Fermented Foods & Gut Health in the New Year

Gut health and fermented foods have been all the buzz for a while now, and for good reason! Fermented foods are not a new concept, but they has become more mainstream with more studies around the gut-brain-microbiota. It’s truly fascinating!

Fermented foods contain beneficial bacteria called probiotics. There are about 100 trillion bacteria in our gut. We ideally want 85% good bacteria and 15% other bacteria hanging out in our gut. This makes up about 2 1/2 lbs -3 pounds of bacteria in your gut alone! The tricky part is keeping this balance in the fast-paced, highly processed world we live in today. bot no worries! With by slowly incorporating fermented foods into your lifestyle, it can be done without it being overwhelming.

Child Eating Sauerkraut

I found out the importance of gut health and fermented foods after becoming pregnant with my first child (and finding out years earlier I had celiac disease). I learned how critical infants gut bacteria is to maintain optimal health. Infants have a sterile gut at birth, and it’s first colonized by maternal and environmental bacteria during birth and continues to be populated through feeding and other contacts. Factors that are known to influence colonization include gestational age, delivery, diet (breast milk vs formula), level of sanitation, and exposure to antibiotics. By the end of the first year of life, the microbial profile is distinct for each infant; by the age of 2.5 years, the microbiota fully resembles the microbiota of an adult in terms of composition.

Fermented foods help a multitude of health issues, specifically digestive health. Most of our immune system is in our gut, so it’s extremely beneficial to add healthy bacteria to your daily diet for the new year to help you stay healthy!

Here are 6 fermented foods you can incorporate into your daily life this new year. Heinen’s makes it so helpful for offering a variety of each food!

Sauerkraut

This fermented dish has been around for centuries. You can easily make this at home, but since Cleveland Kraut makes the best in town, we usually buy their brand! One of the many things I love about their sauerkraut is that they use ingredients you recognize. You can’t go wrong with Classic Caraway (Cabbage, Garlic, Kosher Salt, Pepper) & Whiskey Dill (Cabbage, Kosher Salt, Garlic, Whiskey, Dill). Our 22-month old loves this sauerkraut so much I have to take the bag away or she’d keep eating it and not finish her food! Full disclosure- our other kids will not try sauerkraut. I missed the boat on implementing it early for them.

How to use it: Eat this plain (like I do all the time!), on tacos, nitrite/nitrate free hot dogs, salads, breakfast sandwich, or on a wrap.

Classic Cleveland Kraut

Kefir

Kefir is a cultured, enzyme-rich food filled with friendly micro-organisms that help balance your “inner ecosystem.” More nutritious and therapeutic than yogurt, it supplies complete protein, essential minerals and valuable B vitamins. Kefir can actually colonize the intestinal tract with good bacteria. Some people who are lactose-free can sometimes drink kefir because it is 99% lactose free and easily digested.

We buy Wallaby Organic Kefir. Our boys like the peach flavor, and our girls like the strawberry flavor. They both contain much more sugar than the plain (which can be added to smoothies) but I feel the benefits outweigh the sugar content. I have tried mixing the plain with the flavored to cut down on the sugar content, and it was a no-go from my kids. This tip may work for your family though!

How to use it: Drink a cup with breakfast, lunch or dinner, have it as a snack or add to smoothies. If you’re feeling fancy, you can even make a salad dressing with the plain kefir.

Kombucha

When I first started drinking kombucha, over a decade ago, I’d hide my drink if I was out and about with it. People would look at me like I had 3 eyes and ask me ‘what the heck are you drinking?’ Now, kombucha is so popular, people are even making their own! I am not that adventurous to find a SCOBY & make my own just yet.

Kombucha is fermented black or green tea. It is a rich source of antioxidants, probiotics, and can even kill harmful bacteria. It has a slightly sour taste. You may need to get used to it and try it more than once to acquire the taste. The sugar content ranges from brand to brand. I look for kombuchas that are low in sugar. One of the best tasting brands is LIVE. ‘Lemon Lime’ & ‘Cola’ are my favorites! ‘Cola’ actually tastes similar to Coca-Cola! Kombucha is higher in histamines, so note if this bothers you.

How to use it: Drink kombucha a couple times a week. Some people like to drink it first thing in the morning as it can keep you regular. I like to drink it around 3 pm as a pick-me-up drink.

Kimchi

Kimchi is a Korean staple and it’s usually fermented cabbage, onions, garlic, ginger and chili peppers. Just like other fermented foods, kimchi is nutrient dense, loaded with vitamins, phytonutrients, minerals, fiber, and most importantly, probiotics.

My favorite kimchi is Wake Robin ‘Kickin Kimchi’. It is very spicy, but you can buy the less-spicy kimchi.

How to use it: Put kimchi on eggs, eat it plain, add to tacos, mix with poultry and serve over rice. There are so many ways to eat kimchi, but my favorite way is just right out of the jar! Full disclosure- our kids and my husband are not fans yet!

 

Kimchi

Yogurt

Yogurt is cultured milk that has gone through a fermentation process. The knowledge behind beneficial bacteria from yogurt has been known for a while. The most common probiotic  in yogurt is lactobacillus. Be careful with the sugar content in some yogurts.

How to use it: Eat it plain, add to smoothies, or eat it with berries granola on top! I prefer S.O. Delicious Unsweetened Coconut yogurt and adding the fixings on top. Our kids love the Stonyfield brand.

Tempeh

Tempeh is fermented soybeans. We choose non-GMO tempeh, since most soy is genetically engineered. We don’t do much with tempeh, but with writing this blog, it’s making me want to go buy some and reintroduce it to our kids!

How to use it: Saute in a pan for about 4 minutes on each side & add coconut aminos or soy sauce; Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until lightly browned.

Resources:
Gut Bacteria in Health and Disease https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3983973/
Fermented foods, microbiota, and mental health: ancient practice meets nutritional psychiatry https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3904694/
Kefir Vs. Yogurt http://www.kefir.net/kefir-vs-yogurt/
Human MIcrobiome Project https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-human-microbiome-project-defines-normal-bacterial-makeup-body

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