The Health Benefits of Eating Fermented Foods

Updated by Jim Deckebach

A common goal for most health-conscious individuals is to consume foods that offer an array of health benefits. As our knowledge of the properties of different foods changes, healthy food trends come and go, but one of the most recent trends has actually been around for thousands of years: fermented foods. Fermented foods date back as far as 7000 B.C. in some parts of the world, and they are created using a chemical process called fermentation. As people have learned more about the health benefits of fermented foods, the popularity of these foods has continued to grow.

KimchiFermented foods include a wide variety of consumables, including popular drinks containing (alcohol), some of which are associated with specific cultures and regions. The process of (fermentation) occurs when a microorganism, typically bacteria or yeast, turns carbohydrates into an acid or an alcohol. The acid or alcohol acts not only to provide the tart taste associated with many fermented food items but also as a preservative. Some common fermented items include wine, cheese, yogurt, and sauerkraut. Other fermented foods that may be found in grocery stores include kimchi, a cabbage dish from Korea; a fermented tea drink called kombucha; and tempeh, a type of soybean cake commonly eaten by vegetarians and vegans.

The health benefits associated with fermented foods are many. The live bacteria used to create fermented foods are known as probiotics, which are good bacteria. These helpful bacteria provide benefits such as aiding immunity and improving digestion for a healthy gut. The probiotics in fermented foods may help with conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, and severe diarrhea. They may also improve both vaginal and urinary health as well as certain skin conditions. Probiotics can also help to produce biotin, folic acid, and niacin within the body. People who eat fermented foods may also find they get better faster when they get sick, as probiotics can strengthen the immune system. People with arthritis have also noticed positive effects in some studies. Drinking fermented dairy products, such as kefir, can help those with lactose intolerance by breaking down lactose and making its digestion much easier. Some research has also shown benefits to mental health and weight loss.

Many specific fermented foods have been shown to have positive health effects, including wine, made from fermented grapes. Red wine, which is fermented with the skin and seeds of grapes, may help to prevent diabetes-related complications and ease pain in joints. Consuming wine, kimchi, and tempeh may reduce the risk of heart disease, increase good cholesterol levels, and decrease bad cholesterol, while eating kimchi may also reduce insulin resistance in those who are pre-diabetic. Sauerkraut is a high-fiber, low-calorie food that many are familiar with; this fermented shredded cabbage, which is often served as a side dish or on hot dogs, is extremely healthy. It offers the most health benefits when its good bacteria have not been killed by pasteurization. One such benefit is improved eye health, as it's a source of the antioxidant lutein. Antioxidants in sauerkraut may also help to prevent certain types of cancer, strengthen bones, and improve brain function.

With their many health benefits, it's unsurprising that fermented foods are commanding so much attention. To learn more about the benefits associated with consuming fermented foods, click any of the following links:


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