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Fermented Foods: The Basics

fermented foods - Fermented Foods: The Basics

You may have come across social media posts or magazine excerpts about Kombucha over the last year. Your local health food store may have started stocking it to keep up with the fad. Maybe you’ve even tried Kombucha and like it…or not. Maybe you’re like me and have been wondering what’s so special about a fermented drink and fermented foods in general. At CARESPACE, we decided to do some digging of our own to understand the recent spike in interest for fermented products.

While the buzz for fermented foods might be new, fermentation itself is an ancient food preserving practice. In fermentation, microorganisms like yeast and bacteria convert carbs (starch and sugar) into alcohol or acids, creating naturally fermented foods. While this may sound a bit like the pickling you may do at the end of the summer, the two processes are not to be confused. With pickling there is no transformation by benign bacteria, only a preserving outcome from a brine.

Health Benefits of Fermented Foods

What is the health benefit of fermentation you might ask? Naturally fermented foods contain probiotics that help build your gut microbiota. In recent years, a link between the health of our gut microbiota and our overall health has become clear. Studies show that gut health and a strong microbiota is connected to mood, cardiovascular health, behaviour, energy levels, weight, food cravings, hormone balance, and immunity.

Fermentation also adds nutrients to the food; vegetables gain vitamin B12 through the fermentation process which usually is not present in plants. Getting more B12 in the diet is a great perk especially since B12 promotes red blood cell formation, prevents anemia, improves mood, boosts energy etc.

Lots to Choose From

While the process of fermenting your own kombucha and other foods may sound too daunting for some, luckily, you can boost your gut bacteria by eating commercially available products. Here are some examples of fermented foods:

● Yogurt (you can also get cultured dairy-free yogurt)

● Kefir (fermented milk-based drink – can also get fermented raw coconut milk as a dairy-free alternative)

● Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage)

● Tempeh (fermented soybean, similar to tofu, however tofu is not fermented)

● Kimchi (fermented mixed veggies – mainly cabbage)

● Miso (traditionally fermented soybean – sometime rye, barley)

● Kombucha (fermented tea)

● Traditional Buttermilk (fermented dairy – has to be traditional to have probiotics)

● Natto (fermented soybean)

● Some cheeses (must be labeled “live and active cultures” on the packaging)

● Fermented Meats (fish etc.)

Bear in mind that not all fermented foods are created equally. For example, even though cheese is fermented it must have “live and active cultures” to have the same health benefits as yogurt or kefir. Make sure that the fermented products you do consume have live cultures.

If you find it too hard to get any of these fermented foods into your diet, there is always the option to take a probiotic supplement and still receive the same great benefits. But of course, if you take up the challenge of brewing your own kombucha, that works too!

Michael Torreiter, ND, CFMP

Michael Torreiter, ND, CFMP

Naturopathic Doctor
Dr. Michael Torreiter is a Naturopathic Doctor at CARESPACE. He obtained his Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine designation at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto in 2005, worked at Healing Path for 13 years, and moved to CARESPACE in 2019. About half of Dr. Michael’s practice is focused on Precision Nutrition — a comprehensive weight management and lifestyle program that helps people lose weight, gain weight or just improve their diet. In addition, he treats a variety of conditions including digestive concerns, stress and anxiety, hormonal imbalance and men’s health. As well as being certified in Precision Nutrition, Dr. Michael has completed a Mind/Body Medicine Certification from Harvard Medical School and a certificate in Applied Mindfulness Meditation at the University of Toronto. He offers nutrition talks at the Running Room on a regular basis.

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