Fermented foods, such as sauerkraut and kefir, have been rising in popularity as of late. But are they worth the buzz? The likely cause of this popularity surge likely stems from the proposed health benefits of fermented foods, like improving gut health and enhancing the immune system.
So, what exactly are fermented foods?
Fermented foods are foods that contain live microorganisms known as probiotics. Probiotics, by definition, are microorganisms that convey a benefit to the host – in this case humans. These foods might be catching headlines now, but these food products are nothing new. The earliest documentation of fermented foods dates back as far as 6000 B.C.
Why does this matter?
We know that our gut is home to many different types of bacteria. Research has shown that a greater diversity of bacteria within the gut is correlated to better health. Different strains of probiotics also serve different purposes. For example, some strains can help to prevent traveler’s diarrhea, while others reduce symptoms related to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Are fermented foods worth consuming?
For these foods to be effective they need to be able to survive the harsh environment of our digestive tract and make their way into our large intestine where the majority of the microorganisms live. Fermented foods, such as yogurt and kimchi, have been shown to survive their journey in this harsh environment provided they possess enough of the probiotic found in the food at the time of consumption. However, unlike some probiotic supplements, the strains and colony forming units (a fancy way of saying strength) of many fermented foods are unknown and are not commonly tested. For this reason it is challenging to recommend dosages and types of fermented foods.
Another thing to consider is that in order to harness the benefit of eating probiotic rich-foods, there are other components of your diet you need to pay attention to. In order for these friendly organisms to grow, you need to provide them with a welcoming environment. Here are some tips to get your gut on the right track:
- Reduce added sugars. Examples include pop, juice, candy, pastries, etc.
- Increase fiber consumption. Examples include vegetables, fruits, legumes, etc.
- Reduce alcohol intake. Follow these low risk alcohol drinking guidelines.
Fermented foods and probiotics are a growing area of research. The findings look promising that the probiotics found in fermented foods can help our immune system and reduce digestive troubles. So although there are no concrete recommendations around fermented foods (yet!), they can certainly be part of a healthy diet!
If you’re interested in giving fermented foods a try, check out this list:
To find out more about fermented foods, probiotics, or gut health, book an appointment with your Registered Dietitian.
Please note that fermented foods are not right for everyone. Fermented foods should not be consumed by individuals with a compromised immune system or those on immunosuppressive drugs.