The Health Benefits of Fermented Foods

fermented-foods

The 100 trillion+ microorganisms that live in our gut are very important to our body functions. Digestion, metabolism, brain activity, mood, skin health, and the immune system are all influenced by the bacteria that lives in our digestive system.

But here’s the thing: we have good bugs and bad bugs in our gut. Bad bacteria can lead to the development of certain conditions and cancers, which means that outnumbering the good bugs is important. How do you get more good bugs? By adding fermented foods into your diet.

Adding beneficial bacteria (aka probiotics) to your diet can have a number of great benefits – and fermented foods are loaded with them! Here are some of the health benefits of fermented foods.

Benefits of Fermented Foods 

Fermented foods have lots of great benefits!

  • Boosts the nutritional value of food.
  • Helps break down food components like sugar and make food easier to digest.
  • Produces additional B Vitamins in food that did not contain them before it was fermented.
  • Allows for nutrients to be better absorbed and used by the body.
  • Helps increase movement in your bowels.
  • Reduces constipation.
  • Boosts your gut health after taking antibiotics.
  • Helps your body produce needed vitamins.
  • Helps balance the production of stomach acid.

Types of Fermented Foods

There are lots of great types of fermented foods, but the basic breakdown is vegetables, milk products, soy beans, and beverages. Here in Virginia, we’re lucky to have a number of local fermented food producers and local stores that stock fermented foods.

Kombucha

Kombucha is a fermented sweet tea. There are tons of kombucha makers, all who add their own flavors and spin. Locally, there is Ninja Kombucha and Blue Ridge Bucha. One thing to be wary of with kombucha is that it can be high in sugar, so make sure to watch the sugar level.

Kefir

Kefir is a fermented milk drink made with kefir “grains” and a yeast/bacterial fermentation starter. There’s also a non-milk version called water kefir. Think about it as a probiotic soda. Locally, you can find water kefir from Brewed Well. Brewed Well makes all kinds of great flavors – Blackberry, Hibiscus, Strawberry, etc. Old Church Creamery makes milked kefir locally as well. 

Kimchi

Kimchi is a Korean dish made from napa cabbage, radishes, scallions, and fish sauce. Locally, you can find kimchi from The Village Garden, who sells their products at the South of the James Farmers Market and from Wild Earth Ferments.

Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is an Eastern European dish made from finely shredded and fermented cabbage. Locally, you can find a myriad of different sauerkraut flavors (including “gut shots of the juice”). Wild Earth Farms and Farmstead Ferments both make exotic sauerkraut flavors that can be found at local farmers markets and Ellwood Thompsons.

Fermented Vegetables

The possibilities are endless when it comes to fermented veggies! The most popular types are green beans, carrots, cucumbers (lacto pickles), and salsa. Yep, salsa can be fermented! Locally you can find lacto fermented pickles at Ellwood Thompsons, Little Green House Grocery or other locally owned shops. The Carrot Top Farm makes fermented salsa – you can find them at the Ashland Farmers Market. There’s also a good chance you can grab a myriad of fermented veggies from Get Bubbly at the Manassas Farmers Market.

Miso

Miso is fermented bean paste. Most people are familiar with Japanese Miso soup, made from miso paste. You can find miso paste at Tan-A Market and a number of grocery stores around town. You can pick up a delicious bowl of Miso Soup at Sumo San, Grace Noodle, Level, or really any Japanese/Sushi place.

Tempeh

Tempeh is a fermented cake of soybeans and grains. You can purchase it at most grocery stores. You can find it on the menu at most vegetarian restaurants. Some Richmond restaurants that have it include Union Market, Ipanema, and Fresca on Addison. Ellwood Thompsons also serves it on their salad bar. Twin Oaks is a local Tofu producer that makes it. You can find their products in a number of stores.  Richmond Magazine has a great article on making it yourself.

Yogurt

Yogurt is a fermented milk product. It has lots of great benefits, including easing irritable bowel syndrome. When shopping for yogurt, beware. Mass produced flavored yogurts tend to be very high in sugar. One local yogurt maker to check out is Old Church Creamery.

Curious about these foods? You can find most of these fermented food makers or at least try some of these fermented foods at the Pickled & Fermented Festival on September 23.

If you don’t already consume fermented foods and want to start including them in your diet, start small first to see how your body reacts. Look for labels that indicate they have live cultures and buy local when you can. If the product has been processed, there will not be any good bacteria left – it cannot withstand processing. You can also make many of these products in your own at home. Check out Sandor Katz’s book, The Art of Fermentation for methods and recipes.