Zoe Blarowski writing on food storage

Health and energy are vital components to living an independent life and avoiding the cost of drugs and medical care. What you eat is an important part of your wellbeing and including fermented foods in your diet is a simple, low-cost way to improve your health.

Fermented foods contain beneficial bacteria known as probiotics. These keep your gastrointestinal tract running at peak efficiency. And research shows that a healthy mix of gut bacteria is linked to better health…from improved digestion to reduced allergies.

Highly processed foods that are low in fibre and high in sugar and additives can take a toll on your digestive system. Eating probiotic foods will help heal your gut from the inside out.

You don’t need to rely on expensive probiotic pills either. Including a small amount of fermented foods at each meal is actually preferable because they can contain up to 100 times more probiotics than a supplement.

In fact, you don’t even need to buy fermented foods. They’re easy to make on your own.

Preparing fermented foods at home has the added bonus of increasing your self-reliance and breaking away from commercially processed food.

What Are Fermented Foods?

A fermented food is any food that contains live, active bacteria. These bacteria are destroyed by heating, which means pickles that are pasteurized and sealed are not a fermented food.

People have used fermentation for thousands of years to make food more digestible, less toxic, easier to preserve, and more delicious.

Many traditionally fermented foods have fallen out of favor with the rise of sterile food processing, but science is rediscovering the benefits of live, fermented foods.

How Do Fermented Foods Benefit Your Health?

Bacteria are a vital part of your gut health. For every cell in your body, there are 10 bacterial cells. That means 90 percent of a human body is made up of bacteria.

Good populations of beneficial bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract will help digest food, absorb nutrients, and fight off harmful bacteria and fungi such as Clostridium difficile or Candida.

The following are some of the benefits of fermented foods:

  • Increased nutrients

Fermentation breaks down cell walls and makes nutrients, such as vitamins A and C, more available. The fermentation process also produces nutrients of its own, including vitamin K and B vitamins.

  • Easier digestion 

Various foods contain natural compounds that make them difficult to digest, such as soy beans. But fermenting soy beans into foods like tofu, tempeh or miso makes them easy to digest and more nutritious.

  • Improved immune function

Research has linked the consumption of probiotics to a reduction in flu and cold symptoms as well as allergic diseases. This is likely due to the fact your gastrointestinal tract contains about 80 percent of your immune system.

  • Reduced toxins

A 2009 study added the common insecticide chloropyrifos to kimchi, a popular Korean fermented cabbage dish. After nine days, the chloropyrifos was completely degraded. Researchers concluded bacteria in the kimchi were able to digest the pesticide and use it for energy.

  • Treatment of diseases

Studies show various health conditions can benefit from probiotic therapy, including diarrhea, gastroenteritis, inflammatory bowel disease and cancer. Research is ongoing to determine recommended strains of bacteria and dosages for these conditions.

What Are the Best Probiotic Foods to Eat?

You can either buy or make your own fermented foods.

If you buy them, make sure the ingredients list live, active cultures. These live ferments will be found in the refrigerated section of your grocery store. Avoid products that are dried or in non-refrigerated jars as these will not contain active probiotic bacteria.

A quick list of fermented foods to look out for includes:

  • Sauerkraut

    Sauerkraut

    ©iStock.com/zeleno

  • Kimchi

    Kimchi

    ©iStock.com/chengyuzheng

  • Natto

    Nattou

    ©iStock.com/AlexandreGibo

  • Miso

    Miso

    ©iStock.com/FotografiaBasica

  • Tempeh

    Tempeh

    ©iStock.com/PoppyB

  • Kefir

    Kefir

    ©iStock.com/princessdlaf

  • Yogurt

    Yoghurt

    ©iStock.com/Karisssa

  • Kombucha

    Kombucha

    ©iStock.com/bhofack2

Store-bought ferments are a good option, although many would argue the ones you make yourself are far superior.

Fermenting your own foods will provide you with locally-grown bacteria suited to your environment, rather than commercially produced strains.

Home ferments will also save you money. Buying vegetables or other ingredients to make your own ferments is often much cheaper than already-made products. Or even better, grow your own fermenting vegetables.

Fermentation is a straight-forward process that doesn’t require any special equipment. Many excellent resources are available to guide you through it, such as The Art of Fermentation, by Sandor Ellix Katz, or check out Organic Authority on how to get started.

P.S. Discover how you can enjoy a more laidback, authentic, independent way of life in Truth & Plenty. Sign up below to have it delivered – free of charge – to your email inbox.

Image: ©iStock.com/Amarita

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