Fermented foods – what’s the deal?

Fermented food has many benefits to your gut health.
Fermented food has many benefits to your gut health.

Frequent illness, lethargy, digestive issues, sleeping problems and acne are all potential symptoms of a struggling gut.

Fermentation has become increasingly popular, especially as it has vast benefits for your intestinal health. But before you turn your nose up at the idea of fermented food, you're probably already eating it on a daily basis – yogurt and cheese are just two examples.

About 70-80% of our immune system is found in our intestines – and a healthy gut means a healthy you.

“And it makes total sense as it sits at the junction of other emerging current trends,” says Robyn Smith, founder of Faithful to Nature. 

Healing your gut naturally

Unfortunately our guts become damaged due to overconsumption of sugar and gluten, regularly eating highly processed foods and even stress.

“Firstly, gut health has become a topic that has captured the attention of many as it holds immense promise to better health. Eating fermented probiotic food is a key recommendation if one is looking to improve digestive function of the body. 

“Secondly, the DIY, craft and slow food trends are inspiring more and more people to ditch processed food and empower themselves by making food from scratch at home.”

Not just a fad diet

Fermented food is sustainable and has real benefits. 

“Gut health is a serious issue, as more and more individuals are becoming sensitive and intolerant to typical western diets,” says Smith. 

“Unfortunately, people are not generally getting healthier – instead more and more people are fighting disease due to the toxic load in our environment. This is a trend that is going to stick because it encourages people to eat more raw, real whole foods.” 

History of fermentation

Historically, fermentation was used to preserve foods and drinks long before fridges were invented. Microorganisms (such as bacteria, yeast or fungi) convert organic compounds (such as sugars and starch) into alcohol or acids. 

This process preserves the food, creating beneficial enzymes, B vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids and various strains of probiotics.

fermented food, pull out quote

Big benefits

“Fermented food adds microbes to the gut,” explains Smith. “The increased level of good bacteria increases the levels of vitamins in food, especially B vitamins.”

The microbes also produce enzymes that break down cellulose in plant foods and lactose in milk into sugars, which makes it easier for our bodies to digest. 

Natural or synthetic compounds that interfere with the absorption of nutrients, called anti-nutrients, can also be destroyed by fermentation. 

Phytic acid, which is found in legumes and seeds, binds minerals such as iron and zinc, reducing their absorption when eaten. However, phytic acid can be broken down during fermentation, making the minerals more available. 

Incorporating fermented foods into your diet

You have probably already tried fermented foods without even realising it. There are so many types – kimchi, yoghurt, beer, champagne, chocolate, kombucha, bread, pickled vegetables, sauerkraut, salami, cheese and even wine.

“If you want to enjoy the benefits and increase your fermented food consumption, just incorporate more of these types of foods, especially vegetables and health drinks like kefir or kombucha,” says Smith. 

Image credit: iStock.

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