Fermenting food has long been a way to preserve food and enhance its nutritive value, dating back to ancient times when modern conveniences such as refrigerators didn’t exist. By fermenting vegetables and fruits, it produces lactic acid which is a natural preservative that inhibits putrefying bacteria thus allowing the food to last longer.
There are still many cultures that eat fermented food, and although not many of us do it on a regular basis, we now know through research that fermented food is actually really good for us. Here are 6 reasons fermented food should be a part of your diet.
Fermented foods are high in enzymes
Our body produces enzymes to digest the foods that we eat. The fermentation process increases the enzyme content of foods. It may also restore many of the enzymes destroyed during pasteurisation. For example, when milk is fermented, the enzyme lactase is produced, which helps to digest lactose (milk sugar) in milk. People who are lactose intolerant and are unable to drink fresh milk, are able to tolerate fermented milk products due to the presence of the enzyme lactase which assists in digesting the lactose that they normally react to.
Enzymes are important for digestion and as we age, our body’s ability to make enzymes is depleted. This is further worsened by a diet high in processed foods which requires a lot of enzymes to digest. Raw fermented foods help start the process of digestion and reduces the body’s need to produce digestive enzymes. Since eating fermented foods reduces our body’s need to produce digestive enzymes, it puts less stress on our digestive system and protects us from developing many illnesses that are linked to impaired digestion such as allergies and autoimmune diseases.
Fermented foods are more easily digested
Fermented foods are more easily digested than non-fermented foods. Raw fermented foods have been pre-digested by enzymes so they are more easily assimilated by the body. The fermentation of milk breaks down the milk protein, casein, which is one of the most difficult proteins to digest.
Raw grains, nuts, legumes and seeds are rich in enzymes but they also contain enzyme inhibitors, which are anti-nutrients and interfere with digestion. The fermentation of grains, nuts, legumes and seeds deactivate the enzyme inhibitors that are naturally found in these foods, making the nutrients more readily available and these foods more digestible.
Fermented foods are more nutritious
Traditional fermented food all show a big increase in nutritional content. Sauerkraut, made from fermenting cabbage, has 200 times more vitamin C than the cabbage before fermentation. The nutrient content of milk, specifically vitamins B and C, are also increased when milk is fermented. The indian food, idli, a lactic-acid bacteria fermented product, is high in the B vitamins thiamine and riboflavin because of the fermentation process. Many fermented foods produce high amounts of B vitamins.
Fermented foods are rich in beneficial bacteria
Fermented vegetables and fruits produce lactic acid bacteria. This lactic acid produced is the main by-product of fermentation and it not only preserves the fruits and vegetables, but also promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. The amount of beneficial bacteria (also known as probiotics) in fermented food surpasses the amounts found in any probiotic supplement. Fermented foods offer a much wider variety of beneficial bacteria than those found in supplements.
A healthy gut has a good balance of gut flora and this will determine how healthy we are as a big part of our immune system resides in our gut. Eating fermented food is superior to taking probiotic supplements to rebalance your gut flora.
Fermented foods can protect us against diseases
Keeping your gut flora healthy is one of the best ways to protect your health. Eating naturally fermented foods is the ideal way to do this as it contains significantly more beneficial bacteria than probiotic supplements. Not only do these beneficial bacteria produce numerous helpful enzymes, they can also protect us against infectious diseases, as they keep pathogens at bay, and protect against numerous health problems as they also produce antibiotic and anticarcinogenic (i.e. anti-cancerous) substances.
Fermented foods are great detoxifiers
The lactic acid bacteria formed during the fermentation process can help your body break down pesticides. Eating fermented foods can help detox harmful pesticides from the body, minimising health risks from exposure to pesticides. Also, the high level of probiotics in fermented foods helps to break down heavy metals and other toxins from the body.
So as it turns out, probably the healthiest thing you can do for yourself is to introduce fermented foods into your daily diet. What are some fermented foods? Sauerkraut, Kombucha, Miso, Yoghurt (natural, without added sugar, and full fat), Tempeh, Pickles, Kimchi and Kefir. Here’s to a healthier you!