Fermented foods are certainly in vogue right now. Unlike many other food fads, fermented foods are actually the real deal. And now they’re becoming part of many people’s diets and featuring on trendy restaurant menus. However, many people are unsure just what they are, how to eat them and what health benefits they provide.
Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer provides her ‘go-to’ guide to fermented foods.
WHAT IS FERMENTATION? THE BASICS
The process of fermenting food has been around for many thousands of years. Fermented food is the mainstay of Japanese cuisine and is thought to be one of the reasons for their well-balanced hormone health.
To better understand the benefits of fermented food we need to look at how our gastrointestinal systems work. The digestive system is packed with billions of bacteria (mainly good) that are incredibly beneficial to health. They help to keep the digestive system running in smooth working order, boost the immune system, detoxify the body, help manage the body’s natural inflammatory response, balance hormones and protect the body from serious degenerative diseases.
The process of fermentation encourages the production of these beneficial bacteria; it allows the natural sugars and salts within the foods, (together with the added salts that are part of most fermentation processes), to create the good bacteria. Put simply, the more fermented foods we consume, the more beneficial bacteria we have! Live natural yoghurt is one great example of a fermented food. Fermentation also helps to preserve foods over a longer period of time.
TOP THREE FERMENTED FOODS
There are many fermented food options available but to get you started, here are three of my favourites.
Bang on trend right now is kefir. It’s a fermented milk product made from either sheep’s, cow’s or goat’s milk. It provides wonderful benefits for the digestive system, particularly helping to ease bloating and symptoms of IBS. It’s also great for the immune system because it contains a high percentage of probiotics or beneficial bacteria. Plus, kefir is high in some of the B vitamins to provide great energy as well as vitamin K2 which supports the bones and heart.
It’s naturally quite sour so is best combined with fruits or yoghurt, or can be used in any recipe as an alternative to buttermilk.
You can even make your own fermented coconut kefir! Use kefir grains mixed with some coconut milk in a jar. Store in a warm place, covered with a cloth for 24 hours and the mixture will naturally ferment to produce a more palatable and healthy milk. It can then be used on cereal or in pancakes for a delicious, healthy start to the day!
Probably one of the most popular fermented foods, sauerkraut has been eaten for hundreds of years throughout Central Europe. It’s very simply made from chopped cabbage that’s fermented in salt. However, as with fermented dairy products such as yoghurt and kefir, fermenting cabbage takes its nutritional benefits to another level!
Probiotic foods, including sauerkraut, deliver huge benefits to the digestive system. Additionally, more B vitamins are naturally produced as well as beneficial enzymes, which are used for many essential body processes.
It’s actually very easy to make at home; simply chop one head of white or red cabbage into small shreds. Add some salt and pack tightly into a jar with a tightly fitting lid. This needs to be left for about a week in a warm place and you’ve then created your very own superfood!
Another very fashionable ingredient right now, miso is a traditional Japanese ingredient that is produced by fermenting soy, usually with salt, which makes a brown paste.
Miso is often used by women struggling with menopausal symptoms and people suffering from other hormonal complaints. Soy naturally contains phytoestrogens – plant foods that have an oestrogen-like activity and a hormone-balancing effect on the body. Phytoestrogens became of interest to scientists when they realised that women in certain traditional cultures in Japan that were eating a diet high in soy and other phytoestrogenic foods, had fewer menopausal symptoms than Western women. It seems that these foods can really help combat the effects of the peri-menopause and the menopause.
One of the most common ways of eating miso is in a soup and there are a number available in supermarkets or health food stores. Alternatively, to make your own, you simply need to mix some tofu, nori (a type of seaweed) and onions with water and miso. That’s it! The main point to remember is to simmer miso as boiling it can reduce its health benefits.
So try adding some fermented foods to your diet this season and give your health an extra boost!
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