Pickled cabbage, blue cheese and cured olives may sound the shopping wishlist of an old aged pensioner, but fermented foods are making a resurgence on the health circuit for a number of ailments.
Fermented foods have long been a recommendation of gut experts as they are good for people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and they were also cited as being a great preventative food for type 2 diabetes.
Researchers from Cambridge revealed that products such as yoghurt, fromage frais and cottage cheese, could reduce the risk of developing the condition by 25%.
Quoting Alison Clark, of the British Dietetic Association, it reported: "Between 70 and 80% of our immune cells are in the gut. Fermented foods stimulate bacteria that help with immunity. So for someone who suffers with lots of coughs and colds, they could help."
On HuffPost Taste, Amanda Feifer wrote: "Fermentation predates written history, and probably predates human history and the history of all of the more complex forms of life on the planet. It has definitely been in popular use by humans for millennia and there are even animals that intentionally ferment their food (here's looking at you, pentailed tree shrew)."
So what are fermented foods?
Anything that is aged or cured is fermented, writes Lessley Anderson on Chow, and "essentially, it's a process in which food is exposed to bacteria and yeasts, either via inoculation or naturally through the air. Beneficial microorganisms beat out the kind that can kill you, and eat up the carbohydrates in the food.
"The results are interesting flavors, textures, and smells. Before refrigeration, curing meats, pickling vegetables, and clabbering milk was the only way to extend the life of perishables. And if fermented foods haven’t been cooked, they are really good for you (cooking kills off the beneficial bacteria)."
The reasons why these are good for you is because some contain microbes that help you to absorb the food more easily and some they helped promote the growth of good bacteria, because they contain lactic acid.
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Fruits and vegetables are great for digestion because most are high in fiber, King says. Bechtold adds that the fiber in produce has an added benefit of regulating bowel movements.
Whole grain foods, including brown rice and wheat, also contain lots of fiber, making them another top food group good for digestion, King says. (Obviously this advice may not apply for people with chronic conditions like celiac disease or other gluten sensitivities, since wheat contains gluten.)
While all fruits and vegetables are generally good for digestion, bananas in particular are great because they don't irritate the stomach. That's why they're part of the "BRAT Diet" for vomiting or diarrhea -- that is, the bananas, rice, applesauce and dry toast diet. "Those are the four things that tend to be the easiest tolerated amongst people and they tend to be bland, so they won't irritate the stomach like other foods," King says. They are also good for replacing the body's electrolytes, she adds.
"Water is excellent for digestion, and that's one thing I think people don't drink enough of," King says. Water helps the digestive process because it helps move things through the intestines.
Spices and herbs like ginger, turmeric and peppermint are great for settling an upset stomach, King says. Try drinking ginger or peppermint tea, or sucking on a peppermint lozenge.
Probiotics are good for the digestive system because they contain good bacteria that crowds out any bad bacteria that you may have in your gut, King says. You want to look specifically for foods that contain live bacteria, such as yogurt and kefir.
Prebiotic foods contain a type of fiber the probiotics feed off of to multiply, "so it’s good food for your good bacteria," King says. Prebiotics are found in foods such as asparagus, onions, lentils and whole grains.
Spicy foods can be bad for digestion because they may trigger acid reflux symptoms for some people, King notes.
Similarly to spicy foods, those containing caffeine can also trigger acid reflux, as it relaxes the esophageal sphincter -- the flap that keeps what you've eaten down in your stomach -- causing food to come back up into the esophagus, King says. What about coffee, which is high in caffeine yet always seems to help us "go?" King says coffee is powerful for triggering peristalsis -- the term for movement of food through the intestines -- it does contain caffeine, which means it can still cause reflux. But it could help someone who is struggling with constipation, she notes.
Like spicy and caffeinated foods, acidic picks like soda can also trigger reflux, King says.
Fatty foods can induce heartburn and diarrhea due to poor absorption of fat, Bechtold says. King adds that you can tell if your diet contains too many high-fat foods because your stool will float to the top of the toilet. This is a sign that you might want to cut back on the saturated fat.
Alcohol also relaxes the esophageal sphincter, which can then trigger acid reflux, King says. Bechtold adds that it can induce inflammation in the stomach.
Dairy can induce bloating, Bechtold says, as well as abdominal discomfort, particularly for people who are lactose intolerant.
In this health video you will learn how to understand basic digestion.
Writing on Doctor Oz, Mao Shing Ni said: "Eating fermented foods, which have effectively been predigested by helpful microorganisms, is easier on the stomach than eating the same foods raw – contributing to better absorption of nutrients. Keep in mind: you can ingest tons of nutrients, but unless your body actually absorbs them, they’re useless to you.
"For instance, cabbage is extremely rich in nutrients, but in raw form, it can be difficult to digest and often causes gas. When cabbage is fermented in the form of kimchi, however, it is much easier to digest and thus, we can more readily assimilate its high amounts of vitamin K and C, as well as the polyphenols and antioxidants. Dairy and hearty vegetables are also made more nutritious and readily digestible by fermentation. Yogurt, kefir and cheese lose most of their lactose in the process of fermentation, which can contribute to easier digestion."
FERMENTED FOODS TO INTRODUCE INTO YOUR DIET
- Sourdough Bread
- Cultured Butter
- Crème fraîche
- Fish Sauce (Nam Pla)