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 Health Benefits of Fermented Foods

How to Incorporate Fermented Foods Into Your Diet

Article by Dr. Layla Sade

Photography by Dr. Layla Sade

Among the many superfoods out there, few get discussed as much as fermented foods. From the live probiotics that these foods contain to their delicious taste, it makes sense why these foods are getting their time in the spotlight. 

But even though you may have heard the term fermented foods before, you may still need to learn what they actually are, what they can do for your health, and how to include them in your diet.

What Are Fermented Foods?

When you bite into a hot dog that is topped with crunchy sauerkraut or you sip on a tangy glass of kefir, you are giving your body a boost of fermented foods. These foods are produced using certain bacteria, yeast, or other probiotic-containing organisms to break down sugars, facilitating a process called fermentation. Once used primarily as a way to preserve foods, fermentation is now a common culinary practice to create certain flavors as well as potential health-promoting foods.

One example of a food that leans on fermentation to enhance its taste and texture is olives. Olives would be too bitter to eat right off the tree thanks to a plant compound called oleuropein. People ferment olives to convert oleuropein into non-bitter products, making them more enjoyable for consumers.

Examples of fermented foods include:

  • Kefir
  • Kombucha
  • Sauerkraut
  • Tempeh
  • Natto
  • Miso
  • Kimchi
  • Sourdough bread

Health Benefits of Fermented Foods

Fermented foods have been a part of a wide variety of cuisines from almost every culture worldwide. In the West, fermented food interest has increased in recent years, thanks to the potential health benefits linked to consuming them. One of the main reasons why fermented foods are so beneficial for human health is because they contain live organisms that offer a health benefit, also known as probiotics.

When it comes to your health, probiotics may be able to:

  • Displace pathogenic, or “bad,” bacteria
  • Play a role in supporting immune health
  • Produce by-products and metabolites that support cardiovascular, immune, and metabolic health

Fermentation may also help enhance the bioavailability of certain nutrients, allowing the body to absorb more of them to reap the benefits.  

Some data shows that consuming fermented foods may be linked to the following outcomes:

  • Weight loss
  • Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes
  • Reduced muscle soreness following acute resistance exercise
  • Improved mood 
  • Improved gut health
  • Enhanced immune health

It is important to note that more well-designed studies are needed before we can definitively say that eating fermented foods can help people experience all of these health effects. 

How to Incorporate Fermented Foods Into Your Diet

Including fermented foods into your diet doesn’t have to mean learning how to make these items from scratch. You can buy many fermented foods at the grocery store and learning to incorporate them in your daily routine.

Try adding kefir to your morning smoothie or overnight oats. Or add a tablespoon or two of sauerkraut or kimchi to a grain bowl or sandwich. You can also make a miso dressing to drizzle on a salad or roasted vegetables.

There are two things to keep in mind to reap the most benefits from these fermented additions:

  • Mix up the types of fermented foods you include in your diet. Different foods offer different strains of probiotics.
  • Try to eat fermented foods raw whenever possible, since the heat of cooking can kill many strains of probiotics.

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