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Fermented foods are not for the faint of palate. They’re bold flavors you can’t ignore, but, with them come a heavy helping of healthy benefits. In other words, it might be worth it to get used to the strong flavors of fermentation.
In order to achieve such distinctive flavors, foods are sent through a process called lactofermentation, during which time natural bacteria feeds on the starches and sugars that occur naturally in foods. This preserves the food, but, perhaps more importantly, imbues each fermented food with a wealth of body-bettering benefits.
Don’t worry, we’re not going to leave you hanging. Here are give of those benefits, which might just be enough to convince you to add fermented foods into your regular rotation.
They Contain Omega-3s and B Vitamins
The creation of Omega-3s and B Vitamins is one of the side effects of fermentation – and, boy, should you be happy it is. You’ve probably heard of Omega-3s, or fish oil pills at the very least. Omega-3s have an almost unbelievable list of benefits if you take them regularly. They can loosen up stiff joints, reduce feelings of depression, lower blood pressure and even help infants in their neurological development.
The same goes for B Vitamins. There are eight different B vitamins, but they all work together to turn your food into fuel – in other words, a healthy dose keeps you feeling energized all day long.
They Save You Money
Let’s take a step back from health benefits for one quick second to admire the money-saving power of fermentation. Chances are, you’ve gone through the following frustrating scenario: you’ve had to throw away fresh produce because it went bad before you could eat it. That’s a waste of money and a waste of nutrients – no one wants that.
With a bit of fermentation, though, you can make your produce last for weeks at a time. Think about it: you can pickle just about any veggie, after all. The same goes for fermentation, though it’s a slightly different process. All you need is a starter to get the bacteria going and voila: you have food preserved and packed full of nutrients.
Another important thing to note is that, even though fermentation preserves fresh vegetables for longer, it does nothing to strip them of their nutritional content like other cooking methods can. Once food is fermented, it’s frozen in time, in a way. The nutrients are just as preserved as the vegetable itself and even become easier for your body to digest once they’ve broken down a bit through the lactofermentation process (more on that later)
They’re Full of Probiotics
Okay, back to your health — and, more specifically, the health of your gut. Probiotics are often referred to as “good bacteria” because, well, they are. With every fermented food you eat, you’re introducing these good bacteria into your digestive system, where they restore balance if your bacteria supplies have been depleted.
With all of this good bacteria in your belly, you’ll probably notice your trips to the bathroom becoming more regular and that the process of digestion has become easier overall. Fortunately, there are many ways to incorporate probiotics into your diet. Along with fermented foods, yogurt and probiotic supplements make great additions to your daily routine.
They Build Your Immune System
When winter rolls around, be sure to add a full slate of fermented foods to your weekly menus, because they can help you ward of illness. We’ve already mentioned that fermented foods are rich in probiotics, and how probiotics nourish your digestive system with the good bacteria it needs to work properly. But that good bacteria does more than make you regular (although that is a great side effect).
It turns out that the majority of your immune system — some 80 percent of it — is located right there in your gut. With a plethora of healthy bacteria around, then, your immune system is more than able to fight off infections and inflammation as they appear, in winter and beyond.
They Help Your Body Absorb All of the Nutrients In Food
When you eat raw vegetables, your body certainly absorbs some of the vitamins and minerals contained inside. But most of the mouthfuls of raw carrot, cabbage or apple go straight through your digestive tract without breaking down enough for the body to take advantage of all the goodness they contain.
Fermentation does that breaking down for you. Without starches or sugars in the way, your body is able to focus on digestion and absorption of all that each food has to offer. In fact, fermented foods are packed full of digestive enzymes that aid in absorption. Plus, the good bacteria we already mentioned — the one that maintains overall gut health — makes digestion easier and more efficient. In other words, you’ll start getting more out of all of the foods you eat because fermented foods help your body absorb it all.
I’m Ready… Where Do I Find My Fermented Foods?
Now that you’ve read all of the above benefits, you’re ready to make fermented foods part of your life. Good for you! You can find them in your normal grocery store, too, in plenty of commonly fermented foods: miso, tempeh, kombucha, sauerkraut and kefir, a drinkable yogurt-style beverage that’s fermented, of course.
You might also try your hand at fermenting your own produce. This is an especially good option if you find that store-bought options are a bit expensive. The best thing is that fermentation doesn’t require an expert in the kitchen, and most of the process can be done without investing in a lot of equipment or ingredients.
The most important thing isn’t where you get your fermentation from — it’s all the benefits you get from the food. And, just by incorporating a few options into your regular meal plan, you’ll start to feel the body-bettering effects a little bit of bacteria can have.