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So maybe fermenting foods isn't the most popular daily kitchen practice, but that doesn't mean you should rule it out entirely! It actually has a number of health benefits.
The practice of fermenting foods, like the transformation of raw meat to cured sausage, fresh milk to blue cheese, and cabbage to kimchi or sauerkraut, has been in common practice for close to 10,000 years, says a study in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology.
Now, science is suggesting that fermented foods actually boost nutritional, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in carbohydrate-rich foods and beverages, increase the biodiversity of good bacteria in our gut, and protect against chronic, pervasive syndromes like diabetes, Crohn's disease, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and depression.
Pretty impressive benefits, but still confused about what fermented foods actually are? We'll break it down for you.
What is fermentation?
Fermentation is the transformative process where microorganisms, like bacteria and yeast, metabolize carbohydrates in foods like fruits, vegetables and grains, breaking them down and making them easier for us to digest, and often increasing their health-promoting properties.
In sauerkraut, for example, beneficial lactic acid bacteria already present on fresh cabbage begin the metabolic process of fermentation when sealed in a container with salt, creating ideal conditions for the healthy bacteria to flourish, and an acidic environment hostile to harmful bacteria.
Why should you care?
"What's really interesting about fermented foods," says naturopathic doctor Alan Logan, "is that they carry a broad variety of bacteria with them, and biodiversity matters so that you're having a broad effect on the good bacteria in your gut."
The bacteria in our body outnumber our own cells by ten to one so it's no wonder that they play an integral and multi-faceted role in our physiology. Not only do they increase the nutrient bioavailability of our food, research is suggesting they play an important role in our mental health as well.
According to a study done by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, foods in today's society can add to our psychological stress. Everything saturated in fats and sugars, and highly processed foods knock out bacteria from out system (both healthy and harmful) and can cause a negative change in mental state.
How you can incorporate it into your diet
For tried and true fermented foods, look to traditional diets which include Greek yogurt, red wine, miso, kimchi, fermented fish and sauerkraut, containing a rich biodiversity of pathogen-fighting, beneficial bacteria as well as nutrients with amplified bioavailability, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
If you're still not sure, check out these recipes that include fermented foods:
Vegetarian Ramen Noodle Soup
Miso-Glazed Tofu Vegetable Brochettes