The conversation of the gut microbiome marks a new wave in the human body and our understanding of the the billions of bacteria that we host. As the science of the gut microbiome becomes more expansive, the relationship between diet and what is considered a ‘healthy’ gut microbiome is made more apparent. From this research we have been able to uncover a lot about what we should not eat, but even more interestingly, what we should eat. In this ever-growing list of the ‘do’s’ and ‘don't’s’ comes a food group that many of us never paid much attention to: fermented foods.
For most of us, the extent of our experience with fermentation doesn't exist beyond the occasional movie theatre pickle. The sour and pungent snack that hallmarked our childhood, however, is only one type of fermented food that is achieved through a combination of added salt and vinegar. Depending on what you are looking to ferment, a bacterial culture, salt, sugar, or whey may be needed to induce the fermentation process. This process allows the naturally occurring bacterial strains in the food to feed on the added starches, producing lactic acid as a by-product. Lactic acid (also used as a food preservative) creates an acidic environment, creating a pH that makes it more difficult for harmful bacteria to survive in the gut.
So what's the big deal with fermenting anyway?
Research has shown that fermenting foods makes certain nutrients more easily accessible, or bio-available, for the body. Many nutrients are tightly interwoven into the fibers of plants; fermentation breaks these fibers down in a way that liberates these nutrients in a process that many have called “pre-digestion”. Pre-digestion refers to the active role that bacteria take in breaking down the foods that our digestive system may not be able to do on its own, demonstrating the essential role of the microbiome in digestion. Fermenting can assist this process by assisting the bacteria that ease our digestive processes.
By supporting gut bacteria, research has demonstrated the many ways that the gut bacteria can in turn support health. Fermentation has been used to improve and even heal a number of gut issues including gluten sensitivity, lactose intolerance and IBS!
Fermented Foods Basics
There are a handful of options available to us in the way of fermenting foods. For most of us, sauerkraut and kimchi are basic starting points, but beyond this kefir (fermented milk), Korean bibimbap, miso, fermented rice, yogurt and tempeh are just a handful of sources for fermented foods.
Fermentation is easy to do at home, and relatively inexpensive. And there’s no need to jump in immediately! Starting with a teaspoon a day and working your way up to larger quantities is a great way to introduce fermented foods into your diet.
Lolade is a health enthusiast with a passion for empowering her communit(ies) to lead their best lives. She is a certifying doula and health coach with on a mission to transform the standard of care in women’s health. You can follow her journey on Instagram: @lolvde.
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