Food fermentation has been practiced for thousands of years to preserve food past the growing season. Beyond the nutritional benefits of having more provisions available, the process of fermentation itself likely supported our ancestors’ health – and may offer us benefits too.
Research suggests consumption of fermented foods increases gut microbiome diversity, which is associated with healthy gut function and lower levels of circulating inflammatory compounds that can be markers of chronic disease.
It is still unclear if this benefit is caused by the microbes present in fermented foods or if the fermented foods are feeding protective bacteria found in our intestines. Including fermented foods can also provide important nutrients, like calcium, and may help the body better absorb these necessary compounds.
Fermented foods include yogurt, aged cheeses, miso, and fermented vegetables. Examples of fermented vegetables are items like kimchi and lacto-fermented sauerkraut found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store (not the canned shelf-stable variety).
For optimal benefit, try adding kimchi or kraut to cold dishes like sandwiches, tacos, grain or pasta salads, or as a vegetable side at meals. Because these microbes are heat-sensitive, adding fermented vegetables to hot dishes may reduce gut diversity potential, but still offers flavor and nutrients.
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Valdes, AM, Walter, J, Segal, E, & Spector, TD. Role of the Gut Microbiota in Nutrition and Health. BMJ. 2018; 361:k2179.
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By Lauren Kirby, Dietetic Intern