Updated: May 27, 2020
Healthy gut bacteria/gut health... this whole idea of eating bacteria to be healthy has recently EXPLODED. I remember back in college a few professors hinting at the fact that probiotics were going to be the next big thing. But I honestly don't think they understood just HOW big it would be or even how IMPORTANT it was.
I know that my professors were thinking about it in traditional terms of probiotic supplements or eating yogurt (which apparently was the only "healthy fermented food" back when I was in school because that's all that was ever mentioned - kimchi? sauerkraut? pickles?!?! forget it!). But still - they were on the right track and it's evidenced by this ever growing market of fermented foods such as kombucha and kefir.
But which fermented foods should you be eating? Exactly how and when do you eat them? I'm going to be covering all the dirty deets (get the pun?!) in today's post!
But first, a little walk down history lane
Did you know there was a time before fridges/freezers? 🤯
Although logically, we all know that, it becomes a bit more abstract when you really start to think about it. Just stop and think for one second: what did people do about storing and preserving food before fridges? The answer is fermentation. Something really cool happens when you allow your food to ferment - it actually protects that food from other bad bacteria spoiling it.
Think of bacteria growth like real estate: there's only so much space (and food) that bacteria can take up. That means, if good bacteria comes and settles in on a food (or in your gut!), it competitively inhibits the growth of bad bacteria. In an essence, good bacteria acts as a natural antibiotic and preservative!
Because of this, through fermentation, people were able to store food like veggies, milk and even meat by fermenting it! Little did they know at the time, eating these fermented foods was also providing them a wealth of healthy gut bacteria on the daily.*
*This post is focusing specifically on fermented foods ~ if you're interested in a future post on gut health in relation to fermented foods, let me know in the comments below and I'll put one together for you! :)
What's considered a fermented food?
Any food that has been introduced to bacteria or yeast and undergone the process of fermentation (basically where the bacteria or yeast starts to eat some of the food) is considered a fermented food.
Here are some of my favorites:
Cheese (raw, organic and grass-fed - the stinkier, the better!)
Kimchi (perfect to throw on your Cauli Rice Burrito Bowl!)
Kefir (from coconut water or raw, organic and grass-fed milk)
Chocolate (yup! technically this is fermented too!)
Fermented Pickled Veggies (add some fermented pickled red onions to your LA Street Tacos!)
Yogurt (raw, organic and grass-fed; I prefer high quality dairy yogurt vs. nut milk yogurt as nut milk yogurts tend to contain added sugars)
Fermented Diakon Radish
Raw, Unpasteurized Apple Cider Vinegar
How do you use it?
Fermented food is ALIVE. I know this can sound weird and sci-fi at first, but it's true! And in order to reap the benefits of the fermented food, you want it to stay that way. That means pasteurized versions of any of the above listed foods is a no-no. I often use many of these fermented foods in their raw form or as an add on to the end product of a meal. For example, I'll chop up some kimchi and throw it in a salad or eat a few slices of high quality, stinky cheese along with my dinner.
The key is in NOT cooking your fermented goodies.
Where do you get it?
This is the real question. Finding fermented foods - and I mean ones that haven't been pasteurized - can be a bit of a challenge. One of the easiest ways is by visiting your local farmers market. Many health food stores also now carry raw milk based products such as kefir, yogurt and cheese (some states don't allow it, so check with your local laws).
Once a week, I pick out a raw, grass-fed cheese at Whole Foods that is fantastic (actually took a writing break to day-dream about it for a sec). You can even make your own fermented foods. It's not nearly as hard as it sounds! Try watching a few YouTube videos on how to make kimchi or fermented veggies and you'll get the gist pretty quickly. It doesn't even take much time to prep either - the good bacteria does all the work for you ;)
Is there anyone who SHOULDN'T have it?
Nearly everyone can benefit from fermented foods. It's been in our history for thousands of years. But thanks to the extreme hygiene era - similar to the fat fearing era - we seem to have developed this fear around food that is alive. (I'd argue that we should be terrified of anything that has been ultra-pasteurized to sit on a shelf for weeks or years on end, but I digress...).
In order to figure out the best way for you to include fermented foods in your veggies (and which ones you actually will like!), it's always best to talk with your Nutritionist on what fits your lifestyle and wellness goals.
But one group of people who should be cautious (at least for a short while) of using fermented foods are those who have SIBO. SIBO, or small intestinal bacteria overgrowth, is where your body has bacteria growing in your small intestine. Normally, we have very, very small amounts of bacteria in our small intestine (nearly all of our bacteria is in our large intestine/colon). With SIBO, you have an overgrowth of bacteria in your small intestine, usually as the result of antibiotic usage, chronic stress and a poor diet. Adding fermented foods to your body while you work on healing your SIBO is not a good idea and can lead to further bloating issues. SIBO is a complex issue and requires a very specific diet and lifestyle protocol in order to heal it. Once your SIBO is healed, adding fermented foods into your diet is a great way to actually prevent future SIBO!*
Overall, fermented foods have been in our history for literally thousands of years. It has saved us from starvation during times when we didn't have refrigerators. It protects us from food-borne illnesses by competing with bad bacteria. It also helps to breakdown foods that our body normally wouldn't be able to - and those are just the things we know about healthy gut bacteria and fermented foods.
I personally incorporate at least 1-2 sources of fermented foods in my diet on the daily. I hope that with the information from this article, it will inspire you to start experimenting with fermented foods and adding these seriously AWESOME goodies into your life (and gut!).
Autumn Elle Nutrition
*The author is not a doctor. This article is not to be taken as medical advice. Please speak to your doctor and nutritionist if you believe you may have SIBO.