Fermented foods are foods that have been through a process of lactofermentation in which natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food creating lactic acid. This process preserves the food and creates beneficial enzymes, b-vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, and various strains of probiotics. In a sense, they are predigested and this makes it easier for your body to absorb the nutrients.
Fermented foods are rich in probiotic bacteria, so by consuming fermented foods you are adding 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 are 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, you are promoting 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 are particularly helpful.
Mood and behaviour
The gut and brain are linked. 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 contribute to a healthy gut, they are also linked to a healthy mind.