Fermented foods have been around for a long time and are enjoyed by people worldwide. These foods are made by letting natural sugars and starches ferment, which creates good bacteria and other probiotics. The idea of bacteria living in your intestines may sound like a bad thing (or even alarming), but actually, your body requires these bacteria for digestion, among other reasons. The good bacteria in fermented foods can even help prevent you from getting sick from other bacteria!
Some fermented foods that people commonly eat include miso, kimchi, kefir, pickles, sauerkraut, yogurt, and sourdough bread.
In today’s busy world, it’s important to make healthy choices, and adding fermented foods to your diet can be a simple (and tasty) way to do that. So let’s get the facts straight by taking a closer look at ten health benefits of eating fermented foods. Before you know it, you may eat yogurt for breakfast and sauerkraut for a snack!
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10 Improve Your Gut Health
The first way fermented foods can benefit your health is through your gut! Your “gut” is a common term for your gastrointestinal tract (GI), including your mouth, esophagus, intestines, stomach, and rectum. Your GI tract is interconnected with many other systems within your body, so it’s important that it functions efficiently.
The beneficial bacteria in fermented foods, such as probiotics, can help improve gut health by promoting a healthy balance of gut microbiota. This can help support your gut’s ability to absorb nutrients and protect against harmful bacteria.
Gut health is crucial to your overall health and ties into several other health benefits.
9 Protect Your Heart Health
Fermented foods have been linked to improved heart health, including lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. This may be due to fermented foods’ anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which can help reduce oxidative stress and lower the risk of heart disease.
The probiotics in fermented foods have been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol levels, which are often associated with heart disease. Blood pressure, another risk factor for heart disease, can be improved by adding fermented foods to your diet.
Remember that fermented foods can’t do it all on their own; they must be part of a healthy diet and lifestyle to provide heart health benefits.
8 Improve Your Nutrient Absorption
When we eat fermented foods, the probiotics in those foods help maintain an important balance of bacteria. When that balance is disrupted, it can sometimes lead to gut dysbiosis. This condition causes a decreased number of healthy bacteria, making it difficult for our bodies to absorb necessary nutrients from food.
Fermented foods can improve nutrient absorption by breaking down the nutrients into more easily digestible forms. For example, fermented dairy products, such as yogurt and kefir, contain lactase, which helps break down lactose (the sugar in milk) into simpler sugars that are easier for the body to absorb. When milk is fermented to make yogurt, the yogurt’s bacteria break down the milk’s lactose. This can make it easier for people who are lactose intolerant to digest and absorb essential nutrients in the milk.
Another example of fermented food that increases your nutrient absorption is sauerkraut. When sauerkraut ferments, the cabbage breaks down, increasing the vitamin C and providing our bodies with far more nutrients than raw cabbage. And it tastes delicious!
7 Try Weight Loss or Maintaining a Healthy Weight
Fermented foods are low in calories and high in fiber, making them a good choice for weight management. Additionally, the beneficial bacteria in fermented foods can help regulate metabolism and control hunger, leading to weight loss.
For example, probiotics have been shown to reduce the production of the hunger hormone ghrelin and increase the production of the hormone peptide YY, which signals fullness. In other words, you may not feel quite so hungry, and you may feel fuller than you normally would.
It is essential to talk with a doctor or health professional to make a responsible and well-thought-out decision before making any drastic dietary shifts to lose weight.
6 Reduce Your Inflammation
Fermented foods have anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce chronic inflammation. Inflammation is a natural response of your body to injury or infection. Still, when it happens chronically, it can lead to heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and several other serious health issues.
Along with probiotics, fermented foods are typically full of antioxidants. Antioxidants help protect cells by neutralizing free radicals (unstable molecules that can lead to oxidative stress and increased inflammation).
According to a study by Stanford University in 2021, eating a diet full of fermented foods is much better for inflammation than high-fiber foods that are typically thought of as healthy, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and nuts.
5 Improve Your Overall Digestion
Fermented foods can help improve digestion by reducing symptoms of bloating, constipation, and abdominal pain. This is because the beneficial bacteria in fermented foods can help regulate bowel movements and support the gut’s ability to absorb water—the bacteria, such as lactic acid, help to maintain your gut balance.
Another benefit relates to your body’s production of digestive enzymes. Eating fermented foods can increase the production of these enzymes, allowing you to break down food more effectively and reduce bloating. Increased production of digestive enzymes can also keep your bowel movements regular and reduce constipation.
While these effects may not occur overnight, and everyone’s digestive system is different, incorporating fermented foods as a part of your diet is a good step toward improved digestion.
4 Improve Your Bone Health
Fermented foods are a good source of calcium and other minerals important for bone health. For example, kefir is a fermented food with two crucial nutrients for bone health—vitamin K and calcium. Another fermented food that can improve your bone health is yogurt. Yogurt is rich in calcium and phosphorus, both key to good bone health. And all fermented foods have probiotics that promote your body’s absorption of calcium.
Fermented foods can contain all the following nutrients that improve overall bone health:
- Dietary fiber
- Vitamin K2
As a part of a balanced diet with regular exercise, fermented foods can improve your bone health in a big way.
3 Boost Your Immune System
The next benefit on our list may seem a little counterintuitive. Bacteria are bad for us, right? After all, we wash our hands with antibacterial soap and take antibiotics when sick. Well, bacteria are not always bad for us; sometimes, it’s actually the opposite.
Fermented foods contain beneficial bacteria that can help boost the immune system by strengthening the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT). The GALT is an important part of the immune system, and you want it to be as healthy as possible. The probiotics in fermented foods can also help stimulate your body’s production of antibodies and other immune cells, which can help fight off infections and diseases.
By including fermented foods such as yogurt in your diet, you may get sick less often, can recover more quickly when you do, and have improved overall health. Just thinking about it makes me want to eat a bowl of kimchi!
2 Get Glowing Skin
Fermented foods can improve skin health in a few different ways. They contain probiotics and antioxidants, which can:
- Protect against oxidative stress
- Maintain your skin’s natural barrier function
- Reduce inflammation in your skin
One example is kombucha. Okay, it’s technically a drink, but it is fermented! Kombucha contains organic acids as well as antioxidants that neutralize free radicals. Another fermented food with skin health benefits is sauerkraut, which contains vitamin C. Vitamin C boosts collagen production, keeping your skin looking youthful and less wrinkled.
Miso is a traditional Japanese food made from soybeans, salt, and koji (think miso soup). This mixture is fermented for months (and sometimes years). Besides being delicious, miso is highly concentrated with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, all of which can help protect your skin from UV rays and, ultimately, sun damage.
1 Positively Impact Your Mental Health
There are a few different ways that fermented foods can improve not just your physical health but your mental health as well. Fermented foods have been linked to improved mental health, including reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety. This may be due to the role of gut bacteria in producing neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, which play a role in regulating mood.
Other connections include some of the health benefits we have already mentioned. After all, who wouldn’t feel happier with less inflammation, constipation, and illness? Fermented foods can also help regulate the gut-brain axis, the connection between the gut and the brain. The live bacteria in fermented foods (probiotics) have been proven to regulate your mood and reduce anxiety symptoms.
And that’s not all; probiotics in fermented food may be able to regulate your neurotransmitter levels as well. Finally, with regulated stress and reduced inflammation, fermented foods can actually help you sleep better. Improved sleep can have a huge impact on your mental health and your well-being overall.