Fermented foods are all the rage these days but it would be a mistake to dismiss them as a fad. An important part of many traditional eating patterns, fermented foods are enjoyed around the world, from Russia to Columbia to Ethiopia. Here at home, health food devotees are sipping fizzy kombucha, and countertop crocks of tangy raw sauerkraut are commonplace. Are fermented foods really worth trying?
In a word, yes, and for reasons you might not have expected. Probiotic bacteria from fermented foods help support a resilient, diverse community of microbes in your gut. Why is this so important? The trillions (yes, trillions!) of bacteria that inhabit the human body influence the health of your immune, digestive and nervous systems. In fact, research on the connections between bacteria and human health is exploding like a shaken bottle of kombucha. From a clinical perspective, we see a role for probiotic bacteria in decreasing chronic inflammation, preventing side effects from antibiotics, strengthening the immune response and easing digestive concerns such as constipation and irritable bowel syndrome.
However, the reason for fermentation’s global ubiquity has little to do with our modern health-obsessed ways. Fermenting was actually a critical method of preserving fresh foods in the days before refrigeration. On the path to preservation, wheat became beer, soybeans transformed into miso and milk became cheese. Necessity is the mother of invention, and the rich and diverse flavors of fermented foods add depth and variety to world cuisines.
Of course, the thing to remember about traditional fermented foods is that they are gradual, incremental medicine – like all healthy foods are. You can’t cure colitis with a swig of kombucha and a spear of broccoli. But when consumed over days and months, fermented foods contribute to a friendly community of intestinal bacteria that have a positive impact on your health.
Enjoying 1-2 servings of fermented foods, whether it is a heaping scoop of kimchi, a glass of kefir or a shot of fortified liquid cultures like Bio-K+, will help support overall health and wellbeing. Look for fermented foods labeled as raw, or unpasteurized, and with live active cultures. Commercially fermented foods are safe for all ages, but as they contain live bacteria, pregnant women and those with immune challenges should talk to their doc before they go beyond their basic daily yogurt. Making fermented foods yourself will help you save money and ensure that the bacteria are still live and active when you consume them. Time spent sitting on the shelf can contribute to the death of these critters.
For those who haven’t yet found a fermented food they enjoy, or are looking for a more therapeutic effect for specific digestive or immune concerns, consider taking a clinical strength probiotic. Look for refrigerated products containing evidence-based strains such as Lactobacillus acidophilus CL1285 and ensure that the product has a minimum bacteria count (CFU) of 10 billion live active cells. Liquid probiotic Bio-K+ contains 50 billion live active bacteria and because it’s not in capsule form, begins working immediately. It can also be used in recipes for added health benefits.
If you have been shy to experiment with fermented foods in the past, don’t hesitate any longer. Whether it is kefir or kombucha, miso or sauerkraut, fermented foods deserve a place at the healthy dinner table.
Creamy Vanilla Probiotic Breakfast
- I/2 cup skim milk or unsweetened or soy or almond milk
- ½ cup light coconut milk
- 1 cup non-fat plain greek yogurt
- ¼ cup chia seeds
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- 2 tbsp maple syrup
- 1 full bottle of Bio-K+
Blend together and let sit in refrigerator for 12 hours
Serve with fruit for a quick breakfast or as a desert.
Yields 2-3 servings
Desiree Nielsen BSc RD is the Co-Chair of the Integrative and Functional Nutrition Network, author of UnJunk Your Diet and a member of the Bio-K+ advisory board.