The consumption of fermented foods has gained much popularity in recent years. However, the use of fermented of foods is nothing new. There is a long history of human production of fermented foods. The original use of fermented foods was to extend preservation to prevent spoilage. The most common examples in America would be yogurt and cheese. Other common fermented foods include kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, tempeh, natto, miso kimchi, wine, beer, cider, and sourdough bread.
The general process of food fermentation involves microorganisms such as yeast (e.g., Saccharomyces cerevisiae) and bacteria (e.g., Lactobacillus) that metabolize foods such as the starch and sugars in plant products to produces organic acids, carbon dioxide, and alcohol in an anerobic condition. The byproducts of alcohol and organic acids increase the acidity of the food and percent the growth of other microorganisms. There are two main types of fermentation. The first is naturally occurring fermentation, also known as “wild ferments” or “spontaneous ferments.” This is the action of microorganisms present in the raw food. Common examples would be sauerkraut, kimchi, and various fermented soy products. The second type of food fermentation is using starter cultures, also referred to as “culture-dependent ferments”, which are added to raw foods.
The fermentation process can be applied to most any food including plant and animal materials. The popularity of fermented foods is global, and the types depend on the region. In South and East Asia and southern India fermented legumes, vegetables, fish, and meat are common. In East Asia, Northern India, Europe, and North America fermented dairy, meat products, and cereals are more common. The regions of Africa and South America it is common for the inhabitants to consume fermented seeds, legumes, milk, and meat products.
Great For Your Gut
In the journal Nutrients, researchers report that the consumption of fermented foods has a modulating or balancing effect on the gut microbiome. Fermented foods themselves contain a large and diverse microbiome. The authors note that several studies have been conducted which demonstrate a healthier microbiome diversity in people who consume fermented foods as compared to people who do not. Many but not all of these studies were done with fermented dairy products.
Another benefit of fermented foods is that they increase polyphenol bioavailability. As I stated earlier in this chapter, polyphenols support the growth of healthy flora. In addition, fermented foods increase the production of short chain fatty acids (SCFA) when fiber is broken down by microbes. The SCFA also support a health gut microbiome and intestinal mucosa. One example of a SCFA produced by fermentation is acetate. Vinegar is an example of a fermented food that contains high levels of acetate. Various cheeses are also sources of SCFA.
Researchers have shown that fermented foods are more easily digested as they partially digest protein. Moreover, they can release bioactive peptides from fermented foods which have health benefits. In addition, they reduce compounds which prevent the absorption of nutrients toxins.
And lastly, The Journal of Nutrition reports that studies suggest that fermented food consumption supports metabolic and immune mediated diseases.
I recommend you consume two or more of the fermented food products (with the exception of alcohol) on a regular basis. If you are dairy sensitive, there are numerous non-dairy fermented products available on the market. For example, most mornings I consume coconut or macadamia nut yogurt.
Dr. Mark Stengler NMD, MS, is a bestselling author in private practice in Encinitas, California, at the Stengler Center for Integrative Medicine. His newsletter, Dr. Stengler’s Health Breakthroughs, is available at www.americasnaturaldoctor.com His clinic website is www.markstengler.com