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Fermented Foods and Friendly Bacteria

Kombucha. Sauerkraut. Kefir. Kimchi. Miso. Yogurt. Tempeh. What do these foods have in common? They are all fermented foods.

Fermentation is a process of food preservation in which bacteria or yeast are used to break down a food’s sugar or starch network. As a result, these shortened saccharide chains are easier to digest. A by-product of the fermentation process is alcohol or acid production. This acidic byproduct then preserves the food by lowering the pH value effectively inhibiting growth of harmful bacteria. Consequentially, these foods have a much longer shelf-life than they would without fermentation.

Our bodies house over 10,000 different types of microorganisms, most of which are “friendly” bacteria that live in our gastrointestinal or GI tract. This delicate ecosystem of bacteria is known as the gut microbiome. When you consume fermented foods with live cultures (the active bacteria or yeast used to ferment) you also consume their “friendly” bacteria helping to diversify (and multiply!) your gut microbiome.

Over the past decade, a great deal of research related to the digestive system has been centered around the benefits, role, and effects of our diet on the gut microbiome. Most of which is still a mystery. Researchers have discovered that these GI bacteria help our bodies in many ways. Examples include increasing immunity, producing vitamins B and K which are essential for red blood cell production and function, aiding in digestion and absorption of nutrients from food, and even influencing sleep and mood. Additionally, research shows that decreased diversity in the microbiome is associated with an increased risk for developing obesity.

Boost your microbiome health by including fermented foods in your diet like kimchi, miso, kombucha, fermented pickles, or sauerkraut. Alternatively, many people use probiotic (contain specific good bacteria) or prebiotic supplements (nutrients essential for good bacteria). While most commercial brands are safe to use the FDA does not monitor or regulate what goes into supplements, so it is important to do your own research to make sure your probiotic won’t cause any adverse side effects.

Additional methods of improving your GI health include consuming a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains as well as reducing intake of refined sugar and processed foods.

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