Why Eat Fermented Foods?

Did you grow up with grandparents or parents who made sauerkraut in the old-fashioned way where the cabbage was shredded, salted, pounded and stored in a huge crock to stink up the basement or garage for a few weeks?  It turns out that your ancestors were culturing a healthy batch of bacteria, nutrients and flavor.

Fermentation of foods was often a necessity for food preservation when refrigeration was less available.  As advances in food technology and processing were introduced, consumption of fermented foods has gone down.  We would be well-served nutritionally and health-wise to return to the tradition of fermenting foods.

Some of the most popular fermented foods are cultured dairy products like yogurt, cheese, butter, and cottage cheese, cultured non-dairy products like kefir and soy or coconut yogurt, fermented vegetables like pickles, beets, sauerkraut, kimchee, fermented soy products like tempeh and miso, fermented grains, and beverages like kombucha and beer.

Reasons to Consume Fermented Foods:

  1. Fermented foods are a rich source of probiotics which replenish good gut bacteria and fend off overgrowth of unfriendly gut bacteria. Having a good balance of beneficial gut bacteria helps us assimilate nutrients and may improve immunity.
  1. Gut symptoms like reflux, gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation may be improved by adding fermented foods into the diet. If you have a gut disease like irritable bowel syndrome,  inflammatory bowel disease, or a food allergy or intolerance, talk with your doctor or registered dietitian/nutritionist about if or how to incorporate fermented foods into your diet.  For some individuals, a fermented version of the food may be better tolerated than the non-fermented versions (sauerkraut vs. raw cabbage).
  1. Short-chain fatty acids and B vitamins are produced by the lacto-fermentation process. The short chain fatty acids have a beneficial role in reducing gut inflammation.
  1. Fermentation of foods helps preserve foods for longer storage.
  1. Fermented foods add rich, diverse, and interesting flavors.

It’s easy to ferment foods with some basic knowledge, a few ingredients, and a healthy bounty of locally grown or produced foods.  Your yoga practice combined with a healthy diet can be great tools for better gut health.

Mary Hilliker, RDN, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT is a Certified Viniyoga Teacher and Yoga Therapist and Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist with 5 Koshas Yoga and Wellness Center and River Flow Yoga Teacher Training School in Wausau WI. Mary offers individualized Yoga Therapy and nutrition counseling. She teaches therapeutic and wellness yoga classes, mini-retreats, workshops, webinars and yoga teacher training.