Benefits of including fermented foods for health

I have highlighted the gut ecosystem and its importance many times, and also mentioned how we neglect our inner ecosystem. The thing is trillions of bacteria live within our intestines. Many of the good ones that keep us healthy. 

Indians have a way of destroying this ecosystem with the way we eat, I keep my blogs Indian-centric (though I’m happy if I have anyone outside India reading them) because we Indians eat in a completely different way to the West. Our diets are full of sugary foods, way too much-refined oil, we rely on medication, too much salt; and lately processed and refined foods. These destroy this inner ecosystem. 

While we focus on the macronutrients and micronutrients from our food, keep up with moderate amounts of movement, catch up on our 8 hours of sleep and keep up a healthy lifestyle, we fail to feed the gut bugs with the right food (mainly fibre) and also create a host of other good strains of probiotics to keep our human-machine chugging and make our guts happy. This is where we need fermented foods to help us.

Benefits of eating fermented foods?

Good bacteria coming in from fermented foods, typically what we call lactic acid bacteria is much needed to strengthen our gut. These microorganisms contain a new pool of nutrients, vitamins, enzymes all integral to keeping our digestive system healthy. So why do we include fermented foods in our diets? 

  1. Weight loss – I have many clients coming to mean, who just cannot get their weight to move, many times it’s a function of their poorly functioning gut. Consuming fermented foods will help not only fix the gaps and get your metabolism going, but cut back your sugar cravings as well.
  2. Mental well-being – Fermented foods produce by-products that impact the neurotransmitters and help with happy moods.
  3. Immune system – Our gut barrier is our immune barrier, and it’s is important to keep the gut barrier intact by nourishing it with the right probiotics. The microbes in our gut control the responsiveness of the entire immune system. They dictate the small processes of immune response like a fever, to a larger response like determining how long you will stay with a cold. A good microbiome is positively correlated with a strong immune system.
  4. Nutrient absorption – This is something that is aided when probiotic-rich foods are introduced to one’s diet.

India and fermentation

As Indians know it today, fermentation via our diets is added through yogurt (dahi), buttermilk (chass) and pickles (made using lots of spices and refined vegetable oil) every day. A sweet substance known as soma and sura (wine/beer) was the first fermented products made in India by Vedic Aryans (c. 1500 bc). Soma was a plant-based product made using the juices of plants and barley. In the Rig Veda, it states that this mix was fermented for fifteen days. Sura, on the other hand, appears in the Yajur Veda. It was prepared with germinated paddy, germinated barley and parched rice. Yeast was used as a fermenting agent. The use of dahi or yogurt (origins 6000 to 4000 bc) is also mentioned in the Rig Veda. Similarly, in north India, around the time of Holi, the fermented drink kanji is very popular. Darker carrots are used to make it, because before the seventeenth century, only the darker ones were available until farmers started using hybrids. This variety is also used for the anthocyanins present in them, which have health-boosting, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. 

In the post-Vedic period, different agents were added for fermentation. In whole grains: rice and barley were used; in fruits: grape, palm, mango, wood-apple; and in agents: sugarcane, lime, liquor and honey. I have dealt with this topic to paint a picture of fermentation in our Indian culture which dates back to our ancestors.

Types of fermented foods

When it comes to fermented foods, my advice is to go in for variety. Know this, you will need to know how to eat them and how much to eat or drink during the day. When it comes to fermented foods, do understand the ones I am referring to here are the ones that still contain live strains of bacteria. Here is a list of what you can choose from: 

  1. Quick pickles – Soaked in saltwater brine. These are lacto-fermented pickles, easy to make. They just require a 24-hour ferment in saltwater brine.
  2. Sauerkraut – What the Germans call ‘sour cabbage’ fermented over 7-21-28 days or longer. This involves a technique, so best to refer to my books for this. Here is a link to buy my book The Detox Diet.
  3. Kimchi – The preparation again comes under the lacto-fermented type of preparation. Made from napa cabbage usually, but many people are using just cabbage to make them. I find that kimchi suits our Indian palette as it’s a bit spicy. (can be made to taste).
  4. Kanji or Kvass – A probiotic drink made with water and masalas with salt. Fermented for 3 days. While I tell my clients they can use beetroot all year round to make it. It is native to winters in the North and made with black/purple carrots. Kvass which is a Russian name made with sauerkraut juice, rick her in probiotics than a kanji.
  5. Kefir – One can use the kefir grains (a combination of bacteria and yeast) to make non-dairy kefir. I use it to make coconut water kefir.
  6. Kombucha – I would like to say it give you some beneficial bacteria, but also the sugar that is left in the drink. So for IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and IBD (Irritable Bowel Disorder), this may not be the best choice.
  7. Sauerkraut juice – The brine or lactic acid that is retained when making sauerkraut.
  8. Miso paste – A paste made with either soybean and or grain, has an umami flavour. Typically many varieties exist: dark, light, white; can be used in soups, gravies, chutneys, dal.
  9. Rejuvelac – Made by fermenting grain and water, it’s like a tonic and a by-product of the sprouting of grain process.
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