Fermented foods have been around for a long time and are enjoyed by people all over the world. These foods are made by allowing the natural sugars and starches to ferment, creating good bacteria and other probiotics. The idea of bacteria living in your intestines may sound bad (or even alarming), but in reality, your body needs these bacteria for digestion, among other reasons. The good bacteria in fermented foods can even help prevent you from getting sick from other bacteria!
Some fermented foods that people often eat are miso, kimchi, kefir, pickles, sauerkraut, yogurt, and sourdough bread.
In today’s busy world, it’s important to make healthy choices, and adding fermented foods to your diet can be a simple (and tasty) way to do it. So, let’s get the facts straight by taking a closer look at the ten health benefits of eating fermented foods. Before you know it, you can be having yogurt for breakfast and sauerkraut for snack!
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10 Improve your gut health
The first way fermented foods can benefit your health is through your gut! Your “gut” is a common term for your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which includes your mouth, esophagus, intestines, stomach, and rectum. Your GI tract is interconnected with many other systems within your body, so it’s important for it to function efficiently.
The beneficial bacteria in fermented foods, such as probiotics, can help improve gut health by promoting a healthy balance of gut microbiota. This can help support your gut’s ability to absorb nutrients and protect against harmful bacteria.
Gut health is crucial to your overall health and is linked to several other health benefits.
9 Protect the health of your heart
Fermented foods have been linked to better heart health, including lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. This may be due to the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of fermented foods, which may help reduce oxidative stress and lower the risk of heart disease.
The probiotics in fermented foods have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol levels, which are often associated with heart disease. Blood pressure, another risk factor for heart disease, can be improved by adding fermented foods to your diet.
Remember that fermented foods can’t do it all on their own; they must be part of a healthy diet and lifestyle to provide heart health benefits.
8 Improve your nutrient absorption
When we eat fermented foods, the probiotics in those foods help maintain an important balance of bacteria. When that balance is disrupted, it can sometimes lead to gut dysbiosis. This condition causes a decrease in the number of healthy bacteria, making it difficult for our bodies to absorb necessary nutrients from food.
Fermented foods can improve nutrient absorption by breaking down nutrients into more easily digestible forms. For example, fermented dairy products, such as yogurt and kefir, contain lactase, which helps break down lactose (the sugar in milk) into simpler sugars that are easier for the body to absorb. When milk is fermented to make yogurt, the bacteria in the yogurt break down the lactose in the milk. This can make it easier for people who are lactose intolerant to digest and absorb the essential nutrients in milk.
Another example of fermented foods that increase nutrient absorption is sauerkraut. When sauerkraut ferments, the cabbage breaks down, increasing vitamin C and providing our bodies with far more nutrients than raw cabbage. And it tastes delicious!
7 Try weight loss or maintain a healthy weight
Fermented foods are low in calories and high in fiber, making them a good choice for weight control. Additionally, the beneficial bacteria in fermented foods can help regulate metabolism and control hunger, which leads to weight loss.
For example, probiotics have been shown to reduce production of the hunger hormone ghrelin and increase production of the hormone peptide YY, which signals satiety. In other words, you may not feel as hungry and may feel fuller than usual.
It is essential to speak with a doctor or health professional to make a responsible and well-considered decision before making drastic diet changes to lose weight.
6 Reduce your inflammation
Fermented foods have anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce chronic inflammation. Inflammation is your body’s natural response to injury or infection. Still, when it happens chronically, it can lead to heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and various other serious health problems.
Along with probiotics, fermented foods are often packed with antioxidants. Antioxidants help protect cells by neutralizing free radicals (unstable molecules that can lead to oxidative stress and increased inflammation).
According to a study of Stanford University in 2021, eating a diet full of fermented foods is much better for inflammation than high-fiber foods generally considered healthy, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and nuts.
5 Improve your overall digestion
Fermented foods can help improve digestion by reducing symptoms of bloating, constipation, and abdominal pain. This is because the beneficial bacteria in fermented foods can help regulate bowel movements and support the intestine’s ability to absorb water; bacteria, such as lactic acid, help maintain intestinal balance.
Another benefit relates to your body’s production of digestive enzymes. Eating fermented foods can increase the production of these enzymes, allowing you to break down food more effectively and reduce bloating. Increased production of digestive enzymes can also keep bowel movements regular and reduce constipation.
While these effects may not happen overnight, and everyone’s digestive system is different, incorporating fermented foods as part of your diet is a good step toward better digestion.
4 Improve your bone health
Fermented foods are a good source of calcium and other minerals important for bone health. For example, kefir is a fermented food with two crucial nutrients for bone health: vitamin K and calcium. Another fermented food that can improve your bone health is yogurt. Yogurt is rich in calcium and phosphorous, both of which are keys to good bone health. And all fermented foods have probiotics that promote calcium absorption in your body.
Fermented foods may contain all of the following nutrients that improve overall bone health:
- Dietary fiber
- vitamin k2
As part of a balanced diet with regular exercise, fermented foods can greatly improve your bone health.
3 Boost your immune system
The next benefit on our list may seem a bit counterintuitive. Bacteria are bad for us, right? After all, we wash our hands with antibacterial soap and take antibiotics when we’re sick. Well, bacteria aren’t always bad for us; sometimes, it’s actually quite the opposite.
Fermented foods contain beneficial bacteria that can help boost the immune system by strengthening gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT). The GALT is an important part of the immune system and you want it to be as healthy as possible. The probiotics in fermented foods can also help stimulate the production of antibodies and other immune cells in your body, which can help fight infection and disease.
By including fermented foods like yogurt in your diet, you may get sick less often, recover faster when you do, and improve your overall health. Just thinking about it makes me want to eat a bowl of kimchi!
2 Get radiant skin
Fermented foods can improve skin health in a number of ways. They contain probiotics and antioxidants, which can:
- Protect against oxidative stress
- Maintains the natural barrier function of your skin.
- Reduce inflammation in your skin.
An example is kombucha. Okay, so technically it’s a drink, but it’s fermented! Kombucha contains organic acids and antioxidants that neutralize free radicals. Another fermented food with benefits for skin health is sauerkraut, which contains vitamin C. Vitamin C increases collagen production, keeping skin youthful and less wrinkled.
Miso is a traditional Japanese food made from soybeans, salt, and koji (think miso soup). This mixture is fermented for months (and sometimes years). In addition to being delicious, miso is highly concentrated in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, all of which can help protect your skin from UV rays and ultimately sun damage.
1 Positively impact your mental health
There are a few different ways that fermented foods can improve not only your physical health but also your mental health. Fermented foods have been linked to better mental health, including reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety. This may be due to the role of gut bacteria in the production of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, which play a role in mood regulation.
Other connections include some of the health benefits we’ve already mentioned. After all, who wouldn’t be happier with less inflammation, constipation, and illness? Fermented foods may also help regulate the gut-brain axis, the connection between the gut and the brain. Live bacteria in fermented foods (probiotics) have been shown to regulate mood and reduce anxiety symptoms.
And that’s not all; the probiotics in fermented foods can also regulate neurotransmitter levels. Finally, with stress regulated and inflammation reduced, fermented foods can help you sleep better. Improved sleep can have a big impact on your mental health and general well-being.
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