Probiotics have been shown to improve overall health, boost immunity, help with weight loss, support digestive health, improve neurological function and even fight against depression. In fact there are over 40 diseases linked to bacterial imbalances, due to a lack of healthy probiotics in the gut, including IBS, depression, and arthritis. If you are like me or many of my patients, the first thing you think is how can I get more probiotics? In addition to supplements, you can find these sought after microorganisms through foods. Foods are enriched with probiotics through a process of fermentation.
Fermentation in food processing is the process of converting carbohydrates to alcohol or organic acids using microorganisms (either yeast or bacteria) under anaerobic conditions. Dating back hundreds of years, fermentation was used to preserve valuable vegetables and other perishable foods for long periods without the use of modern-day refrigerators, freezers or canning machines. Food fermentation is used today for several purposes; it can help to diversify flavors, food preservation and can reduce cooking time, and it has many health benefits. The probiotic bacteria that live in fermented foods create a protective lining in the intestines and helps shield it against pathogenic factors as well as help to improve digestion, promote immunity and can improve overall health and prevent disease.
I love incorporating fermented foods in my diet to help promote gut health and boost immunity. Particularly during this time of year when there are so many colds and flus circulating, boosting immunity is a must to stay active and productive! I suggest my patients include these foods in their diet as part of an integrative approach to promote digestive health and immunity year-round. What are some of these incredible fermented foods to include in your diet?
Below are my 5 favorite fermented foods:
Sauerkraut, or fermented cabbage, is a native dish in Eastern Europe packed with health benefits. It is anti-inflammatory and full of antioxidants, a great source of nutrients such as vitamin K, vitamin C, calcium, potassium and phosphorus as well as full of probiotics.
Kefir is a fermented milk drink which contains high levels of vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium, vitamin K2, biotin, folate, enzymes and probiotics. I also love coconut kefir, which is a dairy-free alternative.
One of my favorite fermented foods (technically a drink), Komucha, is a fermented food you can make at home. It is a fermented tea containing a large amount of probiotic bacteria. It can be made in many varieties and can contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. My favorite is making a blueberry ginger, which not only tastes good but is packed with health benefits. Be sure to check the sugar content on any of the bottled kombuchas you find at the supermarket. Many of them contain loads of added sugar, which does not promote healthy gut function!
Kimchi is a traditional Korean side dish, normally composed of a mixture of fermented veggies including napa cabbage, radish, scallion, cucumber and red chili paste.
Yogurt is probably the most widely eaten fermented food. When made traditionally it is excellent source probiotics. Yogurt also contains many nutrients including calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and vitamins B2 and B12! It is a balanced source of protein, fats and carbohydrate and considered to be a super food.
If you have not been including fermented foods in your regular diet, it is time to make a change! Use these foods on a daily basis and start seeing the benefits this winter season.
To optimal health,
Christina Grace FNP-C