The healthiest foods we can eat are usually the freshest, but there’s another food group that is growing in popularity these days: fermented foods. What started as a means of preserving food and eliminating food toxins back in ancient times is now understood to have potential health benefits too.
What are fermented foods?
Fermented foods are foods that have gone through a process called fermentation. During fermentation, foods are broken down by microorganisms like bacteria and yeast that turn them into fermented products. Popular fermented foods that you’ll find today at many retail grocers and farmer’s markets include pickles, kombucha, yogurt, sourdough bread, kefir, tempeh, kimchi, miso and sauerkraut.
How are fermented foods good for your health?
While some fermented foods, like kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha, may have an off-putting smell, they’re nothing to sniff at. New research shows they can be good for our gut, brain and immune system, said Elise Heeney, RD, a clinical dietitian with Banner Del E. Webb Medical Center in Sun City, AZ.
“Fermented foods contain probiotics, which are the ‘good’ bacteria that make up the microbiome within our gastrointestinal tracts,” Heeney said. “Eating fermented foods can help change or repopulate our good bacteria to help balance our gut flora. A large proportion of our immune system is in our gut and having a well-balanced microbiome is thought to help improve immune function.”
In addition to eating fermented foods with probiotics, Heeney noted it’s also beneficial to eat foods that have prebiotics to feed the good bacteria in your gut. Prebiotics can be found in fresh fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, onions, asparagus, beans and whole grains.
What should I be careful of?
While fermented foods are good for your gut, for some people, these foods can leave them feeling bloated, burpy and gassy. If you’re new to fermented probiotic foods, it’s best to start out slowly to see how your body reacts. As well, keep in mind any intolerances you have to certain foods.
“If you are immunosuppressed and have been instructed to follow a low microbial diet, you should avoid raw and fermented foods due to the high risk for foodborne illness,” Heeney said.
Should I try fermenting my own food?
Fermenting foods at home has been practiced for centuries as a way of preserving foods and is a popular trend today. You can ferment any vegetable at home, but Heeney had these recommendations:
- Choose fresh, organic varieties of vegetables
- Equipment is minimal, but you may want to purchase a fermentation kit
- Follow these safety fermentation tips
- Look for recipes online or buy a fermentation cookbook
If you’re looking for more tips to improve your diet or not sure where to start, a dietitian can help. Schedule a visit with a Banner Health dietitian today to begin building a plan. Visit bannerhealth.com to get started.