Fermented Foods - What's the Deal?

Kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut…all of these foods, claiming to be probiotics, seem to be everywhere at the moment. However, you may be wondering what they actually are and whether you should be eating or drinking them. You also might be a bit confused about what the difference is between these foods and probiotic supplements, if they’re all probiotics!

Fermented foods seem like a new craze at the moment, but they’re actually one of the oldest ‘health foods’ around. Marco Polo (the explorer, born in 1254!!) used to drink kefir. In fact, when studying the diets of those living in blue zones (regions of the world where people live healthier and longer than average), they were all found to include some sort of fermented food in their diet.

So, it seems they’re not just a new craze for wellness enthusiasts! They‘ve got a whole host of benefits, so can be a really great thing to add to your diet. However, they can actually make symptoms worse for some people, so aren’t always right for everyone.

In this post, we’ll cover what fermented foods are, what the difference is between them and probiotic supplements, what the benefits are, and who should be avoiding them.

WHAT ARE FERMENTED FOODS?

I wrote a few weeks ago about how important your gut microbiome is (check it out here). Fermented foods are another great way to increase the numbers of good bacteria in your gut. Fermentation is basically the chemical breakdown of food by the bacteria that’s already living within the food. When a food has been fermented, it means it’s already been pre-digested by it’s own bacteria. This makes it much easier to digest and it means all the vitamins and minerals in that food are readily available to your body.

Some examples of fermented foods are: kombucha, apple cider vinegar, kefir (water, milk and coconut varieties), pickles, miso and sauerkraut. My personal favourites are kombucha and sauerkraut!

These foods contain a huge variety of good bacteria. There is the bacteria present in the food, but they also collect bacteria from the air and whatever is on the surface of the food, in order to ferment. So, they are great probiotics!

 

BUT WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FERMENTED FOODS AND PROBIOTIC SUPPLEMENTS?

Probiotic supplements are obviously not natural, so they typically have a very high amount of a couple of specific strains of good bacteria (this is called a high CFU count). Different supplements are made with different strains of bacteria to help with specific symptoms or problems (e.g. a case of traveller’s diarrhoea).

Fermented foods, on the other hand, are completely natural, so contain a huge variety of different bacteria. They contain whatever good strains of bacteria were naturally found on or around that food. So, the CFU count in fermented foods isn’t very high (i.e. there won’t be a huge amount of any specific strain of bacteria). However, they contain a huge variety of different strains.

If you’re wondering which is best, the answer is - it depends. They are both probiotics but are completely different. If you’re generally healthy, but struggle with some digestive symptoms, I’d recommend adding fermented foods into your diet. These contain a great mix of bacteria, and a high enough amount if you’re generally healthy. If, however, you’ve just had a parasite infection or a round of antibiotics, or need more of a kick, I’d recommend also going for the probiotic supplements. There is such a huge variety, so make sure you do some research and pick one that’s targeted at your specific symptoms. If that sounds overwhelming, don’t worry - I’m dedicating the whole month of April to probiotics. pop in your details below to get these posts sent straight to your inbox.

 

WHY SHOULD I EAT FERMENTED FOODS?

There are a whole host of benefits to eating fermented foods. Here are just a few:

  • Improve your mood

  • Help boost immunity, so stop you getting ill as often

  • Reduce inflammation in your body

  • They’re fill of antimicrobial substances which can kill pathogens (bad bacteria, viruses, parasites, or anything else that can cause disease in your body)

  • They balance the pH in your gut and increase stomach acid, which helps you digest your food better (I take 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar before a meal to help with digestion)

 

WHO SHOULD BE AVOIDING THEM

As great as they are, we’re all different, and they may not be right for you! If you suffer from GERD or heartburn that’s caused by high stomach acid, then fermented foods might be irritating for you as they’re quite acidic. Also, if you suffer from a gut condition involving a severe imbalance or overgrowth of bacteria in your gut (e.g. SIBO or Candida) it might be best to avoid them. If you suffer from either of these, I would focus on restoring your gut first and eliminating your GERD/SIBO/whatever it is. Once you’ve done that, it would be a great idea to try some fermented foods to get your gut healthy again.

Even if you don’t suffer from any of the above, suddenly adding fermented foods into your diet can cause some symptoms. You might feel a bit more discomfort, gas and bloating when you first start taking them. If you think about it, you’re going to be adding lots of new bacteria into your gut. This good bacteria is kind of ‘waging war’ on the bad bacteria that’s in there, which can produce some detox-like symptoms, as your body gets rid of this bad bacteria. This is actually a good thing, as it’s a sign that the fermented foods are working. However, if it’s too uncomfortable, then reduce the amount you’re eating. If that still bothers you, try a different type of fermented food.


SUMMARY

  • Fermented foods aren’t a new craze. They’ve been eaten for years and can be very beneficial for boosting the good bacteria in your gut.

  • Although they are probiotics, they are a different thing to probiotic supplement. Which one is best for you depends on what your issue is.

  • Eating them can have a whole host of benefits like lifting mood, improving immunity, reducing inflammation, killing pathogens and helping you digest your food better.

  • They’re not for everybody and should be avoided for now if you have GERD, heartburn or SIBO/Candida.


Hopefully you’re now feeling a bit clear on what fermented foods are and whether they’ll be right for you. If you want to have a go at making some yourself, follow me on instagram (link below). I’ll be posting recipes for fermented foods through the whole month of April.

What have your experiences with fermented foods been? Did they make you feel better/worse/you didn’t notice a difference. Let me know in the comments below.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and I hope it’s helped you on your journey to taking control of your gut, eating well and living your life.

Sophie x

Sophie BibbsComment