While we may be only recently understanding their benefits, the tradition of eating fermented foods dates back thousands of years. Fermenting was originally used as a way to preserve food that would otherwise go bad. Since the advent of the refrigerator, we now eat fermented foods because they provide our bodies with a healthy dose of probiotics – live microbes that are naturally created during the fermentation process.
The benefits of eating fermented foods can be boiled down to one simple fact: the probiotics found in them help restore the balance of bacteria in your gut. This is significant because gut health is crucial to our overall health. In fact, Hippocrates – the Father of Medicine himself – once said that “all disease begins in the gut.” Countless studies have shown that healthy gut flora is key for optimal digestion, can improve immunity, and is even linked to better mental health and stress management. Additionally, consuming probiotic-rich foods during the follicular phase of your menstrual cycle has been shown to balance your hormones, since these foods help with estrogen detoxification.
While you could take a supplement to get your daily probiotic intake, there is a growing consensus that ingesting probiotics in the form of fermented foods is preferable, since you’ll also be consuming the micronutrients of your chosen food. The good news is that there are countless easy and delicious ways to add fermented foods to your daily menu. Here are some fermented foods that fit the bill:
Healthy gut flora is key for optimal digestion, can improve immunity, and is linked to better mental health.
Similar to a yogurt, kefir is a thick, liquified cultured dairy product that is slightly tangy. It’s made by adding good bacteria and yeast to milk. Drinking kefir instead of regular dairy products can be easier on the stomach, potentially making it more suitable for people with lactose intolerance. It can also help to improve bone health, since it’s loaded with calcium.
The most common way to eat kefir is to just pour yourself a glass and drink it straight. It can also be used in smoothies in place of yogurt. Another way to use kefir is to use it in a homemade salad dressing, such as this recipe for Kefir Avocado Green Goddess.
If you’re looking for a more indulgent way to get your daily dose of fermented foods, try your hand at these Oladi Pancakes. Basically Russian pancakes made with kefir, oladi pancakes are thicker and fluffier than the pancakes we’re used to here in the States. The addition of kefir also lends a richness to the recipe and keeps them extra moist.
Tempeh is a high-protein meat alternative made of fermented soybeans. In addition to being a healthy whole-food probiotic, tempeh is also loaded with antioxidants. It’s typically pressed into a puck or block, making it highly versatile – it can be seared like a steak, roasted and sliced up for a sandwich, or crumbled and cooked to use in place of ground beef or turkey. Feeling adventurous? Have a gut-loving Taco Tuesday with these Tempeh Tacos.
Although kombucha has reportedly been around for over two thousand years, it has only gained popularity in the West within the past decade or so. For those unfamiliar, kombucha is a fizzy fermented tea (usually black or green) that comes in a variety of flavors. Numerous brands have popped up on grocery store shelves over the past several years, but you can also make kombucha at home. Be aware, though, that some brands are high in sugar, so read the nutrition label.
Kimchi is a traditional Korean preparation made of spices, fermented cabbage, and other fermented veggies such as onions, carrots, and radishes. In addition to its probiotic, gut-loving qualities, kimchi may reduce insulin resistance and blood pressure levels, and has been linked to weight loss. Since kimchi usually has a bit of a kick to it, it’s the perfect way to add some spice to a dish. It’s super easy to add to scrambled eggs, and can liven up your fried rice or stir fries. Or, try this recipe for Bulgogi Kimchi Burgers at your next cookout.
Kimchi may reduce insulin resistance and blood pressure levels, and has been linked to weight loss.
The good news: Sourdough bread is made with a fermented starter that’s full of good bacteria. The not-so-good news: During the baking process, many of the microbes found in sourdough starter are lost, so sourdough bread isn't as abundant in probiotics as the other foods on this list. So while your gut may not be getting the full benefits of a truly fermented food, you can rest assured knowing that the fermentation process makes sourdough easier on the digestive tract than traditional yeast bread. Some research also shows that the fermentation improves the bioavailability of the fiber and minerals found in the bread, meaning your body can more readily absorb these nutrients.
Feel like doubling down on your fermented food intake? Try this recipe for Kimchi Toast. Or, just enjoy your sourdough sliced thick with a robust serving of grass-fed butter. Does it get any better?
Sauerkraut is a traditional German staple consisting of shredded fermented cabbage – making it somewhat similar to kimchi but without the spice. If you’ve ever had a Reuben sandwich, you’ve likely had sauerkraut – but did you know that in addition to its probiotic benefits, it’s also loaded with fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin K?
If you’re looking to add sauerkraut to your diet, try this recipe for Bratwurst and Sauerkraut. If you’re wanting something even more traditional, these Potato and Sauerkraut Latkes may be the perfect dish.
However you choose to eat your fermented foods, one thing is for sure – your body (and mind!) will love the extra probiotics. And you may just find a new favorite food!
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