Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Get Familiar with Fermented Foods

Fermented foods have been in the spotlight as a power food for some time now, mostly for their probiotic properties and gut health. Our guts do more than metabolize foods, it is a huge immune system that contains millions of bacteria. Certain foods, mainly probiotics, help feed the beneficial bacteria. Perhaps the most popular and widely recognized fermented food is yogurt and cheese, but there are so many others that deserve some attention! Fermentation is not a new fad though, it is one of the oldest forms of food preservation and has been used over centuries to increase the shelf life of perishable foods. Not all cultured or fermented foods are created equal though, as many are full of added sugars and can be high in sodium and many are pasteurized so they no longer contain live and active cultures. 

Benefits of Fermented Foods
You may be wondering why you would start encorporating these foods into your diet. Fermented foods provide good bacteria (probiotics) that the gastrointestinal (GI) tract needs to counteract. Research on our microbiome (the microorganisms and bacteria in our bodies) is growing and initial research shows a close involvement in immune function, nutritional status, and potential to affect chronic diseases and cancers!The process also enhances the digestibility of the food and studies suggest that probiotics may be beneficial in diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Eating a diet high in dietary fiber (from whole grains, fruits,vegetables, legumes, and nuts) will provide Prebiotics (food for the probiotics) to ensure that the probiotics function properly. Adults should aim for 25g of fiber every day.
Here are 5 fermented foods that I love to enjoy!

Select Greek or low fat yogurts that are low in sugar and contain live cultures. The lowest sugar varieties will be plain yogurts and you can add your own fruit or sweetener (I like stevia) to adjust the sweetness. Try blending yogurt into smoothies or enjoy as a meal or snack. Consider using plain Greek yogurt in your cooking as well (can work as a substitute for mayo, sour cream, or added to soups to give a creamy texture. It is a great source of protein (Greek contains about 2x protein of regular yogurt), calcium, vitamin D, and potassium. Lactose intolerance? Because the yogurt making process partially digests the lactose it is usually well tolerated, especially in small amounts. Lactose free varieties are available as well for those that are highly sensitive. 


Kefir is a cultured beverage that comes in two varieties, milk or water. Milk kefir is more widely available (found at your local co-op, whole foods etc and in most grocery stores in the natural foods section) most brands contain large amounts of several types of live cultures! It is a thick and creamy texture with somewhat of a tangy flavor. As with yogurt, look for lower sugar varieties. If you don't care for the texture on its own, try blending plain kefir with fruits into a smoothie. Most brands are 99% lactose-free and a great source of protein, calcium, vitamin D, and potassium. 


Kombucha is a lightly carbonated, fermented drink made with tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast that contains several strains of beneficial bacteria. It comes in a variety of flavors and most are low in sugar. I must be honest; the first time I tried kombucha I really didn't care for it. I had never had anything like it and was more acidic than expected. I finished it because I knew it was good for me, but didn't try it again for a year or so. Over the next few times I actually liked it and now it is a regular purchase for me. 


Sauerkraut and kimchee
Both of these fermented foods are popular around the world and are made with cabbage. Kimchee is a Korean fermented cabbage with chili, some varieties are spicier than others.  Cooking or pasturizing these foods will destroy the beneficial bacteria so be sure to find those that are raw and contain live cultures. Enjoy with meats, cheeses, on sandwiches, or served as a side. 

Tempeh is a fermented soybean product that originated in Indonesia. Soy foods can help lower cholesterol and reduce your risk for heart disease. If you are concerned about GMO soy, select organic or GMO-free certified products. Tempeh is much fimer than tofu and can be seasoned and added to stirfies, salads, or sandwiches. Tempeh is a complete protein (20 g per 4 oz) and high in calcium, manganese, and iron! Since it is already fermented the vitamins and minerals are more readily absorbed. Depending on the brand and variety it can be a source of complex carbohydrates and healthy fats as well. The variety pictured below has 11 g fiber per serving!

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