Fermented food – is it really THAT good?
Fermented food – is it really THAT good?
Well, the short answer is yes, absolutely :) The longer one being – it depends. Fermented foods are great, given they work for your body and there are no sound reasons to avoid it. We shall discuss these reasons further down in this article but will start with all things that actually give fermented food its super powers.
So why is that so good?
High nutrient density (fermented foods are full of minerals, vitamins, amino acids, fatty acids and phytonutrients of all sorts). More than that, these elements come in highly bio available form, making it for our body easy to absorb them.
Low level of anti-nutrients. Anti-nutrients are natural compounds in plants that impair absorption of beneficial and essential nutrients and minerals in particular. Some of the examples are - phytic acid in plants, nuts and seeds reduces absorption of calcium, iron, zinc and magnesium. Oxalic acid in raw carrots reduces iron absorption. Fermentation significantly reduces level of both phytic and oxalic acid making all these minerals more bio available for our body.
It helps your digestion through balancing level of your stomach acidity and aiding secretion of digestive enzymes.
Detoxification. Fermented foods support liver, helping it to break down and eliminate toxins from your body.
Regulates and improves your digestive motility. Fermented foods are some of the best ways of nursing your gut back to health from stress as they offer plenty of easy digestible fiber as well as billions of friendly bacteria to replenish your gut microflora.
Fermented foods are really looking after your gut health by supporting, populating and enriching its microbiome with good bacteria
Fermentation in generally makes food more digestible for many people. As an example, gluten(wheat/grain protein), casein(milk protein), lectin(protein found in beans, grains, pulses, peanuts), lactose(milk sugar), fructose(fruit sugar) – all these proteins are becoming pre-digested during fermentation process, making it possible to consume them for many people who otherwise won`t be able to have them in its unfermented form.
Lowers cholesterol and blood pressure
Regular consumption of fermented foods potentially improves your cognitive abilities. Serotonin, one of the most important chemicals in our brain, is actually produced outside the brain (only 10% of it is made in the brain and 90% is in the gut to be precise). Serotonin plays a huge role in cognitive functions such as memory, appetite, good mood, sleep and learning. Therefore diversity and health of gut flora is essential for our mind health too.
What to pay attention at ?
Having said all that, it is of course worth remembering that one size won`t fit all and there are cases when fermented food can become harmful rather than beneficial. These are very often cases of personal intolerances or auto immune diseases like Crohn`s when ferments(or highly fibrous veg and yeasty residue in particular) should be approached with care. But in generally the list of contraindications and potential disadvantages may look like this:
Histamine intolerance. Histamine is a compound which is released by our body cells in response to injury and in allergic and inflammatory reactions. Histamine intolerance is caused when the body has more histamine than it can break down. Roughly 1% of the population has histamine intolerance with symptoms strongly resembling an allergy, that range from a stuffy nose to migraine headaches(as well as diarrhoea, flushing, hives, eczema). Fermented foods are full of histamine, making it a less suitable product for people with this condition.
Incorrect production methods. Fermentation is both science and art. Mostly science :) Great ferments take time, lots of time, highest level of production hygiene and relatively controlled temperature environment. Proper lactic fermentation takes anything between 3 to 6 months, that`s how you can be sure you end up with a yeast free and lactic acid packed full products. Ferments that have been rushed and put on the market while still fermenting are still high in sugars, yeasts and may have some unpalatable consequences(indigestion, bloating, diarrhoea being only some of them) for consumers health.
Fermented food does not always mean probiotics. If buying ferments in a supermarket, go for those that are kept in fridges as they are raw and unpasteurised, meaning all good bacteria in them are alive. Anything that sits on the shelves outside of a fridge is pasteurised, meaning it is nothing but a jar of lovely tasting pickle and all good bacteria are there no more.
Preservatives and additives are sometimes added to ferments to extend its shelf life, always check ingredients list to make sure it is not the case.
Leaky gut, SIBO. These are health conditions when fermented fruit and veg should be approached with care and, if tolerated well, introduced to a diet gradually and in moderate amounts.
Not all ferments were born equal. Wine, coffee, tea, cheese, chocolate, vinegar are all products of fermentation too, their nature and health benefits are totally different to the one of a kraut though!
So, given this very powerful effect ferments are having on our bodies, what is the best way to consume them?
Gradually. Start introducing them into your diet 1 tablespoon at a time. And if that works, do it regularly rather than increasing amounts.
Stick to the ingredients your body knows and understands. Stick to something that is already a part of your diet in unfermented form. Once you are comfortable with that – try something new.
Observe your body and the way it reacts to ferments. Experiment. And most importantly – enjoy :)
Once your body is comfortable with live ferments you consuming , try introducing something new as different types of ferments offer different types of gut friendly bacteria ( milk kefir, kombucha, water kefir, Japanese Nato, krauts and kimchi, fermented sauces , miso , yogurts etc ) Here at London Fermentary we produce different varieties of lacto fermented food and beverages , that can be purchased every Friday and Saturday from our premises in Bermondsey. We also run several workshops , where you can learn how to make your own ferments properly, visit Workshops page to find out more.