Kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, sourdough bread, and yogurt are all surprisingly good for your digestive system. Everydayhealth.com offers some ideas for adding a fermented food or two to your diet.
If you think about fermentation at all, you probably think about alcohol. But there are many other kinds of fermented foods — such as yogurt — out there. Fermented food uses microorganisms to convert sugars into lactic acid, creating a signature sour taste.
That sour taste — which many people may find unfamiliar — should not be equated with unhealthy or expired. In fact, including fermented foods in your diet a few times a week or more could be beneficial for your health.
Fermented foods include:
Miso. A paste made of fermented soy beans, it forms the base of soups or glazes.
Sauerkraut. This familiar condiment is made of finely shredded fermented cabbage.
Sourdough bread. Real sourdough bread is made with milk and other foods that have been allowed to ferment before making the bread dough.
Kefir. A fermented drink made from milk.
Yogurt. Yogurt includes live bacteria called probiotics.
Kimchi. A traditional Korean dish made from pickled vegetables like cabbage or radish.
Buttermilk. Buttermilk also includes probiotics.
Natto. These fermented soybeans are a traditional Japanese breakfast dish.
Poi. A fermented paste made from taro root.
Tempeh. A cake made of fermented soybeans.
The Benefits of Fermented Foods
“Fermentation is almost like the beginning of digestion,” said dietitian Sheah L. Rarback, MS, RD, director of nutrition at the Mailman Center for Child Development at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Florida. Because of this process, for example, many people who can’t tolerate milk can comfortably eat yogurt.
Fermented foods are not always labeled as such. For example, you may see the term cultured instead of fermented, but these terms refer to foods that have similar health benefits. Foods that are labeled “pickled” are also fermented foods. Also, fermented foods may contain probiotics.
These good bacteria provide the digestive health benefits associated with fermentation.
Rarback says fermented foods “are a way to put your colon back into balance. Also, the fermented foods even help your body digest, absorb, and get better use of the foods you’re eating.
” You may need to eat these foods more if you are taking antibiotics or if you have other health conditions that make it hard to digest foods. Some people are less able to digest certain enzymes as they get older. “Fermented foods counter that process,” Rarback said.
Getting Fermented Foods in Your Diet
Even if you know that including kefir or miso in your diet is good for you, adding them into your weekly meal plan can be a bit more challenging. The taste of fermented foods — even a well-known supermarket item like sauerkraut — may seem a bit exotic or unfamiliar.
Rarback advises taking baby steps and gradually increasing your consumption. “Any time you’re adding new foods into the diet, don’t overload,” she says. The last thing you want to do is get turned off or overwhelmed by the new palate.
For example, Rarback enjoys plain Greek yogurt now that she has been including it in her diet for a while.
Manufacturers are responding to the public’s wariness with new products. Kefir is a good example. It is increasingly available with added flavors, such as strawberry.
You can also turn to the Internet for recipes and ideas. “A lot of these foods are not a part of our typical diet, so go online and look up miso cooking, for example,” suggests Rarback, who says she took a macrobiotic cooking class that taught her how surprisingly simple it is to prepare miso soup or a miso glaze for fish.
“Just because it’s exotic and new doesn’t mean it’s difficult,” she says.
She also warns against prepackaged foods. For example, you may not get the same fermentation benefits from prepackaged sourdough bread or just-add-water miso soup as you would if you made it yourself or bought it from a local authentic vendor.
Some fermented foods come with a lot of salt. “You still need to read food labels,” says Rarback, adding people who are watching their salt may need to pay careful attention to the details of the fermented foods they want to try.