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  • Larissa Spafford, NTP

What Are Fermented Foods? And How to Shop For Them.

fermented food

If the idea of eating fermented foods freaks you out, start by thinking of these common foods made by the process of fermentation: vinegar, beer, wine, cider olives and cheese. Not so bad, right? Humans have been using the process of fermentation to preserve food since at least 7000 BC. Fermented foods are made with the help of microorganisms (bacteria and yeasts) that turn carbohydrates into alcohol, organic acids and carbon dioxide. The process can actually make the food more nutritious than it was originally. The truth is, that a healthy human digestive system contains about as many, if not more, microbial cells as human cells. There’s a whole eco-system in there! This eco-system is called your microbiome. We’re just beginning to discover the ways the health of our microbiome effects our overall health. It’s very promising for all areas of health, medicine and nutrition. One way to support the health of your microbiome is to eat fermented foods that contain probiotics, which are bacteria or yeasts that are beneficial to health. I think it's pretty cool that the word probiotic means "for life".

Here's a list of fermented foods that contain probiotics: 1. Cultured vegetables- includes sauerkraut, kimchi and some pickles. These come in a wide variety of flavors. They can be mild or spicy and have a sour taste. Use them as a condiment. 2. Kombucha- an effervescent drink made with tea and sugar. Tastes kind of like a sweet and fruity apple cider vinegar. 2. Yogurt- made from cow, goat, coconut or other milks. 3. Kefir- similar in taste to yogurt, but thinner in consistency.

4. Water Kefir- a non dairy beverage with a sweet taste. People who don't like the taste of kombucha may like this better. 5. Tempeh- a traditional Indonesian food made from soybeans. 6. Raw Cheese- cheese that is made from unpasteurized milk. 7. Apple Cider Vinegar- vinegar made from apples. 8. Miso- a traditional Japanese salty seasoning paste made from soybeans, koji and sometimes rice, barley or other ingredients.

How to Shop for Fermented Foods..... The availability of fermented foods in grocery stores continues to increase. Look for them in the refrigerated section. Many big chain stores will carry them in the refrigerated area of the natural or organic section. The sauerkraut, kimchi, olives, pickles and other foods you find on the non refrigerated shelves aren’t the same. They're made with vinegar and don't contain probiotics. When choosing cultured vegetables, organic is best. If you’re on a budget, choosing one made with non-organic cabbage is ok because cabbage is one of the vegetables with the least pesticide residues. Look for few ingredients that are recognizeable, like vegetables, sea salt and water. Pickles or other vegetables made with vinegar don't contain probiotics, so avoid that when you are eating your fermented foods for the benifits of probiotics. When choosing kombucha, look for the grams of sugar on the label. Choose the one with the least grams of sugar. Also, pay attention to the number of servings. Some companies will increase the number of servings to make it look like it has less sugar, when the total per bottle is actually more. Look for words like raw, live and probiotics on the labels. Water Kefir isn’t as readily available as kombucha on store shelves (yet!). If you do find it, follow the same guidelines as kombucha. You may find other probiotic beverages near the kombucha, follow the same guidelines for choosing those too. When choosing tempeh, organic and GMO free is especially important. Non organic soy is usually GMO. In our guts, GMO crops (specifically the glyphosate) interfere with the microorganisms we are trying to increase. Tempeh comes in a block that can be sliced. Look for it near the tofu and vegetarian protein 'foods'.

When choosing miso, follow the same guidelines as tempeh. You'll probably find it near the cultured vegetables, but it may also be near the tempeh. It comes in a tub, like sour cream. When choosing cow milk yogurt, the best kind is made from full fat organic pasture raised or grass fed milk. Organic full fat milk is a next best choice. Watch out for the flavored ones, they can have SO much added sugar. Read the label. An average 6 oz flavored yogurt can have 20 grams (5 tsp.) of sugar. Also look out for additives. Ingredients should be simple like milk and strains of probiotics and maybe maple syrup or fruit. Yogurt is also available made from goat, coconut and other milks. Look for organic choices. Watch out for additives in all kinds, read labels. If you don’t know what it is, either don’t buy it or google it first. Find yogurts in the dairy section, if your store has a natural or organic section the best quality option will probably be there. When choosing Kefir look for the same things you would look for when choosing yogurt. When choosing raw cheese, as with other dairy products, cheeses made from organic milk from pasture raised animals is best. Look for ‘made from raw milk’ on the label. If it says pasteurized it’s not raw. In a larger grocery store, you're most likely to find it in the specialty cheese section. Apple Cider Vinegar is one of the few probiotic foods you'll find on the non refrigerated store shelves. Choose raw and organic. If it says pasteurized, it’s not raw.

If you can’t find fermented foods at your local store, or would like to save money, you can always make your own! I make my own kombucha, water kefir and sauerkraut. Here's more info on how to make kombucha, how to make water kefir and how to make sauerkraut.

I hope this post helps you choose delicious fermented foods that will support your health! If you'd like to receive more nutritional health info and recipes, make sure to join my e-mail list here.

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