The Benefits of Fermented Foods
Eating live foods is one of the simplest and best ways to kick your nutrition to the next level. Rich in good bacteria, high in fibre and low in calories; fermented foods help keep your gut happy and healthy, and support your immune system. The benefits of fermented foods are plenty, but first let’s understand what these ‘live’ and fermented foods are, and how their nutrient profiles can impact our health.
What are live foods?
Live foods are those that are considered to be the most bio-available to the body and the least unprocessed. Raw foods are certainly considered live foods, however there are certain preparation methods that can help to increase the bio-availability of foods by increasing enzyme content and/or providing beneficial bacteria to the body.
What are fermented foods?
Fermentation is a traditional method of food preparation, and for people living without modern medicine and refrigeration, fermentation was a simple means of food preservation. The fermentation of foods increase the nutrition value due to the increased bioavailibility of the foods and can help with the absorption of protein and various minerals. There are many different ways to ferment foods, but in simple science the process refers to converting sugar to alcohol using yeast. Other fermentation processes involve the use of bacteria such as lactobacillus, including the making of foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut.
Why do we need bacteria?
Our bodies are armed with a brigade of beneficial bacteria present to defend and protect us. At the same time, our body is host to various forms of “bad” bacteria, yeasts and fungi that can invade and seek to take over. This “bad” bacteria is fed by a diet high in refined foods, high in sugar, and low in fibre (to name a few). However, if we are able to support the body with beneficial bacteria then the other invaders are considered relatively innocent. By supplying our body with a strong population of beneficial bacteria from a diet of whole, living and fermented foods we are able to support our overall health. Lactobacillus acidophilus, the bacteria found in fermented foods is beneficial at restoring healthy intentional flora, assimilating nutrients in the digestive process and helpful to the body’s antibiotics and antioxidants. Yogourt is commonly known for being rich in lactobacillus acidophilus, however although traditional yogourt preparation methods are rich in this beneficial bacteria, most store bought brands today are no longer the best options. Most products are loaded with sugars, artificial sweeteners and preservative which essentially counteract the health benefits of its good bacteria. Like the fermentation of dairy products, vegetables can be preserved by the process of lacto-fermentation and they have numerous advantages beyond those of simple preservation.
Fermentation is present in cultures around the world; German’s create sauerkraut, Italian’s are known to fermented vegetables, Asian cultures commonly ferment soy and tea, Korean cultures are known to create kimchi, while English traditions include relishes and sourdough breads. The types of fermented foods are plenty, and although traditional preservation methods will vary from culture to culture, the health benefits will remain the same.
Types of Fermented Foods
- Sauerkraut (Cabbage)
- Kimchi (Korean cabbage, radish or cucumber)
- Vinegar-Free Pickles (Carrots, beets or cucumbers)
- Dairy (Kefir, yogourt, buttermilk or cheese)
- Miso (Soy)
- Sourdough (Grain Flour)
- Kombucha (Fermented Tea)
Benefits of Fermented Foods
- Restoring healthy intentional flora
- Produce enzymes to digest foods
- Source of B vitamins
- Increases absorption of nutrients
- Supports the immune system
- Supports intestinal health
- Help to decrease toxin load
The good news is, lacto-fermented foods are simple to make; vegetables are simply washed and cut up, mixed with salt and herbs or spices and then pounded briefly to release their juices. Stored in an airtight container, the salt inhibits putrefying bacteria for several days until enough acid is produced to preserve the vegetables for months.
Sauerkraut’s literal translation from German is “our cabbage”, and is traditionally fermented with juniper berries. Sauerkraut is commonly made with green cabbage, but can be made with any colour cabbage or even a combination of flavours. Adding spices like caraway, jalapenos, garlic, mustard or fennel also help to mix up the flavour and find the one that works best for you!
Note: When fermenting, it is vitally important to use the best quality salt available. Table salt does not contain required trace minerals and will not allow for proper fermentation. I recommend Celtic Sea Salt or Redmond Real Salt.
- 1 medium cabbage, cored and shredded
- 1 tbsp caraway seeds
- 2 tbsp Celtic Sea Salt
- In a bowl, toss shredded cabbage with caraway seeds, and season with sea salt.
- Use your hands to “massage” cabbage mixture for a several minutes until it releases its juices and starts to soften.
- Add cabbage to wide-mouth jar and pound cabbage down with hand until juices come to the top of the mixture.
- The top of the cabbage should be at least 1 inch below the top of the jar, and submerged in its juices.
- Close the jar tightly and keep at room temperature for at least 3 days before transferring to a cold storage.
- You can begin tasting your mixture after 2 days, but it improves with age.