Fermentation & Gut Health

What Happens To You When You Eat More Fermented Foods?

Fermented foods and beverages are those which have been intentionally exposed to “healthy” bacteria in a process known as, you guessed it, fermentation.

The bacteria utilize the food to grow in number, and in turn alter the food itself to create popular and commonly available items such as kombucha, kimchi, kefir, miso, sauerkraut, tempeh and probiotic yogurts.

In fact, the formal definition of “fermented food” as per The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP)  is:

“Foods made through desired microbial growth and enzymatic conversions of food components”.

Essentially a slightly fancier way of saying what I’ve just said.

Similar to something like Vitamin D (found almost exclusively in fish), fermented foods are elusive and really only available through a limited number of sources.

But are fermented foods as important for your health as something like Vitamin D?

That’s the question I intend to explore in today’s post.

Let’s get right to it.

The Function Of Fermented Foods

Fermented foods are unique because they offer the opportunity to consume foods rich in healthy bacteria from a dietary source.

On a theoretical level- the increased presence of healthy bacteria in our digestive tract has a number of gastrointestinal benefits – but it was only recently that higher quality experimental evidence was made available to begin to demonstrate the actual effect of eating more of these types of foods on the human gut.

Certainly, some evidence exists that consuming fermented foods alongside antibiotics can actually enhance their effectiveness in treating issues like H. pylori infections and that the bacteria used in fermentation create beneficial metabolites, such as CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) which may explain some of the health effects observed in the paper I’m about to discuss next.

Which is indeed a landmark study published last year in the Cell journal looked at the effects of a 17-week dietary intervention emphasizing the inclusion of fermented foods in otherwise healthy people.

So what happened?

1. The Diversity Of Their Microbiota Steadily Increased

Researchers found that, upon completion of the fermented food intervention, that study participants exhibited a greater variety of beneficial gut bacteria – in other words there were more helpful species found.

Dysbiosis, an unhealthy imbalance between good and bad bacterial species, has been increasingly identified as a driver of poor health in North America.

Although it isn’t straightforward to make claims about the potential benefits of fermented food intake from this study alone, what we can say is that different species of healthy bacteria tend to offer unique benefits, create unique metabolites and compete with unhealthy bacteria and so I’d say from that perspective this finding is promising.

2. The Markers Of Inflammation Steadily Decreased

Inflammation is one of the biggest buzz words in popular nutrition discourse, with public interest soaring around foods purported to have anti-inflammatory effects on the body (such as omega-3 fatty acids, curcumin, and so much more). 

In this particular study, the researchers found that fermented food intake contributed to a steady decrease in various inflammatory compounds (such as cytokines, if you must know the fancy scientific word).

Again, it isn’t straightforward to make claims about the actual implications of this effect but certainly findings like these only support the notion that we could all benefit from paying extra attention to fermented food intake.

This is especially true considering that the beneficial effects noted in this study occurred in an incremental manner, perhaps justifying the prolonged and purposeful inclusion of fermented foods as a means to improve gut health in those looking to exhaust all avenues to do so.




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