The Health Benefits of Fermented Foods

Fermented Foods Week: Monday 27th October – Sunday 2nd November 2014

If you haven’t gotten into fermented foods yet – do yourself a favour, set aside a little bit of time one weekend and get your fermenting on.   Learning how to make your own fermented foods and drinks are an easy, rewarding and economical way you can improve your health, by giving your digestive system a healing treat.

Fermented foods have been used for thousands of years, and our ancestors quickly worked out that they were onto a good thing (discovering the secret to making alcohol was probably the most popular step!).  However, alcohol-production aside, the fermenting of foods to enhance the taste, texture, shelf-life and nutrient content of the original food led to some form of fermentation being practiced in practically every ancient civilization – from Asia, to the Americas, to Europe and Africa.

So, what is so great about fermented foods, and why is it a good idea to include them in our diet?   Apart from providing a wonderful nutritional boost, fermented foods contain the added bonus of ‘probiotics’ – ie, the ‘good bacteria’ that colonise our digestive system.   These good bacteria help to keep our digestive tract lining healthy strong and moving as it should be, they help produce vitamins,  support our immune system balance, and assist in preventing ‘bad bacteria’ from overrunning the gut.  There are many different species and strains of probiotic, and each type can have its own health-enhancing effects, which is why it is a good idea to include probiotic-rich foods from a variety of different sources.  Particularly in this day and age of frequent antibiotic use (which wipes out the good bacteria with the bad – recent research suggests for up to 6 months afterwards), incorrect diet, certain medications and stress, looking to the health of your gut is even more important than ever.  Always remember – ‘the gut is the seat of health’.

Some easy fermented foods to start including in your diet can be as easy as:

  • Sauerkraut (German fermented cabbage)
  • Plain, unsweetened, full-fat yoghurt
  • Kefir – see Naturopath Allison Mitchell’s easy to follow instructions here
  • Kombucha (fermented tea) – can be bought in health-food/organic stores, or you can make your own.

Are there any times when fermented foods are NOT a good idea?

Yes, in certain circumstances too many fermented foods can actually cause problems.  This is because they are naturally high in a compound called histamine, which is highly inflammatory to the body.  Sometimes, due to an imbalance in the body’s ability to clear this compound (known as ‘histamine intolerance’), histamine can build up and potentially trigger symptoms such as wheezing, itching, gut upsets or hives.  However, this doesn’t happen in everyone, and is usually only a temporary condition.  Find out more about histamine intolerance here.


Fermented food, kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut, yoghurt

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