Why are fermented foods good for you?

Today’s trending advice in the health industry is to add more fermented food for good gut health. Thus people have started eating all kinds of food with microbes marketed to them. This includes buying probiotic supplements and stocking their pantry with kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, etc. Yogurt seems better than curd suddenly. We forget our traditional recipes of hand-churned buttermilk, butter, mishti doi, pickle, murabba, etc. What are they and why are they good for you?


Let me make your life easier and more interesting with true information on this food with microbes. Let me start with this: The term fermented foods and probiotics are used interchangeably. They are not the same.


All fermented foods are not probiotics and all probiotics are not fermented food.


Then what are fermented foods?


Foods with microbes are divided into three groups. They are

  1. Fermented foods retaining the live microbes- Eg curd, hand-churned buttermilk and butter, pickle, murabba, kanji, hard cheese, Non-Indian products like kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut, kefir

  2. Fermented foods without live microbes-Eg idly, dosa, bhatura, sourdough bread, appam. In these foods, the process of cooking kills the fermenting microbes.

  3. Probiotics: These are food with live microbes of known quality and quantity that provides a known health benefit. Eg includes probiotic supplements, probiotic-enriched yogurt, etc.


Which fermented food to eat?


Fermented foods from the first two above-mentioned groups are good and necessary to diversify our gut microbiome. It is important to eat food from both groups because fermented foods without live microbes have health benefits and can act as a prebiotic too. On the other hand, probiotics are made to treat specific diseases. So we can use them when they are necessary, not every day.


Here are a few points to remember before choosing your fermented food:


  1. It is good to choose fermented food from your traditional cuisine to nurture your large pool of indigenous gut microbiome.

  2. Store-bought fermented foods, especially, those of non-Indian origin are usually processed killing the microbes and making them ineffective for the intended purpose.

  3. Try to mix and rotate the fermented foods to diversify the gut microbiome.

  4. It is advised to consume 2-3 servings of fermented food per day.

  5. Did you know plastic packaging can kill off good microbes? Remember to avoid using them.

  6. Added sugars and flavors in store-bought foods like yogurt can decrease the nutritional value and feed the bad microbes causing disease.

  7. If you want to try non-Indian ferments, try searching and choosing from non-commercial, artisanal, unprocessed sources. To put it in simple words anything that is not made in a huge factory set up.


Benefits of fermented foods with live microbes:

  1. Enhances metabolism and weight loss

  2. Improves immunity

  3. Reduces stress and improves mood

  4. Reduces risk of chronic illnesses like diabetes, hypertension

  5. Downregulates inflammation

  6. Helps manage digestive discomfort

  7. Decreases risk or duration of common infections


Benefits of fermented foods without live microbes:

Fermented foods that don’t retain live bacteria post-cooking retain the goodness produced by them in form of Vitamin B12 and exopolysaccharides (EPS). These EPS substances are good prebiotics. In addition to these though these bacteria might be dead their cells and components are retained which exert barrier functions, protect against pathogens and improve leaky gut.


Remember, all of these benefits are reaped from ferments that are naturally fermented over 8 – 10 hours, not from the instant ones.


Pre and Post biotics are more important


We have given our bodies good bacteria. But don’t we need to feed them to make them exert their best actions? These are the prebiotics that acts as food substrates for good microbes. These prebiotic food sources are most of the fiber-rich whole-grain foods, pulses, legumes, fruits, and nuts. 


While Post biotics is the reward given to you by the microbes in exchange for the prebiotics you provide them. These post-biotic molecules are the by-products of microbial action in our gut system. These substances aid in weight loss, better mood, and immunity. The whole carbohydrates we eat exert weight loss actions by these post-biotics, much contrary to the belief that carbs equal weight gain.


So the bottom line is to choose traditional food that you have consumed over time with a lot of variety and ingredients. Have a mixture of whole carbs like millet and rice in addition to fermented foods belonging to both groups for an effective digestive system.


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