6 Health Benefits of Adding Fermented Foods to Your Diet
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6 Health Benefits of Adding Fermented Foods to Your Diet

Fermentation is an age-old process used for food production and preservation, tracing back to 6000 B.C. in the Fertile Crescent, long before the modern era. This technique has been a cornerstone of culinary practices, with nearly every civilization since incorporating fermented foods into its diet. 

Today, we’re going to explore how fermentation does a lot more than just make food taste better. It also plays a big role in keeping us healthy, in ways that people long ago might not have known but still enjoyed the benefits of.

What is Fermentation?

Fermentation is a way to change and keep food good to eat by using bacteria. A long time ago, people figured out how to use fermentation to make their food last longer and taste different. They even knew about using special “starter” cultures to help this process, even though they didn’t really know how it all worked.

It wasn’t until the 1600s when a scientist named Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek first saw bacteria under a microscope. Back then, people thought that fermentation happened because these tiny organisms died. But in 1857, another scientist, Louis Pasteur, found out that it’s actually the live bacteria that make fermentation work.

Fermented foods aren’t just ancient traditions; they’re also great for your health. They’re full of helpful bacteria, called probiotics, which are being studied for how they help us stay healthy. Nowadays, there’s a growing interest in fermentation, with many people trying out this traditional way of making food in new and exciting ways.

6 Health Benefits of Fermented Food 

Fermented foods are important for the human body for several reasons:

1. Digestion and Gut Health

Fermented foods are packed with probiotics, which are like friendly bacteria that do good things for your gut. When you eat fermented foods, you’re helping your body in several ways. 

They make it easier for you to digest food by breaking down hard-to-digest carbs into simpler forms. They also add good bacteria to your gut, helping maintain a healthy balance of microbes. 

This is especially helpful after taking antibiotics, which can throw off your gut’s natural balance. More than that, they can help reduce uncomfortable gas and bloating and even keep constipation at bay by keeping your digestion running smoothly. 

In short, fermented foods are a natural way to keep your gut healthy. However, they’re best enjoyed as part of a varied diet, and it’s always a good idea to talk to a healthcare professional if you’re thinking about making big changes to what you eat.

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2. Nutrient Absorption

Fermented foods have a special way of making it easier for your body to get the nutrients it needs. Here’s how they do it! 

When foods ferment, the tiny organisms in them start to break down the hard-to-digest parts into simpler pieces. This is like pre-chewing your food, making it easier for your body to soak up all the good stuff.

Some foods have natural substances that make it tough for your body to absorb certain nutrients. But, when these foods are fermented, many of those blockers are broken down. This means your body can get more vitamins and minerals from what you eat.

Fermentation also gives a boost to some minerals that our bodies need in small but essential amounts, such as iron and zinc. This process makes these minerals more available to our bodies.

Plus, fermented foods are full of probiotics, the friendly bacteria that help your digestive system work smoothly, allowing you to digest food better and soak up more nutrients.

In simple terms, eating fermented foods is like giving your body a helping hand in getting the most out of what you eat.

3. Immune Health

Eating fermented foods can be really good for your immune system. They are full of probiotics, which are like tiny helpers that live in your gut. Think of your gut as a busy city where both good and bad bacteria live.

The good bacteria from fermented foods can help push out the bad bacteria that might make you sick. More than that, they also produce metabolites that help keep your heart healthy, boost your immune system, and even help your body’s metabolism.

In simple terms, adding fermented foods to your diet is like adding more good guys to your body’s defense team, making it tougher for the bad guys to take over and helping your body stay healthy in more ways than one

4. Vitamin Production

The good bacteria in fermented foods are like tiny vitamin factories for your body. So, when you eat fermented foods, you’re also getting millions of these good bacteria.

These bacteria are really good at making vitamins, the kind your body needs to work well. They can make several types of B vitamins (like B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, and B12) and vitamin K.

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VitaminUse of the VitaminFound in Fermented Foods
B1 (Thiamine)Helps convert food into energy; supports brain functionSauerkraut, Kimchi
B2 (Riboflavin)Important for growth, energy production, and skin and eye healthYogurt, Cheese, Kimchi
B3 (Niacin)Boosts brain function and skin health; helps convert food into energyMiso, Tempeh, Kimchi
B5 (Pantothenic Acid)Necessary for making blood cells; helps convert food into energyYogurt, Kefir, Kimchi
B6 (Pyridoxine)Important for normal brain development and keeping the immune system healthySauerkraut, Kimchi
B12 (Cobalamin)Keeps the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy; helps make DNAKefir, Certain fermented soy products, Kimchi
K (K2 version)Helps with blood clotting and maintaining healthy bonesNatto, Cheese, Kimchi

B vitamins help keep your energy up and your brain sharp, and vitamin K is key for healthy blood and bones.

So, when you munch on fermented foods such as Kimchi, you’re also giving your body a bunch of important vitamins it needs to keep you feeling good.

5. Chronic Disease Prevention

Eating fermented foods can help protect you from some long-term health problems. Here’s a simpler way to understand it!

Think of your gut as a big garden where lots of different plants (or bacteria) should be growing. This variety is good because it keeps the garden healthy.

Sometimes, though, the garden doesn’t have enough different kinds of plants. When this happens, it’s like your gut doesn’t have enough different kinds of good bacteria.

Scientists have found that when there aren’t many different kinds of good bacteria in your gut, it’s easier for you to get sick with long-lasting health issues like being overweight, having breathing problems like asthma, or dealing with swelling and pain from conditions that don’t go away.

By eating fermented foods, you can add more variety to your gut garden with good bacteria, which can help keep you from getting these long-term health problems.

6. Weight Management and Cardiovascular Health

Eating fermented foods might also help you manage your weight and keep your heart healthy. 

Think of your body as a complex city, with lots of processes happening to keep everything running smoothly. Just like a well-balanced city needs good management, your body needs a good balance to stay healthy.

Some studies suggest that when you eat fermented foods, you’re bringing in good bacteria that can help balance your body’s inner workings. This balance can make it easier for you to maintain a healthy weight.

These good bacteria don’t just stop there; they might also help your heart. They do this by potentially lowering bad cholesterol levels and reducing blood pressure, which are two things that can lead to heart disease if they’re too high.

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So, adding fermented foods to your diet could be like adding a team of health helpers that work on keeping your weight in check and your heart running smoothly.

Who Should Not Eat Fermented Foods?

Fermented foods are great for many of us, but not everyone should dive into them without caution. Here’s a simpler breakdown of who might want to take it easy on foods like kimchi or sauerkraut:

  • People with Histamine Intolerance – Our bodies have histamine, a chemical also found in lots of foods, including those that are fermented. Some people can’t break down histamine well because they lack enough of a specific enzyme. Eating foods high in histamine can make them feel sick, causing headaches or stomach problems.
  • People with Weaker Immune Systems – The bacteria and yeast that make fermented foods special are usually safe. However, for people who have weaker immune systems, like those with HIV/AIDS, cancer patients, or organ transplant recipients, these microorganisms might cause infections.
  • Pregnant Women and Young Children – Certain fermented foods might not be safe for pregnant women and kids under one year old. Foods like fermented meats, some cheeses, or anything with raw eggs should be avoided or limited. Pregnant women should be especially careful about how much and what types of fermented foods they eat.

So, while fermented foods can be a healthy choice for many, if you fall into one of these groups, it’s a good idea to talk to a doctor or nutritionist about what’s best for you.

Bottom Line

Fermented foods show us how smart people were long ago in keeping their food good to eat for longer. They bring special tastes and good health benefits to our tables. They help with digestion, make it easier for our bodies to get nutrients, and keep our immune systems strong. 

These foods can be a great part of eating well. But, it’s always good to pay attention to how your body feels and talk to doctors or nutrition experts if you’re not sure about something. Trying out fermented foods can be a fun way to discover new flavors and boost your health at the same time.

References:

  1. Amato, K. R., Mallot, E. K., Maia, P. D., & Sardaro, M. L. S. (n.d.). Predigestion as an Evolutionary Impetus for Human Use of Fermented Food. https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/pdf/10.1086/715238
  2. Bilodeau, K., Ludwig, D. S., & Ludwig, D. (2023, September 12). Fermented foods for better gut health. Harvard Health. Retrieved March 10, 2024, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/fermented-foods-for-better-gut-health-2018051613841
  3. Davis, M. (2024, February 10). Can Eating Fermented Foods Promote Weight Loss? Study Investigates Kimchi’s Impact on Obesity. Science Times. Retrieved March 10, 2024, from https://www.sciencetimes.com/articles/48646/20240210/eating-fermented-foods-promote-weight-loss-study-investigates-kimchis-impact.htm
  4. Definition of metabolite – NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms – NCI. (n.d.). National Cancer Institute. Retrieved March 10, 2024, from https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/metabolite
  5. Foroutan, R. (2012, February 20). The History and Health Benefits of Fermented Food. Food & Nutrition Magazine. Retrieved March 10, 2024, from https://foodandnutrition.org/winter-2012/history-health-benefits-fermented-food/
  6. History and Biochemistry of Fermented Foods. (n.d.). RockEDU Science Outreach. Retrieved March 10, 2024, from https://rockedu.rockefeller.edu/component/biochemistry-fermented-foods/
  7. Valdes, A. M. (n.d.). Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health. https://www.bmj.com/content/361/bmj.k2179

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