HealthONE - November 09, 2017

Fermented foods for digestion, such as kombucha tea and sauerkraut, are becoming more popular. There are several benefits to the ancient food preservation process of fermenting, according to recent research. They include resolving digestion issues, better gut health, weight loss, reduced inflammation, improved immunity and mental health. Let's dig into the science of fermentation and see if it's just a passing fad, or the benefits are real.

The process of fermentation

The ancient practice of fermentation has been used by almost every culture across the globe for centuries for both food and beverages. In the fermentation process, food is transformed by the usage of enzymes, good bacteria or fungi. Here's what happens: the natural bacteria will feed on the starch and sugars in the food, which will create acids similar to lactic acid, or alcohol. The process will preserve the food, as well as increase the value of its nutrition, or the bioavailability of its nutrients. An example of this would be the vitamin C that is in cabbage. The vitamin C becomes more bioavailable when it has been through the process of fermentation and turns into kimchi or sauerkraut. Fermentation also generates beneficial enzymes, omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and other strains of probiotics that work to increase the quality of digestion, inflammation and overall gut health.

Health benefits of fermentation

Fermented foods for digestion are rich in prebiotics, and assist healthy gut bacteria to flourish by providing enzymes that do a better job of absorption. In addition, food is broken down into a form that is better digested when fermented naturally. Carbohydrates and sugars in foods, like lactose, are much more difficult to digest. In the fermentation process, they are made easier to digest, which will help reduce the overall content of sugar. This benefit, as well as the presence of probiotics in the process, helps digestion issues.

Popular fermented foods

Kefir
Kefir is a fermented yogurt-style drink made from milk (soy, coconut, rice, cow or goat) that contains kefir grains. It is particularly high in protein and calcium, and it has probiotics that will help to balance your stomach's good bacteria. With a sour smell similar to yogurt, it can be used like yogurt in fruit bowls or smoothies. 

Kimchi
Known as the Korean version of sauerkraut, kimchi has a mixture of fermented cabbage and several spices that are high in iron, as well as vitamins A, B and C. In addition, it is high in fiber and promotes digestive health while keeping your stomach full longer. 

Kombucha tea
Kombucha tea is created with fermented black or green tea, yeast, bacteria and sugar. To make it, you will need to add a colony of bacteria to the tea and sugar, which will enable the mix to ferment. The conclusion of this drink will contain vinegar, and be rich in B vitamins and prebiotics. Research has found that this tea has been used to cure a wide range of sicknesses over the last few centuries. 

Natto
These cooked soybeans have a viscous coating when fermented. Natto is very rich in fiber and protein, yet lower in sodium than soy or miso sauce. An abundance of vitamin K is made during fermentation, which helps promote healthy bones, plus an enzyme called nattokinase, which has the potential to reduce certain factors that have been linked to heart disease.

Pickled/fermented vegetables
Pickled/fermented vegetables are some of the healthiest foods you can put into your body. They are packed with probiotics, fiber and phytochemicals. But there is a difference between truly pickled vegetables and the jarred vegetables that you find in the store. The store-bought version is heated at high temperatures that kill the healthy bacteria.

Sauerkraut
This German classic is made with thinly cut cabbage that is fermented with various lactic-acid bacteria. During the process, a lot of the nutrients found in cabbage are released, which makes the sauerkraut create more vitamins C and K, iron, potassium, copper, manganese, magnesium, folate and calcium.

Tempeh
Tempeh is a form of soybean that is fermented and high in protein and calcium for vegetarians. Probiotics and amino acids are abundant in tempeh, which assist proteins in making your stomach break down food, grow and recover.

To learn more about your needs for digestive health, talk to your primary care physician.

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