It seems like every day, another scientific discovery is made showing the link between the bacteria in our gut and the health of the rest of our bodies. The best way to boost your gut bacteria is to consume nutrient- and probiotic-rich fermented foods. Here are just a few reasons why you should add them to your diet:
Fermented foods improve digestion. Fermenting our foods is sort of like pre-digesting them (sorry about the mental image!). That makes them easier to digest, and easier for our bodies to absorb their nutrients.
Fermentation actually makes foods more nutritious. On top of the fact that we can more easily absorb their nutrients, studies have shown that traditionally fermented dairy products actually provide more vitamins than conventional or even raw milk. Veggies, fruits, beans and grains also become more nutritious after they ferment.
Fermentation also helps get rid of anti-nutrients. Fermentation helps eliminate phytic acid, an anti-nutrient that hangs out in grains, beans, seeds and nuts. Reducing the phytic acid makes it easier for our guts to absorb minerals, so you get more bang for your buck.
Here are my five favorite fermented foods:
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Sauerkraut is finely cut fermented cabbage that is packed with vitamins C, B and K. It also contains a ton of probiotics, including leuconostoc, pediococcus, and lactobacillus. If you’re buying sauerkraut at the store instead of making your own, make sure to choose unpasteurized brands (they should be in the refrigerator aisle.) Pasteurization kills all the helpful bacteria.
Did you know the average South Korean eats around 40 pounds of kimchi every year? Kimchi is a fermented Korean side dish that’s usually made with cabbage, radish or cucumber. It’s flavor packed, filled with vitamin C and carotene, and can be eaten on its own or incorporated into a ton of different dishes.
Made from fermented soybeans, miso is a very good source of manganese, zinc and antioxidants. It’s often used in soup recipes, but it can also add flavor to other dishes, like my Miso Hummus.
Coconut yogurt is packed with probiotics, and since it’s non-dairy, it’s a lot easier to digest than conventional yogurt. Coconut is antiviral, anti-fungal and antibacterial, plus it's high in electrolytes, calcium, potassium and magnesium.
Pickles are filled with active bacterial cultures and enzymes. Like sauerkraut, make sure you purchase lacto-fermented pickles from the refrigerator section, not the kind made with vinegar — they may taste similar, but they don’t have the same health benefits. And remember to drink your pickle juice!