Fermented foods have been a part of traditional food preparation since before recorded human history. Greeks, Romans, ancient Chinese, Japanese, and African cultures have all written about the many benefits of fermented foods. Our ancestors knew the value of fermenting foods, and utilized fermentation in every way possible.
Benefits of Fermented Foods
Fermented foods have traditionally been used to provide nutrient-dense vegetables during the cold, dark winter months. Ancient cultures knew that adding fermented foods to the protein-rich winter diet would help the digestive process, as well as prevent the body from becoming too acidic. Fermented foods allowed people to stay healthy through the harsh, cold climates.
Fermenting foods is actually a form of pre-digestion. The cultured or wild bacteria break down complex carbohydrates into simple ones that are easily digested. Fermentation unleashes all the vital nutrients in our foods which the body might not be able to access otherwise, due to the presence of anti-nutrients. Anti-nutrients are naturally-occurring plant compounds that block the body’s digestive enzymes from truly digesting food. Fermentation breaks down and neutralizes the anti-nutrients and enzyme inhibitors (such as gluten, phytic acid, lectins, and zeins) found in grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Fermented/probiotic foods provide a protective layer in the intestines, shielding the body from opportunistic pathogens. These living foods stimulate antibody production and boost the immune system, as well as promote detoxification, chelate heavy metals, and increase hydrochloric acid production in the stomach (allowing for optimal digestion). In addition, fermented foods improve pancreatic and gallbladder functions, aiding in digestion and relieving constipation.
Well-Approved Fermented Foods
- Cultured or fermented raw dairy – kefir, yogurt, raw cheese
- Balances triglycerides, regulates blood pressure, helps with IBS symptomatology, increases bone density, combats allergies, defends against candida, improves digestion
- Provides K2, B12, calcium, magnesium, biotin, folate, enzymes, probiotics, CLA
- Kefir and yogurt can also be made from coconut milk
- Water kefir – water with unrefined sugar, fermented using kefir grains (SCOBY=symbiotic community of bacteria and yeast)
- Contains enzymes, predigested nutrients, amino acids, B vitamins, and minerals
- Provides probiotics, is an antifungal (kills candida), and is anti-inflammatory
- Can be used as a culture starter for other foods/beverages
- Kombucha – black tea with unrefined sugar, fermented using SCOBY
- Contains vinegar and other acids, B vitamins, enzymes, and probiotics
- Anti-cancer, boosts energy, improves digestion, aids in weight loss, promotes detoxification, reduces inflammation and joint pain, and helps the immune system
- Veggies – cultured or fermented cabbage (sauerkraut or kimchi), cucumbers, carrots, cauliflower, beets, etc
- Promote gut health, immune health, mental health; help resolve issues of estrogen dominance (PMS, PCOS, migraines); improve pain perception
- Kill candida, aid in detoxification, chelate heavy metals, increase hydrochloric acid production, high in antioxidants
- Provide vitamins A , K, B, and C, and minerals (calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, and sodium), high in fiber, aid in circulation, lower cholesterol
Fermented foods and beverages can be a wonderful addition to your whole-food, nutrient-dense diet. But adding fermented foods at the wrong time in your healing journey can cause more harm than good. If your body is dealing with an overgrowth of candida, bacteria, or parasites, or if the gut isn’t cleansed and prepped for healing, adding fermented foods can actually feed into the presence of these pathogens and hinder gut healing. It’s best to kill off the excess pathogens, heal and seal the gut, then bring in fermented foods when your body is ready. Fermented foods and beverages will then be able to keep pathogenic levels in check, maintain proper gut integrity, encourage an appropriate gut microbiome, and aid with digestion.
Be sure to speak to your clinician about your individual needs. It’s always best to honor your body, giving it the specific foods it needs when it needs them. And remember, a little goes a long way when consuming fermented foods and beverages. Just a few ounces or tablespoons are all you need to reap the amazing benefits of these nutritional powerhouses. For more information about how to ferment at home, or what fermented foods and beverages are right for you, please speak to one of our clinicians today!
Victoria Fisher, RN, NTP
Victoria is the Senior Clinician at the Well of Life Center for Holistic Healthcare. The Well of Life Center is a holistic wellness center that specializes in nutrition, chiropractic, massage services, and more. Victoria Fisher came to the Well of Life Center in August 2009 for the symptoms of migraines, chronic fatigue and poor quality of sleep. Since coming to the Well Victoria has experienced healing from migraines, increased energy, and improved over-all health. Victoria started working at the Well in April of 2010 as an Associate Clinician.
The Funky Kitchen by Sarica Cernohous