There’s been a lot of buzz around fermented foods in the past few years, which has coincided with a greater focus on the importance of gut health to your overall wellbeing. The link is straightforward: fermented foods are good for your gut, and having a happy gut makes for a happier life, broadly speaking.
But exactly how good for you are fermented foods? And which ones in particular should you be eating? To find out, we spoke to dietitian Jo Travers, who’s working with Love Your Gut Week.
What are some common fermented foods?
The most common fermented foods are preserved vegetables like kimchi or sauerkraut, and dairy products such as yogurt, fermented milk drinks and kefir, all of which are now widely available in the UK. In addition, kombucha – a fizzy fermented drink that has been drunk in China for centuries – is growing in popularity, as is tempeh, an Asian fermented soy bean product.
Are fermented foods good for your gut? Have their benefits been overhyped?
There aren’t many clinical studies that have explored the potentially beneficial effects of the broad variety of fermented foods that are available, and so it is certainly an overstatement to say that all fermented foods are good for your gut based on the scientific evidence.
However, there is some good evidence to suggest that fermented dairy products may be beneficial for our digestive health, and when we consume fermented foods we are also consuming the beneficial bacteria needed to produce them. Bacteria, which are responsible for the fermentation process, have been shown to help with digestion, aid the immune system and metabolic processes, and even pass their genes to other bacteria already in the gut. As our lives become more sterile – particularly at the moment with all the hand sanitiser being used – and we spend less and less time in nature, we need to find ways to maintain our contact with friendly bacteria and eating fermented foods is an easy way to do it.
Different types of fermented foods contain different bacteria, and so trying a variety of fermented foods will normally introduce a wider range of bacteria, which is likely to be more beneficial. When choosing fermented foods just make sure that the product hasn’t been processed in a way that would have killed the bacteria – food products that have been heated or pasteurised will not contain any live bacteria, so check the label!
How often should you eat them?
Although there is not much hard evidence to say what the ideal amount of fermented food is, most experts agree that eating them anywhere from a few times a week to every day is a good idea.
Are there any side effects or downsides to eating fermented foods people should know about?
Some people can experience bloating if they are not used to eating fermented foods. Starting with small quantities and building up gradually can avoid this. At first, the distinctive sour taste of some fermented foods might take a bit of adapting to! However, as with all foods, our palates adjust and we begin to enjoy them. If you are making your own fermented food it is important to follow the instructions properly, because if the food becomes contaminated the wrong bacteria could grow and it can become unsafe to eat.