Today I have a fun guest post lined up for you guys. My friend and fellow RD Helen from Food & Nonsense is here to talk to you about fermented foods. If you haven’t checked out Helen’s blog…definitely do so. She’s from the UK but is currently living in Bali, Indonesia with her hubby. I’ve actually been to Bali and it is so beautiful! I’m so jealous of her time there. She’s also a wealth of nutrition info and an all-around wonderful lady!
Hopefully you’ll learn something from her today!
Hey there Lean Green Bean readers!
My name is Helen and I’m a UK Registered Dietitian currently living in Bali. I blog over at Food & Nonsense where I share thoughts on nutrition related topics, my travels and the ongoing mission to keep my life healthy! I’m really excited that Lindsay has invited me here today – thank you so much for having me.
As a dietitian, I love to explore how current science fits with what’s ‘in Vogue’. Today I wanted to talk to you about some, not-so-new kids on the block that are making a comeback – fermented foods, and their probiotic powers.
Why take probiotics?
I think pretty much everybody has heard people banging on about the fabulous properties of probiotics (ahem). If you haven’t, a probiotic is the name given to anything we consume which contains “good” bacteria, i.e. the ones which are thought to provide us with some sort of health benefit.
There are around 100 TRILLION bacteria living in our bodies (what might they be planning?!). For the fact lovers out there, thats about ten times the number of our own human cells, or A LOT. Having a ‘healthy gut’ or one which contains the right balance of ‘good’ bacteria in our bowels is thought to be important for overall health, it’s a mutually beneficial relationship where the bacteria community:
- provides us with some essential nutrients
- supports our immune system
- prevents ‘bad bacteria’ (or ones which may cause us harm) from making us their home
If you’re anything like me, the marketing people can consider you a success, as when you think about probiotics, you automatically think of single serve yoghurt drinks. But there are other, more natural ways to include probiotics in your diet (who knew?!)…
Enter fermented foods.
The process of fermentation (using bacteria or yeast to process the sugars in food to form organic acids, carbon dioxide and/or alcohol) is not a new one. For years, humans have used the power of fermentation to make things like beer, bread, yoghurt and wine (mmmm wine). As well as these well known foods, people have also been fermenting foods which naturally contain ‘good bacteria’ and these have been making a comeback as ‘natural’ probiotics. Here’s a bit about about the health benefits of 3 of the most popular fermented foods doing the rounds at the moment and tips on how you can include them as part of a healthy balanced diet.
The traditional version of this probiotic drink is made by adding Kefir grains to the milk of cows, goats or sheep. However, if you’re not keen on milk, it’s possible to make a dairy free version using ‘Water Kefir Grains’. The grains contain a complementary mix of lactic acid bacteria, yeasts, fats, proteins and sugars known as a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeasts). One of the more impressive ‘natural’ probiotics, recent research has suggested Kefir and it’s components may help to support the immune system, improve gut health and aid in blood sugar control and reducing cholesterol. Interesting! Preliminary human trials have seen some positive results, but larger, longer trials are needed before we know exactly how (and if) this translates to our health.
Want to try Kefir?
It is possible to buy pre-made kefir, however, it’s super easy (and a bit cheaper) to make your own! SCOBY starter packs can be found in health food stores or online and it’s worth experimenting with different recipes (like this or this) to find your favourite flavour.
Kimchi & Sauerkraut
These fermented cabbage dishes have an ancient heritage. Korean Kimchi and German Sauerkraut are both based on the same principle of fermentation but are slightly different due to the way they are flavoured and served. Both involve leaving cabbage mixed with vegetables, spices, salt, sugar, water and brine to ferment in air tight containers over 3-6 days (depending on your taste). They have been said to support gut function and lower risk factors for heart disease and diabetes such as cholesterol and fasting blood glucose. Preliminary human trials have shown some mixed but interesting results. A recent study showed a ‘high’ Kimchi diet to be more effective than a ‘low’ Kimchi diet for reducing fasting blood glucose and for improving cholesterol profiles in 100 healthy volunteers. However, this was a small study, of very short duration and there are still very few human studies out there. Larger, well designed human studies are needed before firm conclusions about the benefits of their use can be made.
Want to try Kimchi or Sauerkraut?
Both can be easily incorporated into your diet by using them as a condiment or adding them to omelettes, soups, stews or rice. You can usually find pre-made versions in supermarkets or health food stores, or, if you’re feeling adventurous, you could try one of the great recipes available on the internet (like this or this). Experiment to find the flavours you like.
Kombucha or ‘mushroom tea’ is a fermented probiotic drink which is made by fermenting a SCOBY in sweetened tea. It has a sweet & sour taste and unless it’s made properly, it can smell a little bit like the socks you left at the bottom of your gym bag! The ‘hippest’ fermented food around, the list of benefits and health claims associated with Kombucha is long. It includes the usual, improved gut health and immune system support, right through to more ambitious claims about cancer fighting properties and curing arthritis. However, there are no human studies on the health benefits of consuming Kombucha. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any, but unfortunately, none can be confirmed.
Want to try Kombucha?
Kombucha is now widely available in health food shops and supermarkets. It is possible to brew your own, but if you choose to do so, it’s wise to seek help and be careful (see below)!
A word of warning….
There is a possibility that Kombucha is not safe to drink for all people. There have been some reported cases of toxicity and metabolic acidosis (where there is too much acid in the body) which can be directly linked to consumption of the tea. These cases have been linked to ‘home brewed’ Kombucha and have occurred in people with pre-existing health conditions or after excessive consumption of the beverage. It is therefore advisable that you only drink Kombucha in moderation. If you have any pre-existing health conditions, it would probably be wise to get your probiotic hit elsewhere.
Probiotics aren’t a ‘magic bullet’ when it comes to health and we still don’t fully understand how they impact on health and disease. However, including some probiotic rich fermented foods in your diet has the potential to add a healthy component!*
*Probiotics are generally considered safe for the general population, however people with a suppressed or poor functioning immune system should speak with their doctor or dietitian before including them in their diet.
Are you a fan of fermented foods?