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8 Fermented Food Varieties

Three jars of kimchi.

Fermented foods and beverages are gaining in popularity. Kombucha on tap in bars, sourdough bread in cafés, and more varieties of yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi in supermarkets are now available. Fermented foods have been a component of the human diet for ages, and they were originally created to preserve meals, increase flavor, and remove food contaminants. These foods are becoming more popular as a result of their possible health benefits.

Foods and beverages that have undergone controlled microbial growth and fermentation are fermented foods. The process of fermentation is anaerobic in which bacteria and yeast break down dietary components (such as carbohydrates like glucose) to produce other compounds (e.g., organic acids, gases, or alcohol). This is what gives fermented foods their distinct flavor, aroma, texture, and appearance. Fermented foods come in a wide variety of flavors and textures.

Whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, cereals, dairy, meat, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts, and seeds can all be fermented. While these foods are nutritious in their natural state, fermentation has the potential to provide extra health advantages, particularly when probiotics and prebiotics are present.

Fermented foods have long been prized for their longer shelf life and their distinct flavor, aroma, texture, and appearance. They also allow us to eat items that might otherwise be inedible. Table olives, for example, must be fermented to remove bitter-tasting phenolic components.

Fermented foods have been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and inflammation, among other health benefits. They’ve also been related to improved weight control, happiness, cognitive function, and improved bone health and workout recovery. When it comes to heart health, probiotics have been shown to lower total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, although the evidence is still limited. The creation of bioactive peptides, vitamins, and other compounds by the microbes engaged in fermentation is one reason for all of these effects. These molecules play important functions in the body, including blood health, neuron function, and immunity.

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It’s vital to keep in mind that the health benefits are likely to vary depending on the fermented food and microorganisms used. Consumption of yogurt, for example, has been linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, while fermented milk containing Lactobacillus helveticus has been linked to less muscular pain.

Most Common Fermented Foods

1. Kefir

Kefir is a dairy product that has been cultivated. It’s prepared by combining milk with kefir grains, which are a mix of yeast and bacteria. This produces a thick, tart beverage with a frequently comparable flavor to yogurt. Kefir has been shown in studies to provide various health benefits, ranging from digestion to inflammation to bone health.

In a small, older study, kefir was proven to aid lactose digestion in 15 patients with lactose intolerance. This disorder causes cramping, bloating, and diarrhea in people who can’t digest the sugars in dairy products.

Kefir also has a lower lactose content than milk. When kefir grains and milk are mixed, the bacteria in the grains aid in the fermentation and breakdown of the lactose in the milk. Another study found that drinking 6.7 ounces (200 mL) of kefir daily for six weeks reduced inflammatory indicators linked to chronic diseases, including heart disease and cancer.

This acidic beverage may also help to strengthen bones. In 6-month research involving 40 persons with osteoporosis — a disease marked by weak, porous bones — those who drank kefir had higher bone mineral density than those who didn’t.

Kefir can be consumed on its own or blended into smoothies.

2. Tempeh

Tempeh is a fermented soybean cake that has been pressed into a dense cake. This high-protein meat alternative is firm but chewy, and it may be baked, steamed, or sautéed before serving. Tempeh is high in numerous nutrients that may benefit your health, in addition to its excellent probiotic content. Soy protein, for example, has been found to help reduce certain heart disease risk factors.

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According to a study of more than 40 research, eating 25 grams (0.88 ounces) of soy protein per day for six weeks reduced LDL (bad) cholesterol by 3.2 percent and total cholesterol by 2.8 percent. A previous test-tube investigation discovered that certain plant components in tempeh might work as antioxidants. Free radicals, which are damaging molecules that can contribute to chronic disease, are reduced by antioxidants.

Tempeh is suitable for both vegetarians and omnivores. Sandwiches and stir-fries are particularly well-suited to it.

3. Probiotic Yogurt

Homemade yogurt, focused shot.

Yogurt is made from fermented milk, which is usually done with lactic acid bacteria. It’s high in calcium, potassium, phosphorus, riboflavin, and vitamin B12, among other nutrients. Yogurt has also been linked to a number of health advantages.

Fermented milk products, such as probiotic yogurt, may help lower blood pressure in those with high blood pressure, according to a review of 14 studies. Another study found that older persons who ate more yogurt had better bone mineral density and physical function.

This rich dairy product may also aid in weight loss. In one study, eating yogurt was linked to reducing body weight, body fat, and waist circumference. Keep in mind that not all yogurts contain probiotics, as these beneficial bacteria are frequently destroyed during the manufacturing process. To ensure you’re receiving enough probiotics, look for yogurts that include living cultures. Also, choose products with the least amount of sugar.

4. Kombucha

Kombucha is a frothy, acidic, and delicious fermented tea. It’s brewed with either green or black tea and has all of the health benefits of these beverages. Drinking kombucha has been shown in animal experiments to help avoid liver toxicity and damage caused by toxic substances. Furthermore, test-tube studies have discovered that Kombucha can help cause cancer cell death and stop cancer cells from spreading.

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In animal experiments, Kombucha has even been shown to help lower blood sugar, triglycerides, and LDL (bad) cholesterol. Although these findings are encouraging, more human studies are required.

Kombucha is now available in most major grocery stores as a result of its growing popularity. It’s also possible to create it at home, though careful preparation is required to avoid contamination or overfermentation.

5. Natto

Japanese fermented soybean paste is a staple probiotic meal in Japanese cuisine. It’s prepared from fermented soybeans, just like tempeh. It has a pungent flavor and a slimy consistency. Natto has high fiber content, with 5.4 grams every 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving. Fiber is beneficial to gut health. It passes through your body undigested, helping to promote regularity and relieve constipation by adding bulk to your stool.

Vitamin K, a key ingredient involved in calcium metabolism and bone health, is also abundant in natto. In trials including hundreds of women, natto consumption was linked to less bone loss in postmenopausal Japanese women.

Nattokinase is an enzyme produced during the fermentation of natto. Supplementing with nattokinase just once helped prevent and dissolve blood clots in a trial involving 12 young Japanese males. Other research has discovered that using this enzyme lowers both diastolic and systolic blood pressure. Diastolic and systolic blood pressure decreased 2.84 and 5.55 mmHg, respectively, in an 8-week Japanese trial, whereas they dropped 3 and 4 mmHg, respectively, in an 8-week North American study.

Natto is frequently served with rice as part of a breakfast that aids digestion.

6. Kimchi

It is a traditional Korean side dish that is made using fermented cabbage or any other fermented vegetables like radishes. It has a long list of health benefits, and it may be particularly good at lowering cholesterol and decreasing insulin resistance.

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Insulin delivers glucose from the bloodstream to the tissues. When your body is exposed to high quantities of insulin for an extended period of time, it stops functioning appropriately, resulting in high blood sugar and insulin resistance.

21 prediabetic patients ate either fresh or fermented kimchi in one research. Insulin resistance, blood pressure, and body weight were all lower after 8 weeks for individuals who ate fermented kimchi. In another trial, participants were given a 7-day diet including either a high or low amount of kimchi. Higher kimchi consumption — 7.4 ounces (210 grams) per day versus 0.5 ounces (15 grams) — resulted in lower blood sugar, cholesterol, and LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Kimchi is simple to produce and may be used in a variety of dishes, including noodle bowls and sandwiches.

7. Miso

In Japanese cuisine, miso is a common seasoning. Soybeans are fermented with salt and koji, a type of fungus.

Miso soup, a savory dish consisting of miso paste and stock, is where it’s most commonly found. Breakfast is traditionally served with miso soup. Miso has been linked to health benefits in several researches.

A previous study of 21,852 Japanese women found a relationship between miso soup consumption and a lower incidence of breast cancer. Another older study, including over 40,000 people, found that Japanese women who ate more miso soup had a decreased incidence of stroke.

Miso may also aid in the reduction of blood pressure and the protection of heart health. In fact, long-term miso soup consumption was proven to help regulate blood pressure levels in rats in research.

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In addition, a study involving middle-aged and older Japanese adults discovered that consuming miso soup regularly may result in a reduced heart rate. According to this study, despite its saltiness, miso soup did not raise blood pressure.

On the other hand, other Japanese research has connected miso soup consumption — and its high salt content — to an increased risk of stomach cancer. In one study, eating 3–4 cups of miso soup per day increased the risk of stomach cancer, whereas eating 1–5 cups per day increased the risk of stomach cancer in another. Overall, additional research is needed to determine the health impacts of miso.

You can use miso for a variety of things, including:

  • glazing cooked veggies
  • add some zing to salad dressings
  • make a beef marinade

8. Sauerkraut

Jars of Sauerkraut.

Sauerkraut is a famous condiment made from shredded cabbage fermented with lactic acid bacteria. It has a low-calorie count but is high in fiber and vitamins C and K. It’s high in lutein and zeaxanthin, just like other dishes produced from leafy green vegetables. These antioxidants aid in the promotion of eye health and the reduction of the risk of eye illness. Sauerkraut’s antioxidant content has been shown to have anti-cancer properties.

According to a test-tube study, treatment of breast cancer cells with cabbage juice reduced the activity of specific enzymes linked to cancer growth. However, the current evidence is limited, and more human research is required.

Sauerkraut can be used in various meals, including casseroles, soups, and sandwiches. Choose unpasteurized sauerkraut to gain the best health benefits, as pasteurization eliminates beneficial bacteria.

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Fermented foods may sound fancy, but the process is actually rather easy and inexpensive. It only takes a few ingredients and can save you a lot of money while also bringing diversity, fresh flavors, and unique textures to your diet when done at home. Cabbage, beetroot, radish, turnip, and carrots are among the simplest vegetables to ferment at home since bacteria residing on the surface do the work for you.

Try creating your own sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickled seasonal vegetables, using prebiotic-rich foods like onion and garlic to add flavor and added health benefits.