Humans have been making fermented foods for thousands of years, and modern scientific findings have made clear why. Fermented foods come with a number of health benefits, including helping you maintain a healthy gut.
Fermented foods are foods or beverages produced through controlled microbial growth and fermentation. Specifically, they're food or drinks made by allowing microorganisms like bacteria or yeast to interact, propagate, and break down food components into other products.
This process changes the chemical composition of the food, which gives it a unique taste and texture, as well as aroma and appearance. It can also help make them more flavorful and appetizing.
Historically, the process of fermentation was done to preserve food before refrigeration and other technology became available. Nowadays, fermented foods are touted for their health benefits, particularly for gut health.
The gut microbiome is a complex space that houses trillions of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes residing in the intestines and plays a role in regulating physiological functions. This includes metabolism, development, homeostasis, as well as the nervous system.
Keeping the balance on the side of the good bacteria in the gut makes a lot of difference in helping keep the body healthy and safe from diseases.
In that sense, people who eat fermented foods may benefit from improved gut health.
Miso is fermented soybean paste that remains a staple across many Asian households. It's made by fermenting soybeans with salt and the fungus Aspergillus oryzae or koji.
Aspergillus oryzae has been shown to help reduce symptoms linked to digestive problems such as inflammatory bowel disease.
The health benefits of miso are attributed to bioactive molecules formed during fermentation, which mainly include peptides and isoflavones. Bioactive peptides can lower blood pressure, reduce oxidative stress, enhance mineral absorption, and reduce the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Frequent miso soup intake has been associated with hypertension in the past because of its high levels of salt. However, research suggests miso soup actually lowers heart rate.
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is another one of the most mainstream fermented products. Raw apple cider vinegar contains natural probiotics that may help boost the immune system and support gut health.
ACV also helps kill bad bacteria in the gut and prevent gas and bloating. Other health benefits of fermented foods like apple cider vinegar include lowering blood sugar, calming acid reflux, and weight loss.
Fermented vegetables refer to any vegetable that has undergone the fermentation process, specifically, lacto-fermentation which is a method of food preservation that also enhances the nutrient content of the food. Lacto-fermentation can be done by using salt, whey, or a starter culture.
Fermented veggies like radishes, carrots, and cabbages contain a large range of prebiotic compounds that can stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria.
Sauerkraut is a type of fermented cabbage that is considered a popular side dish or condiment in many cultures, particularly in Germany where it got its name. It also contains major health benefits that aren't found in fresh cabbages. Sauerkraut contains many nutrients including iron, manganese, potassium, folate, and vitamins C, K1, and B6.
Because it has undergone the fermentation process, sauerkraut also contains live and active cultures of probiotics which help improve digestion, boost the immune system, and help people lose weight.
Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish that has been growing in popularity in the international market.
Kimchi is made with salted fermented vegetable/s such as cabbages, radishes, celery, carrot, cucumber, eggplant, spinach, scallions, beets, and bamboo shoots.
There are many different kinds of kimchi, but they are usually seasoned with similar spices like sugar, salt, onion, garlic, ginger, and chili peppers.
Like sauerkraut, kimchi has a healthy dose of nutrients including iron, vitamins, and folate along with healthy probiotics like lactic acid bacteria or lactobacillus.
Kimchi is believed to help prolong cell life by slowing chronic inflammation which is a process linked to numerous diseases and the aging process. This makes kimchi potentially anti-aging, although research on this area is still lacking.
Atchara or atsara is a type of fermented green papaya that is prominent in Philippine cuisine. It is often made with papaya, carrots, and spices, and is generally served as a side dish alongside fried fish, grilled meat, or chicken, or as a healthy snack.
Atsara has many health benefits including a boost in heart health by lowering cholesterol levels. It is also rich in antioxidants, fiber, and vitamin C, so it's a great choice for people who want good skin.
Like many common fermented foods, atchara is full of lactic acid bacteria and may boost immunity. It has also been associated with weight loss and improved digestion due to its fiber content.
Atchara is also believed to help with menstrual cramps.
Fermented tea is a tea that has been exposed to microbes and fermented under controlled conditions for some time. The length of fermentation varies from several weeks to months. Some of these teas are fermented for years up to a few decades.
People have been fermenting tea for hundreds, if not thousands of years, using real tea leaves. Tea that has been fermented has similar benefits to standard teas, except they contain beneficial live microorganisms that can help improve your health.
The benefits of fermenting tea depend on the kind of tea used, as well as the specific process used.
Kombucha is a fermented product that has grown in popularity over the years. It is made by adding specific strains of bacteria, yeast, and sugar to black or green tea, after which the tea is fermented for a week or more.
This makes kombucha a great source of probiotics along with providing the benefits of green tea. Kombucha contains antioxidants, as well as acetic acid which is able to kill many potentially harmful microorganisms. Drinking kombucha is also associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. It's even believed to protect against different kinds of cancer, including stomach cancer.
Kefir is a kind of fermented milk, often made with cow's milk or goat's milk combined with kefir grains. Kefir is rich in nutrients, organic acids, and peptides that contribute to its health benefits.
Kefir contains 61 strains of bacteria and yeasts, making it a more probiotic-rich food than yogurt.
Kefir also has antibacterial properties and is believed to improve bone health and lower the risk of osteoporosis. Beyond this, kefir is also known to be protective against cancer and aid in digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome and ulcers.
Kefir is also low in lactose, which makes it a great option for people with lactose intolerance who have impaired lactose digestion.
Kefir is also believed to have anti-inflammatory and anti-allergy properties which may improve allergy and asthma symptoms.
Pickles aren't just a great way to dress up a sandwich or a burger, they also have a great nutritional profile. They are generally pickled cucumbers which are almost all water and have no fat or protein.
They contain vitamins and calcium as well as potassium. Pickled foods are great for digestion due to undergoing fermentation. They help fight diseases, ease muscle cramps, and curb sugar spikes.
Tempeh is a traditional Indonesian food made with fermented soybeans that is high in protein, prebiotics, and a wide array of vitamins and minerals. Like other fermented foods, tempeh is rich in nutrients and influences the gut microbiota, aiding in digestion and boosting immunity.
Raw cheese is a kind of cheese made from unpasteurized milk. Pasteurization is a process that kills off bacteria in milk, so raw cheese is essentially cheese that still contains the bacteria naturally found in milk.
This gives raw cheese a unique flavor, as well as a healthy dose of good bacteria that has plenty of health benefits. Raw cheese contains plenty of enzymes that help to digest fats and proteins. Raw cheese is also a great source of protein, bioavailable vitamins, and minerals which are good for the body.
Yogurt is one of the most popular fermented dairy products. Yogurt can be made from all kinds of milk, fermented using yogurt cultures which are a type of bacteria that ferment lactose, the natural sugar found in milk.
Yogurt has many health benefits, particularly when it's plain and unsweetened. This includes a bounty of healthy nutrients such as vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus, and protein.
Yogurt is also known to aid the digestive system due to the live probiotics it contains. It may even strengthen the immune system, and protect against osteoporosis.
Meanwhile, yogurt is also known to protect against cardiovascular disease and promote weight management.
Natto is a very popular Japanese fermented soybeans known for its unique consistency and surprising smell. Natto has a slimy, sticky, and stringy texture, and may not appeal to many people, but it boasts a healthy dose of probiotics which makes it a great way to boost gut health.
Natto is rich in nutrients like the other fermented products on this list. Natto also improves digestion, contributes to strong bones, promotes heart health, a healthy immune system, and may also reduce the risk of certain cancers.
Sourdough bread is a type of bread that doesn't use commercial yeast to rise. Instead, bakers use fermented flour and water mixture that contains wild yeast and good bacteria to produce the tangy flavor and slightly chewy texture you’ll find in sourdough bread.
This fermentation process gives sourdough plenty of benefits, from helping the gut and digestion to keeping the blood sugar in a healthy range. Sourdough also promotes healthy aging due to being made with whole wheat.
Most fermented foods have beneficial bacteria that are either identical to or share physiological properties with species relevant to promoting gastrointestinal tract health. Fermented foods also have antioxidant, anti-microbial, and anti-fungal properties.
Eating fermented foods is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and inflammation. Fermented foods have also been known to induce better mood and brain activity, as well as increased bone health and better recovery after physical strain or exercise.
There is also some evidence suggesting fermented foods may decrease cholesterol levels, although more research is still needed to prove this.
The gut is an important gear in our bodily machines. Adding fermented foods to your diet may help prevent health conditions and improve digestive health. Foods rich in beneficial probiotics also have healthful nutrients that can boost the immune system and heart health.
That said, fermented foods aren't necessarily good for everyone. People with a compromised immune system may not do well with increased fermented food in their diet. The state of a person's health may not always be apparent with physical symptoms, but having knowledge of the inner workings of the body can help detect changes in metabolic functions.
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Fermented foods have plenty of health benefits, but it's not for everyone. Some people may experience bloating, headaches or migraines, and certain food-borne illnesses such as food poisoning when eating fermented food. Fermented foods may also cause people to experience histamine intolerance symptoms as well as antibiotic resistance and infections, particularly to people with compromised immune systems and other complications.
Fermented foods introduce probiotics to the body, and while these are generally safe to consume, it may still cause infection. Fermented foods contaminated with bacteria are also dangerous. People with compromised immune systems, people who are sensitive to antihistamines and amines, as well as people with other complications may not be compatible with fermented foods. People with sensitive stomachs may also want to avoid these dishes as fermented foods can cause gas, bloating, and other changes to their bowel movements.
Fermented foods are very flexible, meaning people can add them to most meals without the hassle. Introducing them to go-to meals for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snacks can help someone slowly transition into getting more fermented foods in the diet. For example, one can easily modify their favorite sandwich or add some fermented vegetables to toast. Fermented foods can also be added to eggs, salads, or soups.