Fermented foods are everywhere: from megastores to restaurants and workplaces. In this post, we will delve into what fermented foods can do for your health and, in particular, your gut health.
Fermented foods have their own properties
When a food or beverage is transformed by living bacteria and yeasts, the outcome is a fermented food. Apart from any nutritive properties, fermentation may bring the additional following properties to these new foods:
- live and active microbes;
- improved taste, texture and digestibility; and
- increased concentrations of a wealth of health-promoting components that enrich food, while removing those with a potentially negative effect on health.
While fermented foods are currently on-trend, more importantly, science is showing that some fermented foods contain well characterized live microbes, which bring about health benefits when consumed.
The benefits of some fermented foods are backed by science
Retaining living microbes when consumed is not enough for a fermented food to be considered a natural source of probiotics.
A recent review edited by Kevin Whelan highlights that only dairy fermented foods such as yoghurt and some kefirs can be considered probiotics due to their benefits for gastrointestinal health. In contrast, there is not enough evidence to support the benefits of other fermented products such as kombucha, sauerkraut (regardless whether it is pasteurized or raw), tempeh, miso and kimchi for gastrointestinal health.
The health-promoting potential of these fermented milks and kefir manifests itself in several different ways, which include an increase in gut microbiota diversity; an enrichment of your microbiota with probiotics; and beneficial compounds being delivered to your gut.
Yoghurt, thanks to its two beneficial bacteria Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus, reduces symptoms related to lactose maldigestion, and is also beneficial for cardiovascular health.
Some kefirs, meanwhile, may help improve constipation, lactose malabsorption and Helicobacter pylori eradication.
The best way to incorporate fermented foods into your diet and improve gut health
To increase the power of fermented foods, you can try combining them with prebiotic-rich foods. That is, mixing yogurt or kefir with fruits or seeds will provide probiotics, prebiotics and numerous essential nutrients, with enhanced effects for your digestive and overall wellbeing.
At the same time, to combine probiotic fermented foods and fruit as breakfast or dessert, for instance, is an interesting alternative to avoid the intake of sweet and salty foods such as processed cereal or ice cream. With this in mind, it can be understood why probiotic fermented milks are seen as diet quality indicators beyond their nutritional value.
Dimidi E, Rose Cos S, Rossi M, et al. Fermented foods: definitions and characteristics, impact on the gut microbiota and effects on gastrointestinal health and disease. Nutrients. 2019; 11(8). doi: 10.3390/nu11081806.
Drouin-Chartier JP, Brassard D, Tessier-Grenier M, et al. Systematic review of the association between dairy product consumption and risk of cardiovascular-related clinical outcomes. Adv Nutr. 2016; 7(6):1026-40. doi: 10.3945/an.115.011403.
Fernandez MA, Marette A. Potential health benefits of combining yogurt and fruits based on their probiotic and prebiotic properties. Adv Nutr. 2017; 8(1):155S-164S. doi: 10.3945/an.115.011114.