Fermented foods have been around since ancient times and are found in cultures around the world, from Roman sauerkraut to India lassi to Korean kimchi. Just as fermented yeasts are used to make wine, sugars and starches are fermented with lactic acid to produce bacteria such as lactobacillus and bifidobacteria. This process is called lacto-fermentation.
How do fermented foods help my health?
These beneficial bacteria help create beneficial enzymes, produce B vitamins, increase the bioavailability of certain minerals, and produce the short-chain fatty acids that are necessary for gut health.
Which fermented foods improve gut health?
Even though a few of these contain soy (which can be a problematic food for many people), note that soy foods have been found to be safe in their fermented form.
Can I make my own fermented foods?
You might want to consider making your own fermented foods rather than relying on store-bought products. Since fermentation is a natural process that takes a long time (or at least, “long” in terms of commercial food manufacturing time) and may have varied results, commercial food producers have tried to speed up and homogenize their fermented foods.
In addition, they often use pasteurization which then defeats the whole purpose of fermented foods, as heat destroys beneficial enzymes and bacteria. Be sure to watch out for pasteurized yogurt with added cultures—better to eat cultured dairy products that were cultured from the beginning.
Likewise, olives and pickles that have been pasteurized and stored in salt and vinegar won’t offer as many benefits as those that have been lacto-fermented.
Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet by Sally Fallon is a great resource to try your hand at fermented foods.
Is there any problems with eating lots of fermented foods?
With truly fermented foods, it may be best to start by eating very small servings to avoid die-off and detoxification reactions. You may also want to include a variety of these types of foods in your diet to get the benefits of consuming a mix of microorganisms.
If you have issues with yeast, SIBO, or leaky gut, you may want consult with your healthcare providers.
How do prebiotics help my gut?
In addition to preserving food, the fermentation process creates prebiotic foods that help maintain healthy levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Why are prebiotics important? There are over 50 different types of bacteria in our colon, and these bacteria ferment soluble fibers such as inulin, fructooligosaccharides (FOS), and resistant starch (RS) to form acids such as butyric acid, propionate acid, and acetate. Because our body is so smart, it designed our gut cells to use these acids as fuel for the gut cells. And happy cells lead to a healthy gut lining.
FOS or Fructooligosaccharides
With FOS as fuel, a well-fed army of friendly bacteria such as bifidobacterium and lactobacilli can compete with pathogenic bacteria, thereby effectively slowing their growth and keeping our gut healthy.
Inulin comes from flowering plants such as chicory, onions, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes (also called sun chokes), garlic, etc. The oligosaccharides created by the breakdown of inulin are called FOS or short chains of fructose.
Maybe now you can appreciate how important foods like garlic and onions really are for our gut health! If you find you have an issue with these super foods, you might need to reduce the consumption of sulfur containing foods.
Resistant Starch.(RS) is kind of a “mutt” formed from starch and fiber. Instead of being turned into glucose, RS travels to the colon intact. There, it can feed our gut bacteria.
What are the types of Resistant Starch?
- RS found within plant cell walls: partially milled beans, grains, and seeds
- RS that is indigestible raw due to its high amylose content: potatoes, unripe bananas, and plantains (these starches become accessible with cooking and then act like a normal starch)
- RS that has been cooked and then cooled: potatoes, grains, and beans
- RS that is in man-made ingredients: “hi-maize resistant starch,” potato flakes, bean flakes
What does Resistant Starch do?
RS feeds our gut bacteria so that they in turn create the short-chain fatty acids that keep our gut cells healthy. Happy cells absorb minerals and create vitamins. Another huge bonus? Happy gut cells don’t turn into leaky gut.
Resistant starch improves blood sugar and insulin response, lowers cholesterol and triglycerides, increases the ability to feel full, and reduces fat storage.
In addition, RS may help with mineral absorption. A study by the Children’s Nutrition Research Center found that for baby piglets, a meal with 16.4% of RS resulted in greater absorption of calcium and iron. The researchers only tested the absorption rate of a few minerals, but I believe that this technique would also help with other minerals and that RS would help humans with mineral absorption as well.
Another bonus, studies by the American Society for Clinical Nutrition found that 50 grams of RS resulted in significant reduction in post-meal sugar and insulin levels while creating a feeling of satiety.
How often can I use resistant starch?
You might want to start with a much lower amount and working up to 50 grams so you don’t get a die-off reaction (or ill effects from toxins being released by dying bacteria).
It might also be possible that you can use RS as an indication of the health of your GI system. If there is an issue with your gut, you may respond negatively to RS and experience gas, bloating, etc. and makes sense since RS helps fight “bad” bacteria by feeding the good ones which can help alleviate many health issues.
Not all dietary fibers are prebiotics, but all prebiotics are dietary fibers.
There are two types of fibers: soluble and insoluble. The simple difference is that soluble fiber absorbs water, whereas insoluble does not.
What does fiber do?
We all know we should be consuming lots of fiber to help move food gracefully through our digestive system.
Plant fibers (called cellulose) are classified as polysaccharides and consist of chains of glucose held together by indigestible links. Since we cannot break down these links, fiber moves through the gut undisturbed.
This slows down the digestive process and provides bulk to our stools, which helps generate enough downward pressure to allow for quality bowel movements. In addition, gut bacteria love fiber and create vitamins for us as a thank-you gift.
Asa with all prebiotics, fiber help feed our healthy gut bacteria.
How does fiber help my health?
Soluble fiber such as what’s in oats and beans is broken down into a viscous or “slushy” form that’s really good at lowering LDL cholesterol and toxic wastes and normalizing blood sugar and insulin levels. According to the Linus Pauling Institute,
“Large prospective cohort studies consistently report inverse associations between consumption of diets rich in fiber and risks of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes mellitus.
A review of the most recent meta-analyses of observational studies suggests that dietary fiber consumption is inversely associated with the risk of cancer of the esophagus, stomach, colon, pancreas, ovary, and breast.
Both consumption of fiber-rich diets and supplementation with soluble gel-forming fibers could help improve glycemic control in individuals with type 1 or type 2 diabetes mellitus.”
How much fiber should I consume?
The Linus Pauling Institute has recommendations for daily intake. For those with issues with probiotic foods or blood sugar issues, 3 grams of mixed fiber (soluble/insoluble) to each meal might be beneficial.
Remember to start slowly if you supplement.