Be honest… when’s the last time you ate sauerkraut? Unless you’ve been firing up brauts on the barbecue this holiday season, you probably haven’t eaten it recently. So, what’s the scoop with fermented foods?
Fermented foods – like kraut – are officially “a thing,” and here’s why. The hard reality is many of the processed foods we eat today have half the nutritional value of their raw forms. You could opt to get your nutrients by chowing down on raw veggies, which isn’t a bad option; however, there are huge health benefits to eating them fermented. Simply put, it all comes down to the amount of healthy bacteria found in fermented food. So, check out the details below and how to incorporate these yummies into your diet.
Your gut with thank you, your taste buds will say “whoa, wow!” and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how easy and delicious fermented foods are.
So, why all the hype about fermented foods?
Fermentation is nothing new. The Ancient Greeks wrote about the health benefits of fermented cabbage, and the Romans found that cabbage fermented in acid prevented and treated intestinal infections. The renewed interest today comes, in large part, from an increased awareness that our eating habits (i.e. decades of processed foods) have damaged the balance of bacteria in our guts. Our digestive systems have paid the price for our dietary choices and at least part of the answer to fixing the problem lies in probiotics.
There are plenty of mass-produced probiotic supplements available now, but fermented foods actually offer a cheaper and tastier way to balance the “good bacteria” in your stomach. Naturally incorporating probiotics into your diet not only promotes healthy digestion but may also prevent a host of illnesses. Now that’s a win-win!
Bacteria: The good, the bad, the ugly
Fermentation 101: When a food is fermented, it’s placed in a contained environment and exposed to healthy lactic-acid producing bacteria. By ingesting these good bacteria, you’re helping create a more acidic environment in your stomach, which aids in digestion and the production of more good enzymes. The result is a healthier digestive tract. If you’re facing any of the health problems listed below, you probably need some good bacteria in your tummy….and most of us do!
If you’re finding it hard to digest certain foods, or maybe anything at all, you probably don’t have enough acetylcholine in your bloodstream. Acety-what?? In science speak, acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that aids in sending out nerve impulses. It can increase the movement and responsiveness of the stomach which aids in digestion and relieves constipation. Lucky for you, acetylcholine is naturally produced in the fermenting process and can be ingested through any fermented food.
The good bacteria found in fermented food may also increase pancreatic function. In addition, because organic matter that sits in lactic acid is partially digested already, vegetables and other fermented treats are easier for your body to process and put less strain on your pancreas; something no other food can do.
Weakened Immune System
If you find you’re getting sick all the time, you might be able to help your body combat the bad bacteria it’s exposed to through fermented foods. We still don’t know why many pathogens are sensitive to acidic environments, or what exactly fermented foods contain that combat the bad bacteria… but they’re doing something right.
DIY fermented foods
Alright, so you are now convinced of the health benefits, but how about another great benefit: Cost. Fermented foods are typically cheap to make and you can do a lot of it at home!
A few ideas to inspire you:
- Sauerkraut is easily made with sliced cabbage, salt, and caraway seeds. Grab a mason jar and make your own sauerkraut tonight. If you’re looking to spice things up, many gourmet dishes feature kraut in them as well!
- Kimchi is a variety of kraut that’s deliciously spicy. Relying on lacto-fermentation and a whole lot of chili, kimchi is the perfect way to dress up traditional kraut.
- Pickled vegetables of any kind can be made with some whey protein, sea salt, dill, and garlic for taste. Ordinarily vinegar would be used to can vegetables, but to get the full probiotic potential of your fermented vegetables, rely on the bacteria on the surface of their skin to do the work for you.
- Kombucha is a traditional fermented drink that’s easy to make at home, and even possible to carbonate! If you would prefer drinking your probiotics, fermenting milk and juices may be more up your alley. There’s a whole world of fermented drinks available to you so go crazy!
- Fermented cranberry sauce may sound a little unconventional, but it’s an easy way to incorporate some probiotics into dinner or any holiday meal.
Fermented foods incorporate numerous benefits into your diet, while also supporting a healthy immune system and digestive tract. Cheaper than over-the-counter probiotics, homemade slaws, krauts, and pickles are an easier, more natural way to sustain your body and make gourmet food from home. Go kraut crazy!
Adapted by: Corinne Keating; medically reviewed by Natalie Olsen, RD, LD, ACSM EP-C
Nutrition Tip of the Day
When you cook at home you have more control over ingredients and portion sizes. Aim to cook at home more often than eating out!