khani S, Hosseini HM, Taheri M, Nourani MR, Imani Fooladi AA. Inflamm Allergy Drug Targets. 2012 Apr; 11(2):79-89.
 Fermented foods, microbiota, and mental health: ancient practice meets nutritional psychiatry.Selhub, E. M., Logan, A. C., & Bested, A. C. (2014). Journal of Physiological Anthropology, 33(1), 2. http://doi.org/10.1186/1880-6805-33-2