Sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, kefir, kombucha, yogurt, and miso. What do these foods and drinks have in common? They are all fermented and are a great source of probiotics, otherwise known as “good live bacteria”.
These probiotic rich foods act like gut soldiers to help boost immunity, improve digestion, and possibly aid in weight loss. Think of it as balancing your inner ecosystem. Fermentation is when good bacteria change food by secreting acids, enzymes and proteins. The best way to take in these good bacteria (probiotics) is through food first, with supplements coming in second. Our bodies rely on these helpful bacteria living in our gut and we can do our part to provide even more by eating fermented foods.
Here are some examples of fermented foods that we can add to our diets and give our body the assistance it needs to improve our digestion, immunity and keep our guts healthy.
Kimchi – is a Korean staple food is often eaten as a side dish with every meal in Korea. There are many varieties of kimchi, but the most common kimchi recipe is made from salted and fermented cabbage and radishes. Other ingredients can include garlic, ginger, chili peppers, and scallions. Kimchi is a good source of fiber as well as being rich in vitamin C and A, riboflavin, calcium, iron and gut boosting lactobacilli bacteria.
Yogurt - is made by adding healthy bacteria, such as Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus, to milk. Lactose, which is milk’s natural sugar, is basically consumed by the friendly microbes and in turn makes it easier to digest than regular dairy products - even if you’ve been lactose intolerant for years. This produces the sour like flavor and also thickens the yogurt. Gas, bloating and digestive issues that folks would have from regular dairy are much less likely with yogurt. Yogurt can be made from any type of milk including cow, sheep, goat, rice, coconut or soy.
Kombucha – is a fermented, sweetened tea made by using a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria & yeast) or a ‘kombucha mother’ starter. It has a tart taste and a vinegar-like smell and is slightly effervescent. It’s high in acid and low in calories. Sometimes called “the elixir of life”, some folks drink kombucha to help treat a variety of human illnesses such as cancer, low liver function and to help with digestion. To date, there is not enough hard evidence to prove such claims. Some experts suggest buying a commercially prepared and pasteurized version of the drink, because home brewing in non-sterile conditions can be risky.
Miso – is a staple in Japanese and Chinese diets. It is a strong, salty fermented paste that can be made from soybeans (most common), rice or barley plus salt and koji (a mold starter). Miso, known for it’s great umami flavor, comes in different colors. Usually the lighter color has a more mild flavor. Besides soup, miso can be used to make sauces, salad dressings, marinades, and more. Miso is known to be effective in eliminating toxins, aiding in digestion and detoxifying the body. When buying miso, spend the extra money and get the live enzyme-rich version and not a pasteurized version, which doesn’t provide you with the beneficial microorganisms. Miso is a complete protein because it contains all the essential amino acids and a great source of B vitamins.
Sauerkraut – is made by adding salt to sliced cabbage and allowing it to sit and ferment. Lactobacilli is a natural airborne bacteria that cultures on the raw cabbage leaves. The sour flavor is achieved when the bacteria ferments the sugars in the cabbage and forms lactic acid. Sauerkraut contains vitamins K, B and C. It’s high in calcium and magnesium, low in calories and a good source of dietary fiber, iron, potassium, folate, copper, and manganese. It’s been used to sooth the digestive tract and treat stomach ulcers.
Tempeh – is a nutty flavored, firm and chewy textured food. Tempeh is made by adding microbes to cooked soybeans. It's shaped into a cake-like form and you can see the whole soybeans throughout it. In comparison to tofu, which is also made from soybeans, tempeh is less processed and has more fiber and protein. This also makes it easier to digest for some folks than tofu. Tempeh has all the essential amino acids, which makes it a good source of protein for vegetarians.
Kefir – is very similar to yogurt, but in a drinkable style. It also has that tart flavor and the same probiotics and good yeast bacteria as yogurt. Like yogurt, it can also be made from any type of milk. Kefir “grains” (yeast/bacterial fermentation starter) are added to milk and the fermentation process begins. These grains range from white to yellow in color. During fermentation, like in yogurt, lactose is broken down and very little of it remains in the kefir. Studies have shown that besides boosting immunity, kefir helps the body absorb calcium, which helps with bone degeneration. Others say it also helps reduce inflammatory cells, which helps the body’s response to allergens.