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Fermented foods: Good for your diet and overall health

By The Health News Team | March 12, 2024
Kombucha in jars with covers

Fermented foods have been gaining popularity in nutrition these days because of their positive impact on overall health. Could foods our ancestors have consumed for centuries be among the latest trends for a healthy diet?

According to Lauren DeWolf, a Sharp Rees-Stealy Center for Health Management registered dietitian and wellness education specialist, fermented foods have been — and continue to be — a staple in countries across the globe.

Fermented foods are preserved using an age-old process that not only enhances food preservation and nutritional value but also boosts the number of beneficial bacteria, or probiotics, in your gut. These good bacteria are important in supporting immune function by producing certain vitamins and helping to fight infection.

Studies have shown that people who eat more fermented foods tend to have a healthier and more diverse gut microbiome and lower levels of inflammation in the body. Both benefits may lower your risk of chronic disease.

For the most part, everyone can benefit from incorporating fermented foods in their diet, DeWolf says. However, people should also consider the sodium and sugar content in these foods.

If you’re following a low sodium diet, you should be particularly mindful of some savory fermented foods, such as sauerkraut and kimchi. These foods tend to be higher in sodium because salt is used to inhibit the growth of undesirable bacteria during the fermentation process.

“For some, fermented foods may represent a familiar cultural presence on one’s dining table,” says DeWolf. “For others, these foods may be unknown. Regardless, their nutritional benefits position them as foods worthy of consideration for any individual.”

DeWolf recommends the following seven fermented foods and drinks shown to improve health and digestion:

  • Miso – Though this soybean paste is high in sodium, it may help lower the risk of breast cancer and stroke.

  • Kimchi – Fermented napa cabbage, radishes and green onion come together to help lower cholesterol and reduce insulin resistance, but the combination is often high in sodium.

  • Tempeh – Soybean cake, made from fermented soybean that has been pressed into a compact cake, is a good source of protein.

  • Kefir – Made by adding kefir grains – which are a combination of yeast and bacteria – to milk, this cultured dairy product is a good source of calcium, however you should avoid added sugars.

  • Sauerkraut – Look for the refrigerated version of this fermented chopped cabbage. The condiment is low in calories and contains plenty of fiber and vitamin C and K, but can be high in sodium.

  • Injera – This sourdough flatbread made from teff flour is high in iron.

  • Kombucha – This fermented tea is rich in good-for-you yeast and bacteria, look for options with low sugar content.

“As a general guideline, a diverse intake of foods helps support well-rounded health,” says DeWolf. “Adding in a new fermented food or two can help add variety and additional nutrients in your diet.”

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