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6 Fermented Foods for A Healthy Gut

A fully functioning gut is the foundation of good health. This has become a big topic of interest lately as research has found that the connection between our gut and our health is very real. The link is strong enough that keeping your gut in check should be a top health priority for all of us.

We are full of tiny living things. Our natural gut “microbiome” is made up of trillions of microorganisms. Most of it is beneficial. But the balance can get thrown off at times and that can mean bad things for your health. The most common reasons it can change are stress, lack of sleep, eating sugary or processed food, and taking antibiotics.

When gut balance is disrupted, chronic problems like inflammation, weight gain, mental health issues, autoimmune disorders, skin conditions, and even cancer can develop. That's why it’s super important to pay attention to what we eat, and do everything we can to prevent these problems.

One easy way to do this is to include fermented foods in your diet. The process of fermenting foods has been around for centuries, mostly as a way to preserve it. As food ferments, certain types of beneficial bacteria are able to thrive. The food then becomes rich in probiotics - good bacteria that our intestines need to overpower the bad ones.

You might already eat (or drink) some fermented foods that are commonly found in the supermarket. But if not, or if you’re looking for more ideas of what fermented foods to try next, here's a useful list. It covers dairy and non-dairy foods, soybean products, and vegetables that you can find easily at the health food store, or you can make yourself.

1. Yogurt

Yogurt is a common fermented food that’s easily added to your diet. The yogurt you buy should say “live and active cultures” to be sure it has probiotics in it still. Some brands will heat-treat their yogurt, which will kill off the probiotics.

Another thing to look for is how much sugar it contains. Yogurt with high amounts of sugar aren’t the best way to go. Look for pure plain yogurts (even though it sounds tart and boring). You can always dress it up later with your own natural sweetener and fruit.

You can also use yogurt as a replacement for mayonnaise or sour cream in recipes, or as a base for sauces or salad dressings. Some recipes in baking use yogurt for more moist results. If you don’t eat dairy products, you can try yogurt made from alternative milks like almond or coconut milk.

2. Kefir

Kefir is similar to yogurt in that it’s a fermented dairy product. The big difference is that kefir is made using a culture made from grains (called kefir grains) along with the milk. But kefir can also be dairy-free if it’s made with grains and water or coconut water. Another difference is that kefir contains a larger variety of bacteria strains, and also has beneficial yeast.

You probably know it’s drinkable, and that’s how it is typically used. But you can also use it in your smoothie, as a milk substitute for your cereal, as a salad dressing base, or as a baking ingredient. It’s got a tangy taste and is a bit carbonated, but this can depend on which one you buy.  

3. Kombucha

Kombucha is a mildly sour fizzy drink made from fermented tea and sugar. It’s made using a SCOBY – a slimy symbiotic culture containing bacteria and yeast. There are many kinds of kombuchas on the shelves to choose from since they’ve become very popular in the past few years.

They typically don’t have a lot of sugar but it's a good idea to check. They’re usually flavored too. You should also be aware that they contain caffeine since they’re made with either black, green or white tea. Kombucha makes for a light and refreshing beverage any time.

4. Tempeh

Tempeh is a fermented soybean product that contains probiotics. It has a similar texture to tofu, though it’s much firmer and nuttier tasting. It’s a good source of plant-based protein too. Tempeh makes a great substitute for meat for non-meat eaters.

Tempeh is made using a mold that causes fermentation. The same mold is what binds it together, as a mycelium grows during the fermentation process. Try it instead of real bacon by marinating it and pan frying it. It’s also good in sandwiches or as a filling for tacos, chili or enchiladas.

5. Miso

Most known for being a type of soup in Japanese cuisine, miso is a fermented soybean paste used to make a soup base. The main bacteria strain used to make miso is A. Oryzae, which is thought to be beneficial for inflammatory bowel disease and other digestive issues.

It’s not only great as a soup base, but you can use miso in other ways too. Try it as a glaze over fish or vegetables, as a salad dressing ingredient, or just spread it on a piece of toast.

6. Sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables

Fermented vegetables are even more nutritious than regular veggies. The process enhances all the nutrients and adds more probiotics. To ferment vegetables, they are chopped and placed in a mostly air-tight jar submerged in a mildly salty brine solution. Lactic acid bacteria does its magic to get rid of “bad” bacteria and enhance the “good” bacteria.

This process shouldn’t be confused with pickling, however. Pickling is done using vinegar and heat. Because of the heat, the bacteria die off, so these pickled vegetables don’t contain probiotics.  

You can find a variety of fermented vegetables in the grocery store, including carrots, beets, cauliflower, and more. Or you can try you hand at fermenting them at home. Almost any veggie works. And they make a great snack or addition to salads and sandwiches.

As you can see, fermented foods are not out of reach. Plus, some are easy enough to make yourself. It’s a great way to use up vegetables you have in your fridge, or ones you’ve grown in your garden that are overly abundant. Either way, adding fermented foods to your diet is an easy way to help your gut do its job better, so you can function at your best.

Happy gut-friendly eating!

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