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5 Reasons to Add More Fermented Foods to Your Diet
From kimchi to sauerkraut, these foods help keep your gut healthy.
Billions and billions of bacteria live in your intestines — but don’t get freaked out! Many of them are “good” bacteria that help keep your bacterial balance in your gut healthy.
Think of it like having pets living inside of you. And, as with any pets, you’ve got to feed them. Gail Cresci, PhD, RD, who studies gut bacteria, says a modern Western diet heavy on processed foods can upset the balance of your gut microbiota, which can lead to unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms.
Fermented foods can help. Dr. Cresci explains a few reasons why bringing back traditional fermented foods, such as fermented sauerkraut or pickles, into your diet is good for optimal health.
1. You can’t digest your food alone, gut bacteria help!
Good bacteria help break down complex carbohydrates that you eat. This fermenting and metabolizing process results in other substances that are beneficial to your body. Billions of bacteria in your gut are symbiotic hosts who help us while they eak out a living.
For a diverse gut microbiota, you need plenty of soluble fiber from foods like vegetable, oats, and fruits. Insoluble fiber, which is found in many whole grains, is good for you, but it’s not easily fermented, so it doesn’t really contribute to the diversity of your gut bacteria.
2. The good bacteria fight the bad — gut bacteria balance is essential for good health.
Every day, you swallow pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria. You don’t always get sick from it, though, because your tiny microscopic helpers take care of it. Good bacteria create acidic fermentation byproducts that lower your intestine’s pH, decreasing the chance that bad bacteria can survive. They also compete for food supply and squatting rights on your intestinal lining. Plus, they secrete antimicrobial proteins that kill off bad bacteria.
3. Your body does not make all of its vitamins. It needs help from gut bacteria!
Good bacteria are to thank for synthesizing, or producing, many vitamins your body needs. That list includes vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, and vitamin k.
4. A healthy body is always striving for balance.
Tiny bacteria in your intestine effect your entire body. Research shows that less diversity in your gut biome is associated with many chronic diseases, such as asthma, obesity, fatigue, and chronic inflammatory conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease. Research is still ongoing into why this is the case.
5. Antibiotics destroy gut bacterial balance- probiotics and fermented foods can help restore balance.
Ever had diarrhea or other digestive problems after taking antibiotics? That’s because they wipe out both good and bad bacteria. Eating fermented foods may help restore your gut bacteria to normal. Be sure to eat a diet high in fiber and plant-based foods, which gut microbes flourish on.
Go for variety
Mix and match these gut-healthy foods for optimal benefits.
Kombucha: This slightly fizzy fermented tea is a good alternative to soda. Find it in your grocery store’s refrigerated section, or brew your own using just tea, water, sugar, and a “mother” or symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast in 7 to 30 days.
Sauerkraut: Find live versions of this traditional Eastern European staple, which literally translates to “sour cabbage,” in the refrigerator case. Or, if you don’t mind chopping, make your own artisan batches.
Pickles: Your best bet is to pick a variety from the grocery store’s refrigerated section. Or, better yet, make your own Lacto-fermented pickles with brine (cooled sea salt solution), dill, mustard and coriander seeds, and peppercorns.
Sauerkraut: Find live versions of this traditional European staple, which literally translates to “sour cabbage,” in the refrigerator case. It also easy to make - if you want to do it at home. Just google for how to make homemade sauerkraut. You will find many videos on how to do it yourself.
Kefir: we personally love lifeway organic kefir which can be bought at any health orientated store and often even at vons and other mainstream grocery stores.
Kimchi: There are hundreds of varieties of the traditional Korean fermented side dish, commonly made from a base of napa cabbage, radish, scallions, and spices. Find your favorite version at Asian markets or grocery stores, or experiment with flavors at home.