It’s the latest health movement, but why all the fuss about fermented foods? Here’s why the ancient practice of fermenting foods is enjoying a revival:
Digestive heath and your immune system
We don’t often think about the bacteria that live in our digestive systems. We know that when we take antibiotics, we have to take probiotics to replace the ‘good bacteria’ that antibiotics kill off, but most people don’t think any further than that.
Next time you see a bottle of probiotics, take a look at what it contains: you’ll see the name ‘Lactobacillus’, and that’s exactly the type of bacteria we culture when we ferment food. Modern lifestyles aren’t good for our gut flora, so using probiotics is essential in maintaining a healthy balance of bacteria in our digestive systems.
But there’s more to your stomach flora than just ensuring that digestion works properly: they also help you to stay healthy. A 2009 study showed that ‘good’ bacteria not only suppress bad bacteria by using nutrients and occupying space, they also act directly on the immune system as a whole, helping it to function more effectively.
One of the many benefits of lactic acid fermentation and its effect on the immune system is the prevention and treatment of diarrhea. People who are suffering from impaired immunity such as HIV sufferers should certainly consider fermenting food in order to improve their immunity.
You don’t have to take our word for it – the scientific community attributes a range of health benefits to probiotics, and one of these is the prevention of colon cancer. In addition, probiotic foods have been proven effective in the prevention of liver disease, controlling allergic reactions, correcting Lactose intolerance and the prevention of arthritis and other inflammatory diseases.
They also help your body to regulate blood pressure and cholesterol levels, thereby reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease. People who eat fermented foods have less chance of developing urinary tract and vaginal infections. If you suffer from the discomfort of IBS, fermentation offers you relief that medications cannot provide.
Limiting the effects of ageing
As we age, our stomachs become less acidic. As a result, it becomes more difficult for beneficial bacteria to survive. It also creates a situation in which ‘bad’ bacteria can thrive and breed. It is believed that an unhealthy bacterial balance accelerates aging and can be implicated in premature frailty and even death.
There are also indications that a healthy balance of probiotics such as that which we obtain from eating fermented foods can help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Preventing obesity and aiding weight loss
Eating a lot of processed food can cause bad bacteria to proliferate at the expense of your good bacteria. When this happens, endotoxins released by the bad bacteria make your stomach lining more permeable causing so-called ‘leaky gut syndrome’. Now that the endotoxins can enter your bloodstream they cause all sorts of damage including inflammation of the hypothalamus that alters your metabolism. Your body reacts to increased insulin levels by storing up fat. The only way to break the cycle is to eliminate sugar from your diet and to boost your good bacteria by eating fermented foods. If we take this into account, we can also say that eating fermented food reduces your chance of developing diabetes.
It’s more nutritious
Fermentation partially breaks down food because the bacteria release enzymes, making it possible for your body to absorb nutrients that would not otherwise be available. The fermentation process also creates new nutrients including folic acid, riboflavin and thiamine. You’ll get bonus antioxidants if you ferment and certain toxins such as phytic acid are broken down during fermentation allowing for more efficient absorption of minerals from the digestive tract.
It’s easy to see that fermentation will help you to get optimum nutrition from your food. Better nutrition means better overall health – stronger teeth and bones, a further strengthening of the immune system, improved vitality and so on. Add to this the effects of antioxidants – clearing toxins and preventing a wide range of serious diseases, and we have to conclude that fermentation transforms food into superfood.