Fermented Foods: What’s all the Fuss?

Posted March 26, 2014 | Nutrition & Health Tips

Introduction

Long before the days of canning or refrigeration, cultures throughout the world would use fermentation to preserve their food.  Fermentation is one of the oldest forms of food processing technologies in the world, and what was a common practice has been lost over time, until now.  We have been experiencing a resurgence of interest in fermented foods due to our continued understanding of probiotics and the microbiome while many parents have taken it upon themselves to get in the kitchen and bring back this age-old tradition.

Why Eat Fermented Foods

Fermented foods and beverages are a great dietary source of probiotics and will introduce healthy bacteria to the digestive tract.  Having plenty of healthy bacteria in your gut will help optimize nutrient absorption from the food you eat as well as support a healthy immune system.  Also, consuming homemade fermented foods is great for your budget.  Here is a great cost-analysis of store-bought fermented foods compared to homemade.

The Science of Probiotics

Probiotics, a term literally meaning “for life”, are the beneficial bacterium that reside in our digestive tract.  There are billions of these organisms living and working within our gut and more scientific evidence continues to emerge on the health benefits of these bugs.  First, probiotics are known to support the immune system.  They do so through a variety of mechanisms:

  • Regulate the population and density of intestinal immune cells by supporting the development and maintenance of gut-associated lymphoid tissues that mediate a variety of immune functions.
  • Aid in the production of antibodies.  Probiotics train your immune system to distinguish between pathogens and non-harmful antigens, and to respond appropriately.
  • Provide protection against the over-growth of harmful microorganisms that could cause disease.  Simply stated, friendly bacteria compete with the bad guys for residence within the gut.
  • Produce butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid and by-product of dietary fiber digestion, which stimulates the production of regulatory T cells in the gut.

Probiotics also play a part in reducing inflammation:

  • An imbalance intestinal flora can lead to inflammation in the gut, causing inflammatory chemical messengers (cytokines) to be released into the blood.  These cytokines can travel throughout the body and cause inflammation elsewhere (such as in the brain or skin) causing conditions such as eczema, acne, depression, and chronic fatigue, to name a few.
  • Probiotics regulate the inflammatory reactions of intestinal mucous and can restore the normal balance between the signaling molecules (IL-10 & IL-12)that increase or decrease inflammation.

Probiotics also help optimize digestion and can help treat many digestive conditions including:

  • Diarrhea
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Leaky gut
  • Food intolerances
  • Foodborne illness

Can Fermented Foods be Kid-Friendly?

Yes!  Fermented foods can be fun and taste great!  First of all, fermented foods are on the sour spectrum.  We all have palates that can taste a variety of flavors that include sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami.  When we constantly consume only salty and sweet foods, such as in the Standard American Diet, we don’t get enough exposure to the other taste sensations.  The fermented sour flavor can be very complex and delicious, yet may be a completely new flavor to some kids (and some adults too!).  It is suggested that, as with any new food, to start with small tastings of the probiotic food or beverage in combination with other favorite foods, allowing them to acquire a taste for this new flavor.  And if possible, start them young on a variety of healthy foods, flavors, and textures to allow them even more time to develop their palate.

Here are some kid-friendly fermented foods and beverages to try:

Fizzy Kefir Soda

Fermented Apple Juice 

Homemade Kefir 

Fermented Vegetables 

Homemade Sauerkraut 

Carrots with Ginger 

Tangy Ranch Dressing

Living Ketchup

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