In fact, some favourite foods of Canadians’ are fermented, such as yogurt, beer (well, ginger beer) and relish. Easily absorbed, packed with probiotics and nutrients, fermented foods are healthy, delicious and deserve to be a bigger part of your diet.
What is a Fermented Food?
By definition, a fermented food is preserved by the action of microorganisms such as bacteria and yeast. Yeast and bacteria also break down components in the food that the human digestive tract struggles to digest. This sort of pre-digestion makes it easier for your digestive system to handle and absorb nutrients in fermented foods. For example, yogurt is made with the help of many Lactobacilli bacterium, which break down lactose. Hence, people with lactose intolerance find that even though yogurt is made from milk, eating yogurt is easier than milk on their digestive system.
Easy to Find and Eat
Getting more fermented foods into your diet is easier than you may think. There are lots of nutritious, easy to use fermented foods including kefir, sauerkraut, Kombucha, tempeh are available at your local health food store. Or, create fermented food in your home! It requires little culinary expertise, and finding delicious, simple fermented recipes online is a quick click away.
Eat Them, They’re Healthy
A 2014 paper published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology noted researchers have shown significant differences in the microorganisms in the bodies of urban Western European versus rural Africans, whose traditional diet includes a variety of fermented foods, which contain numerous lactic acid bacteria (probiotics). As such, researchers suggest that it is the consumption of fermented foods (diet), rather than hygiene as previously thought, that triggers an intestinal tract filled with beneficial microorganisms (probiotics). The presence of probiotics in fermented foods beneficially alters the intestinal microflora. Dozens of research papers have linked having a healthy intestinal microflora to improvements including intestinal wellness, nutrient absorption, inflammation and mental health.
Cancer Fighting Powers
In addition, the chemical process of fermenting food appears to enhance the presence of some nutrients. Researchers in Poland have been investigating the healthy effects of fermented cabbage (sauerkraut). When cabbage is fermented the amount of glucosinolate increases. Glucosinolate has anti-cancer properties. Other research has found nutrients other than glucosinolates are enhanced during fermentation, including vitamin C and many B vitamins. Fruits and vegetables contain enzymes which the human body does not produce. Eating fermented plant foods may offer even more beneficial enzymes to enhance digestion. In addition, researchers have been noting how the presence of fibrinolytic enzymes in many popular Japanese fermented foods, including fermented shrimp paste and natto, help dissolve fibrin clots. Fibrin clots are a risk factor in heart disease, the leading cause of death in North America.
Beware of Less Healthy Imposters
Not all fermented foods available in the marketplace offer equal health benefits. Some processed yogurts, soy sauces, relishes and sauerkrauts contain added sugar and salt. In addition, some modern packaging techniques, such as pasteurizing and canning kill off the beneficial microbes you are expecting to find in a fermented food.
One-Third of Food Consumed on Earth
Did you know fermented foods and beverages account for approximately one-third of the human diet globally? Discovered around 6000 B.C., fermentation is still commonly used today to preserve food as well as enhance its nutritional value. For example, in West African countries, an important food source, garri, made from the root vegetable cassava, contains cyanides that if not properly fermented can be poisonous.
Today, fermentation is becoming an increasingly popular trend, with lactic acid fermentation leading the way. It’s easy to try at home. Lactic acid fermentation is an anaerobic process whereby lactic acid bacteria (probiotics) convert sugar into lactic acid, which acts like a preservative. Commonly, salt is also used in fermentation, as it creates conditions that favor the friendly bacteria while preventing the growth of pathogenic bacteria. When one thinks about examples of fermented foods, dairy products tend to come to mind; however, vegetables (cabbage, garlic, peppers) and fruits (berries, lemons) are also great candidates for fermentation.
Martinez – Villaluenga, C. et al. Influence of fermentation conditions on glucosinolates, ascorbigen and ascorbic acid content in white cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata cv. Taler) cultivated in different seasons. J Food Sci 2009; Jan-Feb 74(1):C62-7.
Selhub, EM. et al. Fermented foods, microbiota, and mental health: ancient practice meets nutritional psychiatry. J Physiol Anthropol. 2014; 33(1): 2.
Szaefer, H, et al. Modulation of carcinogen metabolizing cytochromes P450 in rat liver and kidney by cabbage and sauerkraut juices: comparison with the effects of indole-3-carbinol and phenethyl isothiocyanate. Phythther Res 2012 Aug;26(8):1148-55.
Szaefer H, et al. Modulation of CYP1A1, CYP1A2 and CYP1B1 expression by cabbage juices and indoles in human breast cell lines. Nutr Cancer. 2012 Aug;64(6):879-88. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22716309
Yoshinori, M. et al. F enzymes in Asian traditional fermented foods. Food Res Intern 28 (2005);243-290.