Fermented foods could benefit your diet
We often hear about “bad” microorganisms, ones that cause food spoilage, disease and other harm. But there are actually many more “good” microbes out there that are beneficial and can even improve our health.
The microorganisms used to make fermented foods is a great example.
A recent study found that eating a diet rich in fermented foods increases the diversity of gut microbes, which improves health, fortifies immune responses and lowers inflammation. The researchers found the results particularly exciting, as it’s one of the first examples showing how a simple diet change can dramatically affect a person’s intestinal microflora.
In the study, 36 healthy adults ate a diet that included either fermented or high-fiber foods for 10 weeks. Those who consumed fermented foods exhibited an increase in microbial diversity. Larger servings resulted in an even stronger effect.
The researchers also reported lower levels of several types of inflammatory proteins in blood samples of those eating fermented foods. This included one type associated with rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and chronic stress.
“People have been eating fermented foods for hundreds of years,” says Pamela Voelkers, dietician and integrative health coach from Aurora Health Care in Milwaukee, WI. “Fermentation uses controlled microbial growth as a way to increase shelf life and give a unique and delicious taste, texture and appearance to the fermented food.”
During the fermentation process, microorganisms like yeast and bacteria break down components in the food, such as sugars, into other products like organic acids, gases or alcohol.
The American Heart Association lists a number of health benefits associated with fermented foods. These include lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and inflammation, as well as improved weight management, mood, brain activity and bone health.
There are literally thousands of different kinds of fermented foods. Some of the more common ones include:
- Kefir, a tarter drinkable yogurt
- Sourdough bread
- Kimchi, a spicier version of sauerkraut
- Pickles and other fermented veggies
- Kombucha, a tea drink
- Miso, a soybean paste
- Tofu and tempeh, made from fermented soybean
Voelkers says making your own fermented foods at home is simple and inexpensive, and can even be a fun hobby. As a helpful resource for her patients and others, she’s created several Pinterest boards on fermentation, sourdough and more, filled with recipes and other information.
“Keeping a sourdough starter going or making your own sauerkraut or pickled vegetables is a great way to enjoy time at home and ultimately reap the health benefits of fermented foods,” she said.
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About the Author
Mary Arens, health enews contributor, is a senior content specialist at Advocate Aurora Health in Milwaukee. She has 20+ years of experience in communications plus a degree in microbiology. Outside of work, Mary makes healthy happen with hiking, yoga, gardening and walks with her dog, Chester.