Over the past few years we have seen a massive interest in the health benefits of fermented foods. It seems that now everywhere we are being offered kombucha and sauerkraut. I am sure that many people are wondering when is this fermented fad going to die with all the other health food fads? Sorry friends I am not here to write off fermented foods, they are here to stay because they really do make a difference to the bodies health and wellbeing.
Fermented foods are not a fad, they have been around for centuries, it is just that western culture is a bit slow on the understanding that some things that taste and smell a little funky might just be very good for you.
Fermented foods often have a distinct flavour and aroma. This is often not familiar to western diets and can be considered an acquired taste. When assessing the benefits of fermented foods, the more pungent the more powerful. The best examples are the fermented powerhouse kimchi. There is no hiding its strong garlic, cabbage and chilli aroma. However, it is kimchi’s pungent qualities that make it so potent. Kimchi has been shown to reduce the risk of cancers, lower insulin levels and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The Japanese fermented soy called “natto”, is not your average tofu. With a texture that is stringy, smell of dank socks and a flavour of aged cheese, natto is not likely to be the next mainstream superfood. Though if you are familiar with traditional Japanese flavours it is worth consuming as it is higher in calcium than milk and is a rich source of Vitamin K2. Vitamin K2 is required for healthy bone mineralisation and may reduce atherosclerosis.
Anaerobic fermentation is the process of food preservation. During this process, the enzymes formed break down the glucose molecules and convert them to lactate. The lactate then produces microbiotic species such as lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. These microbiotic organisms are part of our normal healthy intestinal flora. With the now evidence based understanding of supporting the gut to improve our overall wellbeing fermented foods have really gone from alternative to mainstream.
Fermented foods are referred to as probiotic rich foods due to the presence of beneficial bacteria. Fermented foods are an affordable way of restoring our intestines natural balance.
Fermented foods can include sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, apple cider vinegar, kefir, natto and fermented miso.
BENEFITS OF FERMENTED FOODS:
Reduces the risk of cancer: A Dutch study showed a positive relationship between fermented dairy and reduced risk of bladder cancer. The Korean kimchi is shown to decrease cancers of the colon and gastric cancers. Kimchi’s superpower actions can be also attributed to the fermented garlic and chilli that gives its distinct pungent aroma. The sulfuric compounds in the fermented garlic and chilli are shown to have an antimicrobial effect on the stubborn stomach parasite helicobacter pylori. Helicobacter pylori may increase the risk of gastric cancers, so including some kimchi in your diet if you may have had HP would be highly beneficial.
Improves immunity: the majority of the body’s immune cells are located in the small intestine. Adding probiotic rich foods are shown to reduce the duration of respiratory infections Fermented foods such as kefir naturally produce lactobacillus rhamnosus, which is the strain of probiotic that is shown to improve immunity.
Improves symptoms of arthritis: this evidence is based on cases of arthritis that have been bacterially activated, such as Rheumatoid, ankylosing spondylitis and reactive arthritis types. Many suffers of arthritis will feel a reduction in symptoms by including apple cider vinegar into their daily diet. I do believe that a whole anti-inflammatory diet is required to manage symptoms of arthritis, it cannot be done on a bit of vinegar on its own.
Improves blood sugar stabilisation: there is a growing amount of evidence that obesity and diabetes may be influenced by the guts microbiota. Including probiotic rich foods may influence insulin signalling by restoring the guts microbiome.
I recommend clients replacing sugary drinks with kombucha and it really makes a difference. Eventually they no longer crave soft drink and start to make other positive steps to reduce their sugar consumption.
Supports mental wellbeing: Japanese diet that is rich in fermented soy, has shown to have a 25-30% lower risk of depression. Probiotic rich foods improve mental health by supporting the brain/gut axis. As 70% of serotonin is found in the mucosal walls of the small intestine, a diet that nurtures the health of gut improves mental wellbeing. Part of probiotic rich foods function in supporting mental health may be also in their ability to assist in regulating blood sugar levels.
EASY AND ENJOYABLE WAYS TO INCLUDE FERMENTED FOODS INTO YOUR DIET:
Add some kimchi to your boring old stir fry for an extra kick
Add some fermented miso paste to your marinades and noodle soups
Replace sugar drinks with a quality kombucha
Start the morning with half a cup of kefir
Replace your normal salad vinegar with apple cider vinegar
Use sauerkraut as a side for meat and fish. It actually improves the absorption of protein.
Add some sauerkraut to your sandwiches, it really livens them up and adds some extra goodness.
BEETROOT AND CABBAGE SAUERKRAUT
I love beetroot and as it so good for the liver, heart and it will keep you very regular. Ginger is a wonderful addition as it adds a punch of spice and is great for circulation. Use this sauerkraut instead of sugary pickles and relishes in sandwiches. It makes a great addition to grilled meat and fish. Add it to an old boring potato salad and you have something special.
3 Cups cabbage- finely sliced
1 Cup grated beetroot
1-2 teaspoon grated ginger
1 tablespoon of Celtic sea salt
Finely slice and grate cabbage and beets.
You need about 4 cups total.
Place in a bowl and massage with 1 teaspoon Celtic sea salt. Let sit on the counter, mixing occasionally for 1-2 hours, until cabbage has wilted and released a little water.
Place cabbage beet mixture and all the juices in a very clean mason jar, pack it down with a muddler, or the end of a wooden spoon. Cover with a cabbage leaf. Pack it down once more. Cover it with a cloth, or the lid with a little opening - you want it to able to breath a bit.
Let it sit on the counter for 24 hours, lightly covered, occasionally pressing down on the cabbage, compressing. After 24 hours, if there is not enough liquid to cover the cabbage, mix 1 teaspoon salt with 1 cup water, and ONLY add enough of this brine to bring the water level to top of the cabbage.
Cover with a muslin cloth so bugs don’t get in. Do not seal with a lid as it needs air to ferment. Then leave on the counter for 3-4 days, occasionally pressing down on the cabbage. It is good to note that fermenting sauerkraut or kombucha in warmer months should be done with care. The warmer temperatures will make them ferment faster so check every day if they are done. They may only need 1-2 days in summer.
Close with a lid and place it in the fridge, let it chill overnight, then give it a taste.
TIPS FOR FERMENTING FOODS:
If you like the idea of DIY fermentation, you may wish to take a few tips from someone who has stuffed it up herself a few times.
Caution fermenting during summer. The process of fermentation is much faster in warmer weather and you need to check it daily. Place fermenting foods in a dark spot out of direct sunlight during summer.
If your sauerkraut looks slimy or mouldy throw it out and start again.
If you are making kombucha or water kefir and it gives you a hangover feeling, throw it out. Kombucha is a good liver tonic but if it is too fermented it will give you a horrible die off. This is not advisable. Commercially made kombucha is a good safeguard in avoiding this problem.
During the fermentation process make sure sauerkraut is adequately submerged in brine so it doesn’t go bad.
Pregnant women and individuals with compromised immunity should stick to the commercially made fermented products. Just to be safe.
FERMENTED FOODS ARE NOT FOR EVERYONE
Individuals with a high intolerance to histamines may find a worsening of symptoms when consuming fermented foods. This is because they are very high in histamines, especially sauerkraut and fermented fish products. Your best bet is to work up to tolerating them, start slowly. Some people with severe intolerances may need to avoid them completely.
Medications classed as Mono-amine Inhibitors will interact with fermented foods and any other high amine food for that matter. Fermented foods should be consumed apart from this type of medication by at least two hours to avoid any interactions.
Sufferers of hyperthyroidism (Graves’ Disease) should avoid sauerkraut, kimchi and fermented soy. They are high in iodine and may aggravate symptoms.
Stephanie N. Chilton 1,2, Jeremy P. Burton 1,2,3,4,5 and Gregor Reid 1,2,3,4,*Inclusion of Fermented Foods in Food Guides around the World
Selhub, E. M., Logan, A. C., & Bested, A. C. (2014). Fermented foods, microbiota, and mental health: ancient practice meets nutritional psychiatry. Journal of Physiological Anthropology, 33(1), 2. http://doi.org/10.1186/1880-6805-33-2
Kwak, S.-H., Cho, Y.-M., Noh, G.-M., & Om, A.-S. (2014). Cancer Preventive Potential of Kimchi Lactic Acid Bacteria (Weissella cibaria, Lactobacillus plantarum). Journal of Cancer Prevention, 19(4), 253-258. https://doi.org/10.15430/JCP.2014.19.4.253
Jyoti P. Tamang1*, Dong-Hwa Shin2,3, Su-Jin Jung3 and Soo-Wan Chae Front Functional Properties of Microorganisms in Fermented Foods Microbiol., 26 April 2016 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2016.00578