Fermentation occurs when bacteria break down sugar, converting it to acid, gas or alcohol. This enriches dairy, soy and vegetable products with a tangy flavour and beneficial bacteria called probiotics. Eating fermented foods helps to populate your gut with probiotics, and this can increase the availability of nutrients in your body, reduce food allergy symptoms, enhance your immune system and protect against disease.
Here’s what fermented foods have to offer, and which ones to look for.
Your gut contains more than 100 trillion bacteria but you need a healthy balance of good and bad. “Too much ‘bad’ bacteria can damage your health,” explains dietitian Robbie Clark. Probiotics from fermented foods can help to improve digestion, prevent diarrhoea and protect against harmful bacteria such as E. coli.
Your mental processes are influenced by your gut bacteria, says Dr Eva Selhub, author of Your Health Destiny. For example, most of the serotonin you produce – which promotes better mood and sleep – comes from your gut, she explains. As a result, probiotics in fermented foods are linked with improved symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression.
Not only are probiotics thought to help lower your diabetes risk, they may also improve the total cholesterol and antioxidant levels of people with diabetes. To reap the benefits, increase your intake of fermented dairy foods.
Eating probiotic-rich yoghurt and fermented milk products like sour cream could help lower your risk of developing high blood pressure. Try eating these foods as part of a healthy diet in place of snack foods.
Maintaining a healthy gut could help regulate your weight and body fat and reduce your risk of obesity, advises Clark. “Gut bacteria affect the way we store fat, our blood glucose levels and metabolism, and how we respond to hunger hormones,” he explains.
Fermented foods may be labelled with words including ‘raw’, ‘unpasteurised’, ‘added live cultures’, ‘probiotic rich’ or ‘naturally occurring probiotics’. You can find them in the refrigerator section of supermarkets and health food stores:
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