Fermented Foods: Belly up to the Bar

By: Carol Kirkpatrick

It seems like I am always the last one to hear about the “latest thing”. My favorite pair of jeans have apparently become “mom jeans”, I thought that Taylor Swift was still dating John Mayer and I actually used the term “YOLO” last week. Consequently, you will not be surprised that I was clueless as to why every grocery store in the country has a gigantic self-serve olive bar. Apparently everyone, except me, has read that fermented foods are great for your gut health. These are foods like sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), miso (fermented soy), yogurt (fermented milk), kimchi (fermented vegetables), kombucha (fermented tea) and even the traditional Greek olives found on most olive bars.

Fermented foods start out as whole foods, such as olives, cabbage, cucumbers and milk. The sugars and starches in these foods are broken down using natural processes and are converted into lactic acid. Lactic acid is a natural preservative, which is acidic enough to kill any harmful bacteria. It also gives sauerkraut and pickles their tangy/sour taste.

Fermentation also turns simple foods into probiotic powerhouses that boost levels of good bacteria in your digestive tract, improving the health and balance of your body’s collective microbiome or bacterial community. Those probiotics aid in digestion, increase your immunity and may even lower your blood pressure and help keep you thin.

Here are a few tips when buying fermented foods.

Tip 1: Fermented foods are not the same as pickled foods.
Dill pickle spears are actually pickled using vinegar. Vinegar is used as a preservative because it kills bacteria. Unfortunately, it kills a lot of good bacteria as well bad, so pickled foods have very little probiotic benefit.

Tip 2: Look for fermented foods in the refrigerated sections of the grocery store.
Fermented foods are not shelf-stable, so you will only find them in refrigerated sections. Generally they will be either in the refrigerated produce case or near the dairy foods.

Tip 3: Read the label.
Look for words like “live and active cultures”, “unpasteurized” and “traditionally lacto-fermented”. Do not buy fermented foods with added vinegar. For example, sauerkraut should only contain cabbage, water and salt. Also most American yogurts are essentially repackaged pudding with no “live and active cultures”.

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