I have been eating fermented foods for as long as I can remember. It’s an Asian thing and while many of my non-Asian friends have grown more accustomed to fermented foods, it is still novel and peculiar. And while many Western countries are some of the richest, they are also some of the sickest. Many scientists are now seeking to understand the root of many of these “Western diseases” which seem to be more rare in countries in Asia and the Mediterranean.
There is a new field of research in science that studies gut bacteria. And the science seems to indicate that eating fermented foods is good for our gut (also called microbiome), which in turn helps fight and prevent so many of these “Western diseases.” Our gut bacteria has been shown to affect our mood, libido, metabolism, and immunity. It is now undeniable that our gut participates in an array of physiologic actions, including immune system functioning, detoxification, inflammation, neurotransmitter and vitamin production, nutrient absorption, and a mechanism for utilizing carbs and fats.
Fermentation and the Gut
Although fermented foods do not smell the greatest and may even taste weird to the uninitiated, they are full of probiotics and bacteria that makes for a healthy gut. The gut is so vital that it is colloquially named our second brain. But why does it matter to have a healthy gut? Because research has shown that an imbalance of gut bacteria been linked to a plethora of illnesses linked to the digestive system, such as celiac disease, gluten insensitivity, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity. Our microbiome is even linked to illnesses (and immune reactions) traditionally not linked to the digestive system, such as allergies, depression, anxiety, diabetes, ADHD, lupus, and dementia.
Research of the gut flora is still new but the diseases mentioned above have been shown to have a strongly associated gut component because many of these diseases have been shown to be inflammatory in nature. Thus, when we cultivate our microbiome and bring balance to the gut by surrounding it with “good bacteria”, we reduce the inflammatory response of the body caused by our overactive immune system caused by our gut bacteria.
Fermentation and Lactic Acid
Fermentation is a metabolic process of converting carbs like sugars into either alcohols (like wine) and carbon dioxide or organic acids. It requires yeast and/or bacteria (the good kind). Some fermented foods you might have eaten already is sauerkraut, yogurt, and sour cream.
There are several types of fermentation processes. But the type of fermentation that makes food rich in beneficial bacteria (or probiotic) is lactic acid fermentation. This process protects fermented foods from being invaded by bad bacteria because it creates an acidic environment which kills off any harmful bacteria.
I love fermented foods. I especially love fermented foods from Japan and Vietnam. I go to my local Japanese grocery store to get fermented vegetables every week. Here are some of the Japanese fermented foods I eat on a regular.
It’s basically a host of pickled radishes, roots, and other varied vegetables.
As far as Vietnamese fermented foods, I love the cured beef , dishes, such as nem chua.
I also love the fermented fish and shrimp sauces, called mam nem (fermented round scad) or mam ruoc (fermented krill). The smell is extremely potent. But if you can get past it, it’s delicious.
In summation, eating fermented foods has been shown to be extremely beneficial to the gut, bringing balance to the microbiome. A healthy gut means regular bowel movements, less constipation, and less diarrhea. And as new research shows, a healthy gut can also protect us from a host of illnesses and diseases. Now science has not gone as far as to say that a healthy gut (by eating fermented foods) assures that you are preventing a host of diseases. However, the evidence seems to indicate that cultures that eat fermented foods as part of their regular diet seem to live healthier lives and have a lower incidence of inflammatory diseases.