September 2

Are Fermented Foods Really That Good for You?

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by Rob Baker

By now, a friend, family member, neighbor or nutritionist has probably told you all about that super-secret fermented food they swear will cure all that ails you. But are fermented foods really effective and are they safe?

Fermented Foods You Know — And Some You (Probably) Don’t

Bread, yogurt, cheese, sauerkraut and pickles all exist thanks to fermentation. But they're just the tip of the iceberg. Have you tried any of these yet?

  • Kefir: This fermented milk drink is a lot like yogurt, but it’s not as thick. It can be made with cow’s milk, goat’s milk, rice milk, soy milk, coconut milk and other types of milk.

  • Kimchi: A popular Korean staple, kimchi is made using a variety of fermented veggies, such as cabbage, carrots, cucumbers and radishes. It adds sweet, sour and spicy flavors to other dishes.

  • Kombucha: It took me a while to get used to this fizzy drink, but once I did, it was hard to resist as a pick-me-up. Kombucha is a sweet-and-sour fermented drink made from black tea leaves.

  • Apple cider vinegar: This mild vinegar tastes great in salad dressings. Some people like to dilute it with water and drink it as a refreshing beverage.

Fermentation is a natural process. Yeast or good bacteria eats the sugars in a food and turns them into other compounds. For beer and wine, fermentation creates alcohol. With yogurt, it’s lactic acid that provides the tangy taste you love.

Fermented Foods Can Be Amazing for Your Gut and More!

These sour superstars are grabbing headlines right now because they’re rich in probiotics, or good bacteria. They also have important vitamins and antioxidants. Many body systems — especially your gut — benefit from having healthy bacteria around:

  • Improves digestive comfort

  • Alleviates stress and anxiety

  • Lowers cholesterol levels and blood pressure

  • Protects your heart

  • Helps balance blood sugar levels

  • Strengthens immune system

  • Boosts metabolism and energy levels

  • Calms cravings and encourages weight loss

Now, these are things probiotics can do. Not everyone has identical experiences with these foods, which leads us to the next point.

You Shouldn’t Put All Your Kimchi In One Basket

A common side effect of eating fermented foods is gas and bloating. If that’s your case, you may want to start with smaller portions instead of “diving in,” especially for exotic foods such as kombucha or kimchi.

Some fermented foods have negative health effects when you overdo it. Kombucha tea can give you lots of probiotics and positive antioxidants from tea leaves. But drinking over 12 ounces a day can trigger headaches, muscle cramps, nausea and other side effects from too much lactic acid.

Another thing to consider are the levels of salt, fat or added sugar in store-bought foods. For example, a single cup of sweetened yogurt can have a whopping 20 grams of sugar! Pickles have probiotics, but many brands are packed with salt, which isn't good for your heart.

Be careful if you buy unpasteurized fermented foods from small shops.  If the right method isn’t used, harmful bacteria or mold can grow. Food contamination doesn’t happen a lot, but it can be dangerous.

The Bottom Line

Getting more probiotics is always a good thing. For the most part, fermented foods are safe and healthy. Exotic foods such as kimchi and kefir can spice up your diet. At the same time, you should be balanced and listen to your body. Avoid buying from shops that don't seem clean.


Tags

Fermented, Food, Health, Healthy


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