Fermentation is as old as time itself. Long before we learned how to harness the power of yeasts and bacteria in food preparation, these critters were turning sugars into alcohol, organic acids and gases. Fermented foods exist across almost every culture and cuisine: in North America and Europe fermentation brings us beer, yogurt, bread and cheese. Kimchi, the spicy staple of Korean cuisine, is also a product of fermentation, as is German sauerkraut, Japanese miso, Siberian kombucha and Indonesian tempeh. As we look towards traditional cuisines in hopes of reducing the impact of processed foods in our diets, fermented foods are enjoying a resurgence. Fermentation is not just a method of preserving food; the fermentation process itself confers its own unique health benefits.
Fermentation occurs when bacteria or yeast turn the naturally occurring sugars in food into acids or alcohol. Lacto-fermentation is the process by which most vegetables are fermented; it takes advantage of lactobacilli in the environment to produce lactic acid, which kills dangerous bacteria and creates a mildly sour product. Fermentation is carried out at ambient temperatures and the addition of salt helps to discourage growth of harmful bacteria, while the lactic acid accumulates in the food.
Fermentation creates a product rich in probiotic cultures –known to help reduce inflammation in the gut, improve regularity and generally aid digestion and elimination. Turning milk into yogurt or cheese reduces the amount of lactose in the food, making it more digestible to those with lactose intolerance. Fermentation also breaks down phytatesin foods, which make minerals more available in fermented soy foods and green veggie pickles. Fermented foods also contain increased B vitamins and organic acids due to bacterial metabolism, which some believe assist with the body’s natural detoxification processes. Despite these health benefits, it is important to note that homemade, unpasteurized fermented foods are not for everyone: those with a compromised immune system are best to stick with store-bought until your physician gives you the green light.
As part of a cancer fighting diet, fermented probiotic foods promote a healthy environment in the intestine and help to reduce systemic inflammation, which is associated with cancer formation. It is thought that probiotics may also enhance cellular immunity and prevent the activation of carcinogens by gut bacteria. Research on the direct effect of probiotics in the prevention of cancer is early and inconclusive, but as an addition to an overall diet that promotes health and reduces inflammation, the role for fermented foods in the diet is iron clad.
Quality fermented foods such as unpasteurized sauerkraut, cultured organic butter, kombucha, traditional organic, unsweetened kefir and yogurts can be a beneficial addition to an immune boosting, cancer fighting diet.
Desiree Nielsen, RD, Choices Dietitian
For more grocery and cooking tips, I invite you to come along on an InspireHealth Nutrition Tour. To support the InspireHealth community, we are pleased to offer this complimentary, service every other Friday at 11:30am at our Kitsilano location. InspireHealth food and nutrition teachings will be put into practice with Choices’ dietitian. You can learn practical tips for incorporating more healthful foods into your life and understand more about foods you should be cautious towards.
Tours are FREE and open to all InspireHealth members, however, registration is required. Please call 604-734-7125 to join the next tour!