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Health Benefits of Fermented Foods

Hi friends! Matt and I are currently on the high seas on our Caribbean cruise adventure (you can see what we’re up to on Instagram), so I’ve asked my friend and fellow dietitian Meme Inge of the blog Living Well Kitchen to share a guest post today! She wrote a fabulous post on the health benefits of fermented foods for you guys, and it includes some easy recipes as well. Excited to share it with you – enjoy!

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Hi there fANNEtastic food readers!! I’m so happy to be here today! I spend most of my days in my tiny, outdated kitchen making Southern recipes just a little bit healthier on my blog, Living Well Kitchen. When I’m not dancing around my kitchen making protein pancakes and chicken salad, I’m teaching barre3 and exploring the great city I live in – New Orleans.

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My goal in life is to encourage people to eat more produce because fruits and veggies are awesome! And you know what makes vegetables and fruit even better? When you ferment them.

Wait… don’t turn your nose up to fermented foods just yet. Open up your mind and get excited because I’m here to share some fun facts about fermented foods with y’all. Yep, fermented foods are fun and I’m here to tell you why…

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As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I get questions everyday that run the gamut of topics: are pretzels good for you, is it cheaper to eat unhealthy, how do I get more veggies in my diet, the list goes on…

Luckily, I love questions! I’m a questions kinda gal. Questions help me think out of the box and encourage me to take a deeper look into food and its impact on health and nutrition.

Recently, I’ve been asked on multiple occasions about eating fermented foods, and I didn’t feel equipped to give a good enough answer. So I pulled out the old college textbooks and started perusing articles on PubMed. {Science nerd alert}

While I have done a post about fermented foods before, I didn’t do much research {shame on me} on the benefits of fermented foods for the post. I just made an easy recipe for a fermented food {kimchi} and called it a day. And then I let my kimchi just hangout in the fridge. For like 6 months. I do not recommend this, friends. Especially when you throw it away and the jar {that has unknowingly broken} spills its contents onto your carpeted den floor {bless my heart}.

Unfortunately, I missed out on all the wonderful benefits of my fermented kimchi, but you don’t have to make that mistake!

So go ahead, grab a cup of kombucha, and join me while I share why fermented foods should be apart of your life.

What is fermentation? Fermentation is the breakdown of carbohydrates and proteins by bacteria. It is an anaerobic process, meaning it occurs without oxygen.

Lactic acid fermentation {or lacto-fermentation} is the fermentation process that fruits and vegetables undergo. There are multiple strains of Lactobacillus bacteria present on the surface of plants that cause the breakdown of the fruits and vegetables. The Lactobacillus bacteria convert the plant carbohydrates {sugars} into lactic acid. Not only does lactic acid encourage beneficial bacterial growth in your intestine, it is also a natural preservative, keeping the food from spoiling.

Here’s how it goes: The bacteria present on the plant break down the plant sugars in an oxygen-free environment {a salty solution in a sealed container} while the salt helps both inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria and encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria.

In just a few days to weeks, you have naturally preserved vegetables or fruit that now provides you with tons of naturally occurring bacteria {plus all the other great benefits already present in produce}! Those naturally occurring bacteria are typically referred to as probiotics.

Fermented foods go way back. People have been fermenting their foods for centuries and most cultures have their own version of a fermented food that is a staple in their diet. Fermented foods are like that vintage scarf you find in your grandmother’s closet that goes with everything and encourages people to give you tons of compliments on your fashion sense. Except making your own fermented foods won’t smell like moth balls, and you don’t need a stylish grandmother to jump on the fermented foods bandwagon.

 

There are tons of delicious fermented foods that you can add to your daily diet:

    • yogurt and kefir ~ fermented dairy products that help aid in digestion
    • kimchi and sauerkraut ~ lacto-fermented cabbage that has healthy bacteria and can boost anti-cancer properties as well {thanks to the cabbage}
    • kombucha ~ an invigorating fizzy drink made from tea that is both sweet and sour. It can be an acquired taste, as it smells slightly of vinegar, but it is full of beneficial microorganisms
    • tempeh ~ fermented soy beans that are easier to digest and higher in protein
    • pickles ~ not just a condiment for your sandwich, these lacto-fermented cucumbers are an easily accessible way to get in your fermented veggies. Just make sure to avoid the store-bought pickles with added preservatives/sugar
    • miso ~ a seasoning made from fermented soybeans and fungus that helps improve digestion

 

Some of the benefits of fermented foods:

*digestive benefits ~ fermented foods are enzyme rich {enzymes help break down food in your body}, so they are easier to digest and aid in the digestion of other foods

*synthesizing and enhancing the bioavailability of nutrients ~ your body is better able to absorb the powerful nutrients in your food

*improved gastrointestinal function and health ~ less tummy troubles

*anti-inflammatory benefits ~ helps regulate inflammation in the gut and boosts anti-inflammatory cytokines

*anti-hypertensive effects ~ ingestion of probiotics and their fermented food counterparts have been linked to reductions in blood pressure

*enhanced immune system ~ beneficial bacteria help your body fight infections. The immune system is influenced by the amount of bacteria present in it, and lactic acid bacteria {present in fermented foods} encourages beneficial bacterial growth

*lower risk of certain cancers

Not only are all those benefits fab, but there can also be issues when you deprive your body of fermented foods {scary!!}. Deprivation may result in lowered immune response that negatively affects your body’s ability to fight infections, as well as the decreased concentration of short chain fatty acids in your body. Some short chain fatty acids have been linked to a reduction in the risk of developing gastrointestinal disorders, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.

Much more research needs to be done to determine the mechanisms as well as what strains of bacteria are more beneficial. But for now, I’ll just go ahead and tell you that I personally include some type of fermented food into my daily diet.

 

How to make your own fermented foods

Now, I bet you’re curious to learn how you can start fermenting your own foods to include in your daily diet. Well, it’s a lot easier than one might think; no need to start brewing kombucha in your kitchen. All you need are some veggies, filtered water, salt, and a jar to hold everything.

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I decided to ferment garlic and jalapeños to add extra flavor and benefits to dishes. You can add fermented garlic to any dish you would add raw or roasted garlic. The jalapeños give a milder dose of heat. I love them on nachos or tacos.

I thought it would be a good idea to up the fermentation fun by making a dip with three fermented foods in one, and it’s a total winner. Seriously, yogurt + fermented garlic & jalapeños for the win!

Once you’ve fermented the jalapeños and garlic, this snack literally takes 30 seconds to make and satisfies that afternoon snack craving. Not only is it packed with beneficial bacteria, it is full of satisfying protein, calcium, and potassium. I enjoy my Jalapeño Garlic Dip with whole grain crackers and/or raw veggies.

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Here are the recipes! Just a note that your fermented foods might have a bubbly effect going on and that is normal. It might have a slightly pungent smell but it should not smell bad. If you notice mold or a terrible smell, discard and start over.

Lacto-Fermented Garlic

  • 2 head of garlic
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 1 tablespoon salt

Peel the garlic and add to a jar, making sure that there is at least one inch of room between garlic and top of jar. Stir together water and salt until salt dissolves completely. Pour salt-water mixture over garlic and cover the jar. Let the garlic ferment at room temperature for about 2-3 weeks before transferring to cool storage {refrigerator}.

Note: each head of garlic has about 12-16 cloves of garlic

Lacto-Fermented Jalapeños

  • 5 jalapeños, seeded and thickly sliced
  • 4 cups filtered water
  • 2 tablespoon salt

Add jalapeños to a jar, making sure that there is at least one inch of room between jalapeños and top of jar. Stir together water and salt until salt dissolves completely. Pour salt-water mixture over jalapeños and cover the jar. Let the jalapeños ferment at room temperature for about 1-2 weeks before transferring to cool storage {refrigerator}.

Jalapeño Garlic Dip

Serves 3-4

  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 6-8 cloves fermented garlic, diced
  • 4-8 slices fermented jalapeños, diced
  • 1 green onion, sliced

Stir together the Greek yogurt, fermented garlic, fermented jalapeños, and green onion. Serve with whole grain crackers and/or veggie slices.

Note: best if allowed to sit for at least 30 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to blend. Great for a make-ahead savory snack.

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Thanks for reading, and I hope you learned a little something about fermented foods and their benefits! Feel free to pop over to my blog to see how many different versions of protein pancakes I can make, how I force feed encourage people to eat breakfast, and how I try to squeeze veggies in every meal.

How do you include fermented foods in your diet?

Disclaimer: make sure to discuss any dietary changes with your doctor if you have any medical conditions. Homemade fermented foods may not be healthful for everyone. They are safe for the general public, but it’s always a good idea to double check.

Comments

  1. 1

    Love love love fermented foods!

  2. 3

    Heading over to your blog now! Love this post. You’re preaching to my nutrition nerdy self and the fact that you dropped PubMed is amazing.

  3. 5

    Love this post Meme! I recently got into fermenting foods this year and I’ve noticed such a huge difference in my health, especially my mood. Funny story about fermenting jalapenos – I tried to make a batch before a trip and I’m 99% sure my ratio of salt was off, so it turned into this very weird, cloudy, fungus covered mess. One of my friends was staying at our house watching the dogs and when they opened the pantry and saw that sitting right out in front, they were horrified!

  4. 7

    I’m very happy to see this post on fermented foods. I think it is an area of nutrition that needs more coverage.

    I would just like to point out that the linked recipe is for quick vinegar pickles, sometimes called refrigerator pickles. Using vinegar to pickle is not lacto-fermentation, when making pickles using this method they are not a fermented food.

    I am excited to try out your dip recipe!

    Thanks

  5. 9

    I love this post! Checking out your kimchi recipe, too. I just received At Home in the Whole Foods Kitchen for Christmas, and have been dying to try her kimchi and sauerkraut recipes when I get home (didn’t think transporting a giant vat of fermented cabbage 3 hours in the car was a great idea, haha). Thanks for the info :)

  6. 11

    Such an informative post and that dip sounds amazing!! I use a lot of garlic in my cooking, so fermenting it would be the perfect way to add fermented foods to my diet. I would have never thought of that. Normally I drink kombucha and eat yogurt to get my probiotics.

  7. 13
    Roadrunner says:

    Fun post, thanks!

  8. 15

    Can you write another guest post sometime on other topics too?

  9. 16

    Thanks so much for this article! I just had to take back-to-back antibiotic courses (which I was not happy about-especially since they were prophylactic!), so I’ve been researching fermented foods to include in addition to yogurt, tempeh, and miso. I haven’t quite gotten the taste for kimchi yet, but I love garlic everything, so I can’t wait to try this! Thank you!

    • 17

      Oh Stephanie, you will LOVE the fermented garlic. And the jalapeño garlic dip is seriously my go-to snack {and maybe my dinner on occasion haha – it’s that yummy!} and it’s a really easy way to ease yourself into the wonderful world of fermented foods :)

  10. 18

    Totally love this post. I’ve been meaning to make fermented foods for awhile–my hub love Korean food so kimchi is not out of the question. Thanks a ton for your post!!!!

  11. 19

    Love this post!! Thanks, Meme for sharing such an informative post on a rising topic. I have yet to experiment with fermented foods myself so I can’t wait to get in the kitchen with your easy recipes! Your “bless my heart” comment brought back such good memories of my time in the south, I’ve missed that!! Haha

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