Sophie Leaver
Health & Wellbeing writer

It’s time to get cultured. The new trend of adding fermented, or cultured, food to your diet comes with a whole host of health benefits including weight loss, elevated energy, and improved immune function.

Fermentation is not just a method of preserving food that has been used for generations; it is also a way of boosting our overall health. Fermented foods are pungent, pro-biotic powerhouses, and its well worth incorporating them into our diets. 

There has been a lot of discussion in the health industry about the crucial importance of looking after our gut, a previously over-looked element of our body composition. A range of research has demonstrated how the right balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut can form the foundation for physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Fermented foods are one step towards ‘healing’ the gut, where an estimated 80% of our immune system is actually located. 

What is fermentation?

Fermentation is the process that takes place when bacteria and enzymes convert carbohydrates into alcohol or organic acids. The lactic acids feed on the sugar, and create beneficial enzymes, b-vitamins, omega fatty acids, and various strains of probiotics. This changes the flavour and the texture of the food, and also means it can be preserved for much longer. This process has been used in different forms around the world since ancient times. Sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, kefir, and lassi are all examples of widely consumed fermented foods. 

Why it’s good for digestion

One of the most important elements of eating fermented foods is their capacity to optimize the gut flora. This helps to break down and eliminate heavy metals and toxins from the body. It also has several other functions, including the regulation of fat absorption, improving mood and mental health, and healing the skin. There is a very strong link between gut and brain health, meaning that the right balance of bacteria can potentially have a powerful impact on depression and anxiety. 

It’s not just about Kimchi

It’s easy to ferment vegetables at home, or there are some great high quality products in health food stores. The best products to look out for are ones that aren’t too commercially processed, as this detracts from their live, natural state and benefits. Some foods which are branded as fermented or cultured are actually pasteurized, or loaded with salts and vinegars.

Fermentation isn’t limited to kimchi and sauerkraut, and many people are discovering the benefits of drinking their probiotics! Kombucha, for example, is a fizzy, fermented tea with a variety of microorganisms. Fermented foods can also be incorporated into desserts and breakfasts. For example, coconut yoghurt is a delicious, creamy and dairy-free way to add plenty of enzymes and probiotics into your diet. 

No matter how committed to our health we are, and how ardently we follow emerging health trends, sometimes our bank balance just can’t keep up. That’s why fermented foods are such an approachable and manageable health trend! The trend is based around simple, minimal, and cheap ingredients, making it budget friendly whether made at home or bought in stores. What’s more, adding these foods and drinks to our diets can also cut down on the number of supplements we may have previously wanted or needed, further helping your budget. Because they stay so well preserved, a jar of fermented vegetables, salsa, or condiments can last you months and still retain its nutritional profile. 

With such an array of health benefits, it’s time to bring on the bacteria! Here are four tips to help you jump on the fermentation bandwagon, and enjoy the ride: 

  • • If you’re purchasing fermented products from a store, keep an eye on the ingredients list. Avoid products that are packed with salt or sugar, as this will undo the good provided by the healthy bacteria and probiotics.
  • • Take it slow! Fermented foods pack a strong punch, nutritionally and in terms of taste. A little goes a long way, so start with a teaspoon or small serving of your chosen fermented food or drink, and see how your body and taste buds react. From there, you can slowly increase your servings.
  • • Mix it up - every type of fermented food contains a different array of organisms and bacteria. Kefir is different to sauerkraut, which is different to kimchi, which is different to miso, which is different to kombucha! Try a little of each, now and again, to give your body access to a whole range of different health benefits.
  • • Do some research - if you’re planning to ferment your own vegetables at home, read plenty of recipes and decide what would work best for your diet, time frame, and tastes.