Fermented foods have become popular for their health benefits, but what are they, and are they actually good for us?
The process of fermenting foods has been around for centuries and was used as a way to preserve food and improve flavour and digestibility. Over time, fermentation has been linked to many health benefits which have prompted numerous scientific studies.
These are foods which have undergone fermentation − a natural process in which beneficial microorganisms like yeast and bacteria break down the sugars, resulting in the production of various nutrients. This process gives fermented foods a unique flavour and aroma.
The fermentation process is complex as the microbes are powerful; the slightest change in their environment can produce different products – such as harmful fungi. Therefore fermentation conditions must be carefully controlled to get the desired outcomes.
Fermentation can occur naturally in the food or processing situation, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and some soy products. Otherwise, food can be fermented by adding starter cultures, for example, kefir and kombucha.
Most foods can be fermented, like vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, legumes, and even meat and fish. These foods are all nutritious in their original form, but fermentation adds more health benefits – especially when they contain probiotics.
Probiotics occur in many fermented foods, including yogurt, sauerkraut, and miso. Probiotics encourage helpful bacteria and other organisms in your gut, which is very important for many aspects of your health.
While supplements can provide certain probiotics, they may not offer the same nutritional benefits as consuming real fermented foods. Fermented foods offer live bacteria and a variety of nutrients which your body can absorb and use more efficiently than supplements.
However, supplements may be valuable when it's challenging to obtain sufficient nutrients from your diet, or when deficiencies are identified.
Speak to your doctor before adding supplements to your diet. Your doctor can help you avoid the risks that may make your health issues worse.