I’m obsessed with my gut.
No, I’m not trying to get six-pack abs. But it’s no secret that I am hyper-focused on keeping the good bacteria that live in my digestive system happy. Because when the good bacteria are happy, my gut is happy. And when my gut’s happy, so is my entire body, too.
I’ve written at length in the past about the gut-mind connection as well as why chronic inflammation is one of the biggest contributors to the rampant health issues we face in our society today. I guess you could say that, for the sake of my health, I’m on a quest to make sure that my gut is as happy and inflammation-free as humanly possible. One of the key ways I do that is by eating fermented foods every single day.
From a generous dash of plain, dairy-free cashew-gurt in my smoothie every morning to sneaking spoonfuls of sauerkraut and kimchi throughout the day, I’ve made it a priority to include the gut-boosting benefits of fermented foods into my diet. So grab a bottle of kombucha and settle in: today we’re talking about the all-powerful nature of fermented foods and why they’re so essential to maintaining a healthy, happy tummy.
Fermentation: The Not-So-Secret Secret to a Healthy Digestive System
Fermentation is nothing new. Civilizations have been fermenting foods as a means of food preservation for thousands of years. Every culture on Planet Earth has a notable fermented dish or two:
- Kimchi in the Koreas
- Escabeche in the Mediterranean and Spain
- Tempeh in Indonesia
- Miso in Japan
- Sauerkraut in Germany
- Sourdough in Europe
…the list goes on and on. Even yogurt, cheese and beer are fermented foods! Before you crack open a beer and start chowing down on cheese in the name of health, it’s important to understand why fermented foods are so powerful for maintaining the health of your gut.
“Fermented foods are preserved using an age-old process that not only boosts the food’s shelf life and nutritional value but can give your body a dose of healthy probiotics, which are live microorganisms crucial to healthy digestion.”
If you want to strengthen your gut’s microbiome (which consists of 100 trillion+ bacteria and microorganisms that live in your digestive tract) and stave off a plethora of diseases, then regularly eating naturally fermented foods are a no-brainer.
How Fermentation Works
Before refrigerators and pasteurization, people had three primary means of preserving food: smoking it, salting it and fermenting it. While all three are delicious ways to extend the shelf life of certain foods, the science of fermentation is especially fascinating because of its built-in health benefits.
Fermentation occurs when a microbe like yeast or specific bacteria interacts with sugar and it produces either gas, alcohol or acid. Given the right conditions and combination of ingredients, probiotics (i.e. live active bacteria) have the chance to grow and thrive during the fermentation process. These probiotics are believed to help reduce inflammation, boost immunity and maintain a healthy digestive system.
Like I mentioned earlier, I eat fermented foods such as cashew-gurt (a dairy-free yogurt substitute that contains live active cultures), kimchi and sauerkraut every day because I truly believe they help balance my digestive system, which in turn helps strengthen my immune system. And I actually like sauerkraut! (The kimchi not so much.)
Not all fermented foods are created equal, however.
Pickles, for example, are fat-free and low in calories, and their brine can contain probiotics; yet few pickles actually go through the actual fermentation process. Their sodium content is also a point of concern for people who may need to limit their salt intake. Cheese is also considered a fermented food, but it doesn’t necessarily contain probiotics.
The most important thing to do when searching for fermented foods is to look for live and active cultures on the food labels. Or to try your hand at making your own fermented foods at home! Making your own fermented foods can be tricky depending on the dish, but few things are impossible with a little practice
Fermented Foods: Recipes to Try
Interested in incorporating more fermented foods into your diet? I’ve compiled a quick list of recipes you can try making at home so you can reap the probiotic benefits any time you want.
The iconic tart, tangy cabbage dish never goes out of style and is as simple as packing cabbage with salt and water into a jar and leaving it to ferment for about a month. Adding sauerkraut into veggie soups or topping it on breakfast potatoes with bacon and eggs is an easy way to sneak a healthy dose of probiotic veggies into your meals.
Kefir is a fermented yogurt drink that packs a powerful probiotic punch. This recipe blends it with almond milk, chia seeds and banana for a tasty and nutritious breakfast smoothie.
Looking for a new meat alternative other than tofu? Give tempeh a try! Like tofu, tempeh, which is a fermented soy product, is highly versatile and goes wonderfully with just about anything. Unlike tofu, it has a lovely nutty taste that adds a robustness to every dish. This tamari-glazed tempeh recipe is quick, easy and pairs well with the broccoli. Fermented soy + veggies? Double win!
Make Your Gut Reaction a Healthy One
Like I said, I’m obsessed with my gut. And I’m not afraid to say it! From boosting my immunity to keeping Alzheimer’s Disease at bay, maintaining a healthy digestive system has all-around health benefits that can’t be denied. Fermented foods are a great way to grow those wonderful live active bacteria that are responsible for keeping my digestive system in top form. Fermented foods are an easy—and delicious—way to keep my gut flora, my tummy and my taste buds happy.
What’s your favorite fermented food? Let me know in the comments below!