What Are Fermented Foods & Why Should You Eat Them

Fermented foods used to scare me. As a reformed picky eater, their strong odor kept me from wanting to try anything fermented. However, I kept hearing about how great they were for your health, so eventually I gave them a try. But first, I has to learn exactly what are fermented foods, and what kinds of food can be fermented?

My family has now been enjoying fermented foods for a few years. In that time, I’ve learned a lot about them, and I’ve also discovered that fermented foods are not for everyone.

While they can be very healthy for most, some of us may have unique issues that make fermented foods not so good.

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In this article, I will share what I’ve learned so far. Including:

What are fermented foods.
  • The basic process of making fermented foods
  • What are the benefits of fermented foods.
  • What foods can be fermented.
  • Who should avoid fermented foods.

What Are Fermented Foods?

Wondering what are fermented foods? Discover the many benefits of fermented foods, how to make homemade fermented vegetables, what other foods can be lacto-fermented, and who should avoid them. Includes a basic recipe for cultured foods.

What are Fermented Foods?

Fermented, or cultured, foods are simply foods that are being broken down by living microorganisms such as bacteria, yeast, and other fungi. These microbes start to eat the carbohydrates and turn those sugars into healthy acids and other helpful nutrients.

There are hundreds of different species of microorganisms that contribute to this process called lacto-fermentation. However, the bacteria species lactobacillus are the main drivers behind fermented foods and the main byproduct is lactic acid.

The lactic acid produced deters pathogenic microbes, (or food-spoiling, disease-causing microbes) which helps to preserves the food. In fact, long before electricity came around, humans used lacto-fermentation to preserve their food.

The Basic Process of Lacto-Fermentation

Lactobacilli are everywhere including plants, fruits, and vegetables. To ferment a food, you simply have to create conditions where they can flourish. They need an anaerobic environment (limited or no oxygen), a steady temperature, and plenty of food. Sound complicated? It’s really not.

To create an anaerobic environment, you simply submerge the food in a salt water solution called the brine and secure with an air tight lid (think mason jar). The limited oxygen prevents bad microbes, like mold, from growing. Then, place the container in a panty or cabinet and wait for the microbes to do their thing.

Wild Fermentation

The process usually takes a few weeks or more, but some foods like strawberries and milk can be fermented in just a day. This is referred to as “wild fermentation” because it uses the bacteria already growing on the food in the “wild”. However, you can add your own microbes,(called a starter culture) to speed things along.

The starter culture I use is called Kinetic Culture and was formulated by Dr. Joseph Mercola. He measured the amount of microbes present after using his product, and discovered that 2 ounces of fermented foods contained 10 trillion CFUs! That’s more than an entire bottle of probiotics.

Starter cultures will cost around $25-35. If you consider the cost of one bottle of probiotics is around $30-50+, this is an awesome deal!

What Are Fermented Foods

Wondering what are fermented foods? Discover the many benefits of fermented foods, how to make homemade fermented vegetables, what other foods can be lacto-fermented, and who should avoid them. Includes a basic recipe for cultured foods.

The Benefits Of Fermented Foods

Improves Digestion

Eating fermented foods can be one of the best things you can do for your health. First of all, the microbes “predigest” the proteins and produce many enzymes that aid in our digestion.

Adding a couple tablespoons of fermented foods at mealtimes can make it much easier for our digestive systems to fully break down the foods. This means we are able to utilize all of the nutrients in our food.

Hard To Digest Foods

Protein is one of the most energy intensive foods to break down, and there are certain proteins that cause many of us problems. The dairy protein casein is a great example. It is one of the hardest proteins to digest, but when we ferment milk (think yogurt or kefir) the microbes do that job for us.

The longer milk is fermented the more of the casein is broken down. Additionally, the lactose in milk is consumed by those same bacteria. The end result is an easily digestible food like yogurt. Some people with dairy issues even find that they can enjoy homemade fermented yogurt with no problems.

Good Source of Vitamins

While the bacteria are eating up the sugars and breaking down the protein, they are producing important vitamins. For instance, Vitamin B and C content increases when fermenting milk. Fermented soy, or Natto, is one of the highest natural sources of Vitamin K2 an important nutrient for Vitamin D absorption.

Immune Booster & Infection Fighter

The strength of our immune system depends on the health of our gut. Of course, the health of our gut depends on having a healthy balance of microorganisms. Eating fermented foods contributes to gut health by adding tons of probiotic organisms. Those microbes also by produce antibacterial chemicals like hydrogen peroxide as well.

The Housekeepers

According to Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride, creator of The GAPS Diet, probiotic microbes are like the housekeepers of the gut. Not only do they help clean up, but they also maintain the all important gut lining.

Regular consumption of fermented foods can provide a steady stream of probiotics and helps maintain good gut health, and thus promotes overall health and wellness.

What Are Fermented Foods?

What Foods Can Be Fermented

You can pretty much ferment any food and even many liquids. Here is a basic list of the kinds of food you can ferment.

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Herbs
  • Beans & Legumes
  • Nuts & Seeds
  • Dairy
  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Tea
  • Coffee
  • Water (yes water)
Fermented Vegetables

When we think of fermented foods most people think of vegetables. There are tons of delicious fermented vegetable recipes you’ll find online. For example, sauerkraut and kimchi are fermented cabbage dishes and natto, tempeh and miso are fermented soy. My personal favorite recipe is my spicy fermented daikon.

What Are Fermented Foods

 

Dairy

There are a number of dairy products that were actually made from fermentation. These include yogurt, kefir, sour cream, cream cheese, and buttermilk. Most of the cheeses you enjoy are made by fermentation, and you can even make fermented butter.

Fermented Drinks

Personally, I have successfully fermented fruits, vegetables, and milks (both dairy and non dairy). You can also ferment drinks like tea, coffee, and even water.

You’ve probably heard of kombucha which is simply fermented tea, but you can also make coffee kombucha. To ferment water, you add water kefir grains and sugar. Then, let it sit for a day or two. You end up with a delicious tangy and slightly sweet beverage.

Animal Products

Additionally, you can even ferment meat, fish, and eggs. Did you know that traditional pepperoni was a fermented meat? I’ve also seen people rave about fermented eggs on Facebook, but that just sounds too intense for me.

What Are Fermented Foods

Wondering what are fermented foods? Discover the many benefits of fermented foods, how to make homemade fermented vegetables, what other foods can be lacto-fermented, and who should avoid them. Includes a basic recipe for cultured foods.

Who Should Avoid Fermented Foods

As you can see, fermented foods can be a valuable addition to your diet. However, there are some people who have noticed negative reactions after eating fermented foods. The symptoms many people see look very similar to an allergic reaction: runny nose, itchy skin, rashes, headache, asthma, and even an irregular heartbeat.

Infection

One of the likely causes behind this type of reaction is an unhealthy infection in the gut like Candida or SIBO. While fermented foods can help feed the good guys in your gut, they can also feed those bad microbes too. Therefore, adding in these foods can make your infection worse.

Histamine

The other likely cause would be a histamine intolerance. Histamine is the hormone responsible for true allergic reactions, but there is a subset of the population that is very sensitive to histamine.

Fermented foods have high amounts of histamine, so if you think you have an intolerance then it’s best to avoid fermented foods. Other sources of high-histamine foods include: slow cooked meals, leftovers, cured and/or smoked meats, and chocolate. For more information on histamine intolerance see the links at the end of this article.

What Are Fermented Foods

In Summary

Unless you are someone with histamine intolerance or candida, SIBO, or other gut infection, fermented foods would make a valuable addition to your diet. Fermented foods are perfectly safe for kids, and there are many kid friendly recipes too.

Few foods can contribute to gut health like fermented foods. If you have a healthy gut, then you also have a strong immune system and happy mind too.

 

 

 

More on Histamine

 

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