Prepared by: Debora Palmieri, BASc, R.H.N. | myhealthychoices.ca
What do kombucha, kimchi, and kefir have in common? If you aren’t yet familiar with these probiotic powerhouses, you may not realize that these are all fermented food items. Now growing in popularity, kombucha can be found on almost all grocery store shelves and for good reason. So what’s the hype? Let’s take a look at what kombucha is and why it, along with other fermented foods, should be a part of your daily diet.
Kombucha, which dates back 2,000 years, is a sweetened fermented tea that is tangy and effervescent. It is made by adding a live culture of bacteria and yeast, called a scoby, to a solution of green or black tea and sugar. Often, kombucha is flavoured with a combination of herbs and fruit, such as ginger, shizandra, and blueberry. This fizzy beverage boasts a number of health benefits, thanks to its high probiotic count and is a healthy alternative to regular soda pop. It is often reported that regular consumption of kombucha can improve digestion, aid weight loss, support detoxification, increase energy levels, and even boost immunity.
Just like kombucha, other fermented foods are also rich in beneficial bacteria. These foods include a wide range of fermented items like milk, cabbage, and soy, but first, let’s discuss what fermentation exactly is. Simply put, fermentation is an ancient practice of preserving foods. Essentially, it is a process by which the sugars and starches in the foods are transformed by yeasts and bacteria, giving foods a completely different flavor and texture than their original state. This process ultimately preserves the food, but also increases its probiotic content and improves digestibility. While studies on the health benefits of fermented foods are currently few, preliminary scientific research says that they can play a role in disease prevention and may even have a positive effect on mental health.
Kefir and yogurt are fermented milk products, although, both can be made using coconut milk. Kefir can even be made with water. You can enjoy kefir on its own as a creamy probiotic-rich beverage or you can add it to your daily smoothie. While many people already consume the ever-so-popular yogurt, it is best to choose those that aren’t loaded with sugar. Instead, opt for plain, unflavoured yogurt to get the full benefit of its probiotic content. Top yogurt with some fresh fruit and healthy granola for a delicious snack or breakfast option.
Sauerkraut, a version of fermented cabbage, is of German origin, and is simply made with thinly sliced cabbage and salt. Kimchi, a spicy Korean version, instead can be made with cabbage, but also other veggies, like carrots and radishes; and is flavoured with garlic and chili pepper, among other things. In both cases, the bacteria are left to ferment and convert the natural sugars into lactic acid. Depending on your taste buds, both versions can be enjoyed as a side to any meal, mixed in egg or rice dishes, or even put on sandwiches, for added flavour and crunch. However, it is advised to gradually increase your intake to prevent any digestive discomfort, such as gas and bloating, as your body adjusts to its high fibre content and probiotic count.
Lastly, you can’t talk about fermented foods without mentioning soybeans. A few fermented soybean varieties include tempeh, miso, and natto. Tempeh is somewhat similar to tofu, however has a nuttier flavour and firmer texture. As with tofu, it is generally used as a meat substitute in vegetarian and vegan diets. Miso is a fermented soybean paste, which lends umami flavour to dishes like soups and sauces, however it can also be made from rice or barley. Due to its strong flavor, unique smell and slimy, sticky texture, natto can be an acquired taste. It can be eaten on its own or served over rice or noodles. Natto, considered a Japanese superfood by some, is rich in nutrients and can support a healthy heart, strong bones, and even improved immunity, so it is definitely worth trying!
The microbes found in these fermented foods are similar to our own gut bacteria, so in some cases, can be even more effective than probiotic supplements in restoring the balance to your intestinal environment. Although, more research needs to be done to support all of the health claims surrounding fermented foods, there is no doubt that they can be beneficial to your wellbeing. Including these foods in your diet regularly will allow you to reap the benefits of improved gut health and digestion.
-Posted October 2018-
Current evidence on physiological activity and expected health effects of kombucha fermented tea beverage.
Health benefits of fermented foods: microbiota and beyond
Maria L Marco, Dustin Heeney, Sylvie Binda, Christopher J Cifelli, Paul D Cotter, Benoit Foligne, Michael Ganzle, Remco Kort, Gonca Pasin, Anne Pihlanto, Eddy J Smid and Robert Hutkins
Current Opinion in Biotechnology 2017, 44:94-102
Fermented foods, microbiota, and mental health: ancient practice meets nutritional psychiatry
Eva M Selhub,#1 Alan C Logan,#2 and Alison C Bested#3
J Physiol Anthropol. 2014; 33(1): 2.
Published online 2014 Jan 15. doi: 10.1186/1880-6805-33-2
Debora Palmieri is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist™ professional and also holds a Bachelor of Applied Science in Food and Nutrition from Ryerson University. Debora graduated from the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition in 2004 and has been inspiring individuals to achieve optimal health and wellness through a whole foods diet ever since.