Fermented foods are foods that have been through a process of lactofermentation in which natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food creating lactic acid. This process preserves the food, and creates beneficial enzymes, b-vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, and various strains of probiotics. Today fermented foods are the new rage for their purported health benefits and because the fermented foods wind up filled with “friendly” bacteria they are advertised in probiotic products.
The bacteria “predigest” carbohydrates, making them easier for our guts to handle and for nutrients to be absorbed. For example, people that are lactose-intolerant can often eat yogurt because the lactose sugar has been partly converted by the bacteria. Some vegetables can benefit from the fermentation such as cabbage to sauerkraut because it increases glucosinolate compounds found in cruciferous vegetables.. Glucosinolate derivatives are known to lower the risk of some cancers.
But, as with other food fads, not all you read is true. Not all traditionally fermented (pickles, sauerkraut, etc.) foods contain probiotic bacteria. And even those that do may contain high amounts of added sugars or sodium. Most fermented foods you purchase at the grocery store in jars and cans have been pasteurized and cooked at high heat which kills all bacteria including friendly bacteria. Therefore, to retain fermented foods’ bacterial benefits, you will have to make your own!
You can make your own yogurt. However, many commercially available fermented dairy products do contain probiotics. Check the label! Make sure the label says “live cultures.”. Yogurt can also be a good source of calcium and vitamin D. But again, check the label because some yogurts are not made with milk fortified with Vitamin D. Another caution with yogurt, is the added sugar and calories with flavored yogurts or sugar substitutes.
One of the downsides of fermented foods such as pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, etc. is the high sodium levels. Look for the low-sodium alternative products when possible or make your own to control the salt.
Remember, if you want to join the fermented food trend, make sure you are getting the friendly “live culture” bacteria and the low sugar and sodium products.
For additional information regarding the benefits of fermented foods, talk to a registered dietician or nutritionist.
By: Janet Hunt
Janet Hunt is a Certified Personal Trainer and can be reached at 256-614-3530 to schedule an appointment.