Throughout the course of history, various cultures and civilizations have used fermentation as a way of preserving perishable foods that would not last in the warmer weather conditions. Fermentation preserves food because the organisms that are being cultivated, do not allow the growth of other bacteria that would otherwise spoil the food. The presence of bacteria and yeast keep a selective environment that stops the growth of unwanted organisms and supports preservation of food.
Healing Benefits of Fermentation
Other than preserving, fermented foods are highly nutritious and easier to digest. This is due to the beneficial micro-organisms that are involved in the fermentation process, adding live enzymes, B vitamins and protein to the food.
1. Fermentation also increases the bio-availability of minerals present in food, helping the body assimilate more nutrition. The micro-organisms break down complex protein, carbohydrates and fats into more easily assimilated molecules. Therefore, since healthy gut flora plays a key role in absorption, our body is able to absorb the maximum amount of nutrients, preventing nutrient deficiencies that are so common today.
2. Apart from aiding digestion, the lactic acid bacteria present in fermented foods also alter the PH balance in the intestines which is associated with a long life and good health. Also, the same lactic acid bacteria create omega 3 fatty acids, essential for the immune system. Did you know that 80% of our immune system resides in the walls of the intestines? So, while enjoying your home made yogurt or having your favorite idlis, you are actually building a resistant immune system that will help you fight disease.
3. Improved digestion which leads to:
4. Good bacteria also make it easier for our bodies to get rid of toxins from food and the environment. Doesn't this sound amazing and the answer to most of our health problems? That is why it's important to include many different types of fermented foods and beverages in one's diet.
- Digestive comfort
- Regular bowel movement
- Better sleeping
- Healthy and radiant skin
- Increased energy levels
- Loss of excess weight
- Possible decrease of sugar cravings
- Normalization of blood pressure levels
- Acid reflux, heart burn control
- Decreases inflammation
- Candida over-growth control
Types of Fermented Foods and Beverages
1. Dahi or Curd: The Indian staple dahi (yogurt) consumed with every meal has numerous health benefits. Fermentation of milk results in the breakdown of casein or milk protein, one of the most difficult proteins to digest. Culturing restores many of the enzymes destroyed during pasteurization including lactase which helps digest lactose, which in turn helps the body absorb calcium and other minerals. Lactase produced during culturing process allows many people who are sensitive to milk to tolerate fermented milk products. Research has shown that regular consumption of cultured dairy products lowers cholesterol and protects against bone loss.
2. Kefir: Is a cultured and microbial rich food that helps restore the inner ecology. Kefir is made from gelatinous white and yellow particles called "grains". The grains contain the bacteria/yeast mixture clumped together with casein (milk protein) and polysaccharides (complex sugars). A natural antibiotic that is made from milk! The finished product is not unlike a drink-style yogurt, but kefir has a more tart, refreshing taste and contains completely different micro-organisms from a traditional curd or yogurt.
3. Lacto-Fermented Vegetables: A partial list of lacto fermented vegetables from around the world is sufficient to prove the universality of this practice. People from India, Japan, China and Korea make pickled preparations of lemon, cabbage, turnip, eggplant, onion and carrot. Kimchior sauerkraut for e.g. is a lacto fermented condiment eaten on daily basis in Korea. No Japanese meal is complete without a portion of pickled vegetables. In India, we have fermented fruits like lemons, mangoes,chillies, carrots. Our very popular kanji is an example of an Indian fermented beverage. All of these vegetables and fruits are fermented with spices to make pickles and chutneys, we relish with our meal, from traditional to modern times.
4. Miso: Miso is savory, high protein fermented soybean used in many ways but most frequently as a seasoning or soup base. Miso happens to be a power house of nutrition, a concentrated form of protein that contains 17 amino acids. It also contains linoleic acid and lecithin, which dissolves cholesterol and make the arteries soften and more elastic, helping prevent arteriosclerosis and high blood pressure.
5. Dosa, Idli and Dhokla: These are my favorite fermented foods and I'm sure, yours too. These traditional South Indian and Gujarati snacks are predigested by bacteria and hence easier to digest. The fermented process increases the bioavailability of nutrients like folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, thiamine, biotin and Vitamin K as well as some antibiotic & anti carcinogenic substances.
Include a wide variety of your favorite fermented foods in your daily diet. In an era when antibiotics are so frequently prescribed and gut flora is so frequently damaged, fermented foods replenish the micro flora of the digestive tract and do so much more.
About the Author
Shilpa Arora ND is a renowned Health Practitioner, Nutritionist and certified Macrobiotic Health Coach. She has to her credit Doctorate in Natural Medicine. She is currently based in Delhi NCR region, successfully running her Nutrition Studio with individual consultations, offering life style programs supported by the most up-to-date clinical research.
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