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Types of Fermented Foods and Their Health Benefits

When many people think of fermented foods, their noses turn up in disgust or are perhaps  just confused as to what “fermented food” really means. While these foods may be a bit strange or familiar, they’re definitely worth learning about because of the impressive health benefits they offer. So today, broaden your horizons of eating well and enjoy this overview of fermented foods and how they can improve various aspects of health.

Photo credit: Dietrich Ayala via Flickr

How Are Foods Fermented?

The process of fermenting foods has been practiced for many generations to keep foods fresh and preserved throughout the year. Everything from yogurt to cheese, chocolate, bread, wine, and beer can be fermented, which basically means to allow the foods to sit until the carbs and sugar interact with yeast, bacteria, and microbes. This process changes the chemical structure of the food and makes the food’s nutrients more absorbable in the body.

Kinds of Fermented Foods

Some types of fermented foods are healthier than others, but to get started, here is a list of healthy fermented foods and beverages to try.

  • Kombucha – fermented black tea with sugar
  • Kimchi – fermented cabbage with spices and seasoning
  • Kefir – fermented milk product
  • Yogurt – another fermented milk product
  • Sauerkraut – fermented red or green cabbage
  • Miso – fermented soybeans or barley
  • Tempeh – fermented soybeans

Health Benefits of Fermented Foods

The biggest reason to try to eat more fermented foods on a regular basis is to promote a healthy gut. Many fermented foods are rich in probiotics, which means that they can aid your digestion and help you maintain a healthy weight. Probiotics are the “good bacteria” that your body needs to maintain good gut health and overall immunity.

Fermented milk products, such as kefir and yogurt, can be made from cow, goat, or sheep milk. Kefir is a more drinkable fermented milk product, while yogurt is thicker and best eaten with a spoon. These foods have high levels of vitamin B12, calcium, biotin, folate, magnesium, and probiotics. Meanwhile, kombucha is a healthier beverage alternative to beer and often contains cane sugar, honey, or fruit.

Photo credit: dustingrzesik via Flickr

Fermented foods are part of many cultures’ cuisines and have been used throughout history for culinary and medicinal purposes. For example, sauerkraut is a traditional German food made with cabbage. Sauerkraut is rich in vitamins A, B, C, and K, and it’s high in fiber, manganese, magnesium, and iron too. Just make sure that the label of your store-bought sauerkraut says it is fermented, because some processed and canned varieties are not and therefore lack the health benefits. Another cultural culinary tradition is kimchi, which is a Korean dish made with cabbage and other vegetables that are spiced with garlic, ginger, and pepper. Kimchi is popular in bibimbap, as well as noodle dishes and rice bowls at Korean restaurants. It’s a great source of vitamins B, C, and K, as well as iron and fiber.

You’ll often be served miso soup at Japanese restaurants because this is a traditional Japanese culinary ingredient. Miso is a combination of soybeans, brown rice, or barley with a type of fungus called koji. Miso contains all of the essential amino acids your body needs to constitute a complete protein source. You can get your protein and also reap the benefits of fermented foods by eating tempeh, which is made with soybeans and is similar to tofu. Tempeh can be used to make healthy burgers, protein nuggets, and stir-fry dishes without any animal meat. Since tempeh absorbs the flavors of the other foods and spices you combine it with, this is a very versatile food that you can experiment with for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

If you’re new to fermented foods, it’s a smart idea to start with small servings to determine how they will affect your body. In moderation, these foods may be what you’re looking for to help improve your digestive health and complement the effects of other diet and colon cleansing foods, such as nopal cactus and seaweed.

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