Fermented foods have been enjoyed all around the world for thousands of years, practically since the invention of agriculture. Though we’ve essentially grown side-by-side fermented foods, they’ve somehow flown under the radar in the more recent past, giving way to more dazzling culinary innovations. However recently, the spotlight has been cast more in their direction due in part to the backing of science. Intuitive medicine has always known their merit, but now so does hard science. With the discovery of the microbiome (the trillions of bacteria that live in the gut) and its role in our overall health, as well as the subsequent beneficial impact that fermented foods have on it, fermented foods have been championed by functional medicine once again!
So what is fermentation?
Fermentation is the process of breaking down the sugars found naturally in food items into alcohols or acids in anaerobic conditions as a form of preservation. This process coincidentally also improves the probiotic content of the food.
Why are fermented foods helpful?
1. Carbohydrates, or sugars, aren’t able to be digested in the stomach - they require special enzymes found farther down in the small intestine. Fermenting foods converts these sugars into products that can actually help digest the other components of the food item and increases digestibility.
2. Fermentation has been found to help create new nutrients like the B vitamins niacin, riboflavin, biotin, and folate, as well as help, improve the availability and digestibility of certain nutrients. The bioavailability (meaning the amount of a nutrient that your body is able to absorb) of fats and proteins is enhanced by the fermentation process.
3. Fermented foods have also been found to help prevent and treat inflammatory diseases. These include arthritis, depression, and lactose intolerance, just to name a few. There is also mounting evidence to show the beneficial impact fermented foods is having on preventing many types of cancers.
4. Fermented foods have been found to help support healthy immune systems. Since 70%-80% of our immune system lies within the microbiome the probiotics found in fermented foods act as a tuneup! A good thing to keep in mind as we enter the throes of the cold and flu season.
Fermented Food Favorites:
- Apple Cider Vinegar (raw and “with the mother”)
- Sourdough Bread