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Sun December 8, 2013
Health

Does a healthy gut mean a healthy body?

Emerging research reveals that good digestion and a healthy digestive tract are dependent on beneficial bacteria, also known as probiotics. But you don't have to buy special yogurt to add probiotics to your diet. Fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi also aid in digestion and improve your immune system. Once you learn the basics of fermenting, it can be a fun and inexpensive way to preserve food at home and add essential nutrients.

This week on Take Care, Amy Jeanroy explains the benefits of eating fermented foods. Jeanroy is a newspaper editor, food writer and co-author of the book, "Fermenting for Dummies," published earlier this year. She's been making and eating fermented foods for 20 years and shares her love of preparing food at home on her website, TheFarmingWife.com.

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According to Jeanroy, fermented foods have several health benefits. The main health benefit is improving digestion, and Jeanroy says, “a healthy gut equals a healthy body.” What makes these foods so healthy all has to do with how they are broken down. 

“Fermented food is a natural process, where your food, I always like to say that it decays with style,” Jeanroy said. “And you’re actually keeping the food in safe zone where you’re not getting sick, but it’s making the food more helpful because it’s turning it from the raw process to partially, I don’t want to say digested, but partially broken down, so it’s easily assimilated by your body.”

Kimchi, another fermented food.
Credit Jen Waller / Flickr

Jeanroy explains that once food is fermented, it’s broken down in a way that has more lactic acid, which makes it easier for your digestive tract to absorb nutrients from food. That’s what creates the benefit of enhanced digestion. But there are also other benefits.

Naturally fermented foods have probiotics. Jeanroy says that if you give your body probiotics, it makes your gut stronger and healthier, so you can better ward off bad bacteria.

For those interested in introducing fermented foods to their diet, Jeanroy says it’s easy, but also warns not to start too quickly.

“The negative effects that you have from just starting fermented food aren’t serious, but they are a little disconcerting....You won’t necessarily feel sick, you’ll just feel a little uncomfortable,” Jeanroy said. “You don’t need a lot, and I also recommend when people are just starting to get into fermented foods to start slowly. And by slowly I mean a quarter of a cup of fermented food a day for the first week, and then you can increase it a bit.”

There are many fermented foods available at the supermarket, which makes it easy to gradually introduce these foods into a diet. Some of the most commonly available fermented foods include: sauerkraut, yogurt (as long as it has active live cultures), kifer and kimchi.

Jeanroy says most people won’t have a problem adding fermented foods to their diet, but recommends that anyone who is worried because of a food allergy should consult their doctor first.

While there are many probiotic yogurts available now, Jeanroy says these aren’t bad necessarily, they aren’t as good as eating the fermented food itself.

“It’s kind of the same thing as: is a vitamin better, or is it better to eat the greens, and get the same nutrients? Well of course it’s better to eat the whole food than it is to eat the enhanced vitamin, and that’s because it’s better for your body,” Jeanroy said. “There’s got to be other things in the fermentation process that scientists haven’t been able to pick out yet. But all of it works together to improve our health.”

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