Fermented foods are foods that have been through a process of lacto-fermentation in which natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food creating lactic acid. This process preserves the food and can create beneficial enzymes, b-vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, and various strains of probiotics. Some people liken this to a predigestion, which could make it easier for your body to absorb the nutrients.
Fermented foods are often rich in probiotic bacteria, so by consuming fermented foods you could add beneficial bacteria and enzymes to your overall intestinal flora, increasing the health of your gut microbiome and digestive system and enhancing the immune system.
Digestion and absorption
As some of the sugars and starches in food have been broken down through the process, fermented foods can be easier to digest. For example, fermentation breaks down the lactose in milk to simpler sugars – glucose and galactose – which, if you are lactose intolerant, can make products such as yoghurt and cheese potentially easier to digest.
Synthesis and availability of nutrients
Fermentation can also increase the availability of vitamins and minerals for our bodies to absorb. Additionally, by boosting the beneficial bacteria in your gut, this could aid their ability to manufacture B vitamins and synthesise vitamin K.
A large proportion of the immune system is housed in the gut. By consuming probiotic-rich foods, you are supporting the mucosa (gut lining) as a natural barrier, making the immune system more robust. A lack of beneficial bacteria allows disease-causing microbes to grow causing inflammation in the gut wall. If you have recently taken a course of antibiotics, fermented foods can be particularly helpful.
Mood and behaviour
Recent research has highlighted a connection between the gut and the brain and that the gut is lined with neurons that can influence our emotions and feelings. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in mood, is made in the gut and research suggests that as probiotic bacteria can contribute to a healthy gut, they can also be linked to a healthy mind.