When it comes to enjoying a meal, the general rule of thumb is that the fresher the ingredients are, the better. However, there are some advantages to stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something that has spent a little more time on the shelf.
Fermented foods have been grabbing more attention lately, as they provide a way to boost the nutrient content of the meal. Most types of food contain at least some vitamins, minerals or other nutrients that can benefit your health, but the process of fermentation can be ideal for allowing your body to absorb these nutrients more effectively.
If you haven't yet considered jumping on the fermented bandwagon, here is some information that will give you food for thought.
Fermented foods around the world
Despite what you might have heard, the practice of eating preserved and fermented foods is actually well established in the cultures of different countries around the world – both today and in the past. For example, kimchi is one of the staple Korean foods and it consists entirely of fermented vegetables with a variety of seasonings. It’s well-loved as a traditional side dish to accompany the main meal, and the fermentation process used to create it means its chock full of healthy bacteria that aid in digestion.
In Germany, sauerkraut is created in a similar way, using fermentation to produce the full-bodied flavour this dish is renowned for. Its name literally means ‘sour cabbage’ and it might be an acquired taste for those of us not used to it, but it’s an enduringly popular German delicacy. Because it is fermented, it’s also rich in the helpful bacteria our bodies can benefit from, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus.
Even everyday products such as yoghurt and cheese are prime example of fermented foods. However, the process of fermentation can yield even more vitamins, minerals and nutrients beneficial for your health and wellbeing – aiding in digestion and other areas of the body.
How does it work?
The process of fermenting food involves using natural bacteria, which feed on the sugar and starch content to create lactic acid. By doing so, the food is preserved and boosted with a variety of healthy nutrients.
Lactic acid is a natural type of preservative that works by inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria, and it was instrumental in allowing humans to keep food for longer before the age of refrigeration technology.
This type of fermentation is something you would already be familiar with if you’re a beer or wine fan, as these drinks are created using yeast to convert the carbohydrates present in the raw mixture into alcohol. However, with fermented food the end result is a lot more nutritious.
What are the benefits?
One of the main advantages of fermented food is its probiotic boost. The bacteria used to preserve the food are the beneficial kind that can help to balance out the ratio between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract.
By consuming more fermented foods you are introducing these ‘friendly’ bacteria into your body, called probiotics. These help to aid healthy digestion, ensuring your body processes the nutrients from your foods properly. If you are unable to digest your food correctly, your body is less capable of absorbing the beneficial nutrients present in your meals, so all of those vitamins and minerals aren’t going where they should be.
Probiotic bacteria may also help to inhibit the activity of unhealthy bacteria in the gut, which supports your digestive system to function appropriately.
In addition to this, research has shown that fermented foods may even help to enhance the immune system, improve the nutritional value of a food item and increasing its bioavailability (the degree at which it can be absorbed into the body).
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Do you include any fermented foods in your diet? If yes, what is your favourite?
Have you ever tried making your own fermented food, such as kimchi or sauerkraut, and do you have any experiences you would like to share?