So here we are almost 2 weeks into the new year and as well as reducing the amount of sugar my kids eat another resolution this year was to eat more fermented foods.
Currently there is much excitement over the health benefits of fermented food products and I hear that they may well be the big nutrition trend of 2016 so lets take a brief look at whether fermented foods are the super foods they claim to be.
There is no question that probiotics found in fermented foods offer a range of health benefits – those in yoghurt, for example, are well known. The World Health Organisation defines a probiotic as “any living micro-organism that has a health benefit when ingested”. Probiotics can:
- Improve digestion/Increase absorption of nutrients
- Replace healthy bacteria killed off by a course of antibiotics, easing associated diarrhoea
- Improve urinary tract health, and ease symptoms of bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections in women.
- Reduce incidence of allergic symptoms and possibly prevent allergies – research is ongoing but looking promising. One study found that in women taking probiotics during pregnancy, there was a 30% reduction in childhood eczema in their infants.
Many fermented foods, though, are also very rich in many other nutrients our bodies need. Kimchi, for example, is widely hailed as one of the healthiest foods on the planet. Usually made with Napa cabbage using salt, garlic and chilli paste, it contains high levels of vitamins A + C and Folate (important for foetal health, infancy and childhood development), as well as Calcium, Iron and vitamin B6.
Sauerkraut has a similar nutritional profile, providing it is lacto-fermented rather than preserved in vinegar as with some available commercially, and a recent study also suggests that consuming it can have even more amazing benefits. Researchers in Finland reported that the fermentation of cabbage produces compounds called isothiocyanates, which are thought to protect against cancer.
A somewhat controversial fermented drink, Kombucha, has recently received a lot of press thanks to a number of high profile celebrity users, including Madonna and Halle Berry. The drink is made by fermenting tea and sugar with a culture called a ‘SCOBY’. As the Kombucha culture digests the sugar, it produces a range of amino acids, probiotic micro-organisms and some B vitamins. Some describe it as a ‘biological powerhouse’ and reported benefits include increased energy levels, relief of allergies, easing symptoms of arthritis and digestive complaints, anti-aging properties and many more..
Another drink, which is a little better researched, is Kefir – traditionally made with kefir grains, it is usually made as a fermented milk, but can also be made with water. Kefir is thought to contain up to three times the amount of probiotics found in yoghurt. This is because it is made with up to 20 different types of bacteria, whereas yoghurt is made with just a few. Kefir also:
- Is a good source of calcium and B vitamins
- Contains Tryptophan, an amino acid which has a relaxing effect on body and mind
- Can be tolerated well by some people with lactose intolerance
- Is low in calories and high in protein
The above are just a few of the very many fermented foods available either commercially, or which can be produced at home. All in all, most are a very frugal way to get probiotics and other nutrients into the diet as well as being an excellent method of preservation.
If you want to have a go at making your own fermented foods check out this site. http://www.culturesforhealth.com/
I manage to make smoothies with kefir as well as ice lollies and so far so good no complaints from my two they are often my harshest critics so its going well!