More and more people are recognizing the benefits of adding fermented foods into their diet — and we are not talking about the odd pickled onion with a cheese sandwich. So why has it become a trend? What is a pickled vegetable, exactly, and why are they so beneficial for our health?
The process of fermentation is not new. Humans have been using the natural process for thousands of years as a way of preserving all kinds of food—bread, yogurt, wine, beer, onions, red cabbage, sauerkraut, beetroot, you name it. Fermentation is achieved by soaking vegetables or fruit in their own juices or salt water, which encourages the growth of Lactobacillus bacteria (sounds gross, I know, but it’s all good bacteria, I promise!). The bacteria then digests the sugars in the vegetables, which produces lactic acid and reduces the pH of the vegetable, which kills off all the bad bacteria.
This good, live bacteria—perhaps better known as probiotics—are great for our digestion: They are packed full of enzymes, nutrients, and vitamins, and restore and balance the levels of other bacteria in the gut. And because the fermentation process has already taken place, it means that these foods are much easier to digest. Another great benefit: The increase of antibodies, which promotes a stronger immune system.
Fancy giving fermented foods a go? Here a few of our favorites, along with word of advice: Make sure that you keep some in your fridge or cupboard, and aim to eat at least half a cup a day to really reap those benefits.
Sauerkraut Maybe the most famous of the fermented foods, sauerkraut has been around for a long time and is cabbage which has gone through the fermentation process. An all-around delicious food that has some vast health benefits such as fighting inflammation, aiding circulation, boosting digestive health and helps to reduce cholesterol. (Our Kale.Life founder, Carly, loves her staple of 2 organic eggs, lentils, spinach, and sauerkraut each morning for breakfast.)
Pickles There are so many choices of pickles out there; always opt for organic where possible. Pickles are a great source of vitamins—especially vitamin K, minerals and antioxidants, all of which are great for our heart and bones. Plus, pickles add a nice spice to pretty much any dish you could name.
Yogurt Probably the most well-known (and most consumed) of all the fermented foods, probiotic yogurt is versatile and can be used in so many ways when incorporated into our diet. It has some fantastic health qualities, like, for one, benefitting our blood pressure. When choosing your yogurt, opt for either grass-fed goat or sheep milk, and always organic. Top with a little homemade granola and fresh berries, and you’ve got a powerhouse meal on your hands.
Raw cheese Another staple in the world of fermented foods, raw cheeses are made from unpasteurized milk. Goat or sheep soft cheeses are especially high in probiotics. All are great at destroying bad bacteria in the gut and also helping to heal digestive issues and boosting the immune system. Many people who have an allergy to lactose can still enjoy raw cheese without any negative side effects. That’s a win in our book!
Kimchi Made from vegetables—namely cabbage—this traditional Korean dish dates back to the 7th century (told you fermented food had been around ages!) and is known to improve cardiovascular and digestive health conditions. It also is high in antioxidants, meaning it can help reduce the risk of cancer and diabetes. The smell can be really intense, but we promise, you will get used to it. And even like it.
Tempeh This cake-like food is soybean mixed with a live mold called Tempeh starter. High in B vitamins, Tempeh has the same protein quality as meat and is great for reducing menopausal symptoms and cholesterol.
When I was a child, I remember watching my grandmother pickling vegetables. Jars and jars of onions, beetroots, and pickles that always seemed to disappear into her sideboard cabinet to collect dust before reappearing just before Christmas. Maybe we should adopt the ways of our grandparents and dig out some pickling jars and get fermenting.
Some fermented recipes to make at home:
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