I keep hearing that fermented foods are ridiculously good for your health. Let’s prove it! But first, what is it?
“Fermentation” refers to the chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria, yeasts or other microorganisms used in the making of certain foods.
Fermented foods can include (but not always, depends how they are made):
- Sour Cream
- Sourdough bread
- Soy Sauce
Why Ferment Food? In food preparation, the main benefits of fermenting include:
- Enrichment of flavor, aroma and texture
- Natural preservation of food
- Addition of essential amino acids and vitamins to food
- Elimination of phytates in grains/nuts/seeds/legumes that may block mineral digestion, and
- Decrease in cooking times.
- The bacteria in fermented foods eat the natural sugars in the food and in turn produce compounds such as lactic acid or alcohol, which preserve food.
- The bacteria also “predigest” some of the food which helps your gut to handle the food efficiently, absorbing nutrients faster than it would normally.
- Fermenting cabbage is believed to fight cancer due to increased amounts of the glucosinolate compounds.
- Your gut is the largest part of your immune system. If you have healthy bacteria in your gut, the theory is that it will help keep you healthy.
- “Evidence suggests that gut health could affect inflammation, allergies and autoimmune disorders in the body as a whole.”
- These days, products from the store are usually pasteurized or cooked at a high heat, which kills the health friendly bacteria in the product. Also, these products are often laden with added sugars or sodium. In order to retain the healthy bacteria, you would have to make your own homemade pickles, yogurts, and such.
A Scientific Review Article on Probiotics and Fermented Foods in Relation to Health
Parvez_et_al-2006-Journal_of_Applied_Microbiology (this link has all of the information below highlighted in the text for easy access)
Things that have been treated or have the potential to be treated with probiotics (which are in fermented foods) include:
- gastroenteritis (irritation of the digestive track caused by a viral, bacterial, or parasitic infection)
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (common condition, associated with a range of symptoms including abdominal cramping, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation)
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD; Crohn’s diseas and ulcerative colitis)
- Depressed immune function
- Inadequate lactase digestion (Lactose Intolerance)
- Infant allergies
- Failure-To-Thrive (FTT) (not gaining enough weight or inappropriate weight loss)
- Hyperlipidaemia (high cholesterol)
- Hepatic diseases (liver diseases)
- Helicobacter pylori infections (An infection where the H. pylori bacteria in the digestive tract attack the stomach lining.)
Fermented food containing lactic acid has increased amounts of folic acid in yogurt, bifidus milk (breast milk), and kefir (fermented milk drink).
When lactic acid is in the digestive tract it releases various enzymes that have synergistic effects on digestion, which “alleviate symptoms of intestinal malabsorbtion.”
People who consume fermented products have reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
“Probiotics might suppress the growth of bacteria that convert procarcinogens into carcinogens, thereby reducing the amount of carcinogens in the intestine.”
Scientists think that probiotic cultures might decrease chemical carcinogen exposure by:
- “detoxifying ingested carcinogens”
- “altering the environment of the intestine and thereby decreasing populations or metabolic activities of bacteria that may generate carcinogenic compounds”
- “producing metabolic products (e.g. butyrate) which improve a cell’s ability to die when it should die (a process known as apoptosis or programmed cell death)”
- “producing compounds that inhibit the growth of tumour cells”
- “stimulating the immune system to better defend against cancer cell proliferation”
Ingesting probiotics reduces the occurrence of urinary tract infections (UTI).
“There is some preliminary evidence that probiotic bacteria may inhibit the gastric colonization and activity of H. pylori, which is associated with gastritis, peptic ulcers and gastric cancer.”
Probiotics directly affect the gut, treating inflammatory and functional bowel disorders. Some strains of probiotics reduce abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence, and constipation in people with irritable bowel syndrome.
A daily dose of lactic acid is needed for any measurable effect towards lactose-intolerance, diarrhoea, and colon cancer.
There is no evidence that probiotics have caused human infections.
“The direct effects of probiotics in the GI tract are well documented and include upregulation of immunoglobulins such as IgA, downregulation of inflammatory cytokines, and enhancement of gut barrier function.”
But what does all of this mean?!
Basically, the lactic acid that is produced when you ferment food is immeasurably good for your gut health. Your gut is the main component of the immune system. So, a healthy gut means a healthy immune system that won’t let you down!