Eating a variety of fermented foods can help you add diversity to the healthy bacteria that live in your gut.
Adding fermented foods to your diet can also increase your antibodies & build a stronger immune system. Plus, fermented foods reduce sugar & carb cravings by regulating hunger hormones.
1. Rich in Probiotics
During the fermentation process, microorganisms like yeast, bacteria and mold break down sugars and starches in food, producing alcohol, lactic acid, carbon dioxide and other compounds that make it healthier. Adding fermented foods to your diet can help bolster the health of your digestive tract and fight inflammation in the body.
Trillions of bacteria reside in the intestines, where they keep the gut healthy by breaking down complex molecules and helping digest fats, carbohydrates and proteins. But modern Western diets that are heavy on processed foods can throw off the balance of these beneficial organisms, leading to gastrointestinal symptoms, says Gail Cresci, an RD who studies gut bacteria.
Probiotic-rich fermented foods, such as kefir, yogurt made with live cultures and sauerkraut, can help replenish the good gut bacteria in the intestines. To get started, try enjoying a bowl of kefir for breakfast, sipping kombucha during lunch or adding sauerkraut to your favorite grain-based meal at dinner.
2. Helps Relieve Irritable Bowel Syndrome
During the fermentation process, food enzymes are added to the foods. These enzymes can help your body digest foods more easily and absorb their nutrients more fully. It’s estimated that your body spends up to 70% of its energy digesting food, so anything you can do to reduce this amount of work will help improve your health.
The gut bacteria in your digestive tract play a crucial role in your overall health. A healthy mix of bacteria helps protect against inflammation, and low-grade inflammation is linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. If your gut bacteria become unbalanced, you could experience a range of problems including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Regularly eating fermented foods can restore the balance of gut bacteria, helping you to feel better. Try adding kefir to your morning smoothie or sipping kombucha at lunch, or stirring sauerkraut into your grain bowl at dinner. If you’re lactose intolerant, opt for kefir, as it contains live cultures that can break down the lactose in dairy products. Make sure to choose unpasteurized sauerkraut, as pasteurization kills the beneficial bacteria in it.
3. Helps Fight Inflammation
Many fermented foods, including kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir and kombucha, contain live culture probiotics that help the gut microbes fight inflammation. In one study, researchers found that people who eat a lot of fermented foods have more diverse gut bacteria and lower molecular markers of inflammation than those who don’t.
Fermented foods also provide enzymes that help the body digest other foods and absorb nutrients more efficiently. Studies show that the digestive enzymes produced by the fermentation of lactic acid can lower the levels of interleukin 6, an inflammatory hormone that’s elevated in autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and ankylosing spondylitis.
However, some fermented foods can be high in FODMAPS (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols), which can cause discomfort for those with SIBO, a condition where there’s an imbalance of the microbes in the small intestine. If you’re on a low FODMAP diet, it’s best to avoid these foods if possible. ZOE’s personalized nutrition program includes advanced testing that can help you identify trigger foods for your unique biology. Talk to your nutrient specialist for more information.
4. Helps Fight Cancer
Fermented foods are rich in probiotic bacteria, which help maintain a healthy gut microbiome. The fermentation process also changes the composition of the microbial community by introducing new bacterial species and reducing the presence of some anti-bacterials, like lactic acid. This helps with digestion and nutrient absorption. Additionally, it increases the bioavailability of nutrients, including iron, calcium, zinc, folic acid and B vitamins. Moreover, fermented foods are known to support the gut-brain connection via the release of serotonin and other neurotransmitters.
Adding fermented foods to your diet can boost the diversity of gut bacteria and improve immune responses, according to Stanford researchers. Add yogurt to your breakfast, sip kefir water for lunch or enjoy a side of sauerkraut with dinner. These foods are readily available at most grocery stores and health food stores, making them a convenient way to get more probiotics into your daily diet. Just remember to eat them in moderation as part of a healthy balanced diet. If you want to learn more about the foods that are best for your unique biology, ZOE’s personalized nutrition program offers advanced testing and guidance.
5. Helps Fight Diabetes
Adding fermented foods to your diet can help diversify the types of bacteria in your gut. This helps you maintain a healthy gut microbiome, which supports all of your body functions.
Fermented foods are also low on the glycemic index and can help improve blood sugar and insulin sensitivity. They can help reduce inflammation and decrease triglyceride levels as well.
The probiotic bacteria in fermented foods can also promote cardiovascular health. These bacteria can lower cholesterol levels and inhibit the activity of vasoconstrictors in your arteries, which can cause heart disease.
Fermented foods are available at most supermarkets and specialty stores. Yogurt is a popular option, but you can find many other fermented foods as well, including kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and more. These foods can be made at home using ingredients like whole grains, vegetables and even dairy products. You can also find fermented foods at your local farmers market. In addition to the probiotics, these foods contain prebiotics that feed the gut bacteria. They are also a good source of fiber, which is essential for a healthy gut.