We’ve been taught to avoid germs and bacteria since we were kids. Whether it’s or deep cleaning our homes (), we're constantly trying to get rid of the microscopic culprits.
"Regularly consuming fermented foods helps bolster the population of good bacteria in the gut,” says , D.N.M., author of .
While the topic of isn’t exactly first-date material, there are plenty of reasons to get excited about fermented foods.
Long before refrigerators or freezers, ancient people used fermentation to keep foods from going bad, Axe says. Put simply, fermentation is an enzyme-controlled, chemical breakdown of an organic substance (think: sugar turning to alcohol or milk turning sour).
“When a carbohydrate gets converted by yeast, bacteria, or carbon dioxide, it's fermented,” says Leah Silberman, R.D., cofounder of in New York City. The process is anaerobic, meaning it takes place without oxygen, which is why fermented foods and canning go hand in hand. “Fermentation was used to preserve foods through canning and jarring, and now it’s making headlines for health benefits,” Silberman says.
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Fermented foods can taste a little funky. “Some people just don’t like fermented foods, so the idea is to start small,” Silberman says. And pay attention to serving sizes. “For instance, with [store-bought] kombucha, sometimes there are two servings in one drink, so just start with half the drink,” she says. Axe agrees and recommends one serving of probiotics each day from your food of choice.
If you're specifically looking for fermented foods that contain probiotics, make sure you pick items from the refrigerated section of the grocery store and read labels. Room-temp sauerkraut won't have any living microorganisms, and even some yogurts can be heat-treated after fermentation, killing most of the helpful bacteria. If a food contains either living microorganisms or probiotics, they may be included in the ingredient list—or the label may say "unpasteurized" or "live and active cultures." (The most common probiotics found dairy foods areLactobacillus,Bifidobacterium, andStreptococcus thermophilus.)
If you do your own refrigerated canning, there is a slight chance of or . However negative side effects are rare, and fermented foods have had a generally good safety record for thousands of years.
Can't get past the taste and would rather take a supplement? first. Remember supplements aren't regulated by the FDA, and some studies have found discrepancies between what's on the label and what's actually inside certain probiotic supplements.
We’ve teamed up with our friends at KIND to help break down some complicated nutrition facts. KIND has even more great content about the ingredients that make for a flavorful life happening over on Medium. Follow Ingredients by clicking below and be sure to recommend the articles you love.
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Video: Eating These 5 Fermented Foods Can Change You Life For Good
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