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Fermentation gave rise to food preservation and has been used throughout history dating back to Neolithic times way before it was revered for it’s probiotic powers. It is the easiest way to extend the shelf-life of fruits and vegetables, intensifies the flavor of whatever you choose to ferment, and delivers your belly a dose of gut wellness.

Incorporating probiotic-rich food into your diet seems to be trendy these days, but the reasoning behind this is more definitive. Here is why including fermented foods into your lifestyle is so essential to gut health.

1. Fermented Foods and Their Effect on Gut Health

Simple Fermented Vegetables/One Green Planet

Foods that have been fermented are prepared through a process called lacto-fermentation. During this process, yeast, bacteria, and additional microorganisms break down starches and sugars and convert it to lactic acid. The reason fermented foods keep for so long is due to this lactic acid, which prevents the growth of dangerous bacteria.

The process of lacto-fermentation is important for two reasons. For starters, during this process the nutritional value of the food product is being enhanced. Through lacto-fermentation, digestive enzymes, fatty acids, and B vitamins can develop that weren’t inherently present in the product beforehand. In addition, fermented foods have been broken down into their most digestible form, making them easier for your body to process.

So, how does fermentation benefit the well-being of your gut?

Lactobacillus, are strands of good bacteria that can be found in some varieties of plant foods, as well as in our gastrointestinal tract. These good strands of bacteria, or microorganisms, are what probiotics are made up of, and multiply during the fermentation process. This means fermented foods are loaded with probiotics.

Probiotics are important to a healthy functioning gut because they can help restore balance to our gut micro-biome. When there is an imbalance of bacteria in our guts, it is referred to as dysbiosis. This imbalance may be linked to gut-related health problems like IBS, celiacs disease, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. In addition, when probiotics are introduced to the gut, the integrity of the intestinal barrier is enhanced. This reduces translocation of bacteria: when intestinal bacteria invades normally sterile internal organs and tissues. Probiotics also fight against gastrointestinal infections that would otherwise corrupt gut health.

In retrospect, probiotics produced during fermentation can help restore harmony to the gut, and prevent gastrointestinal infections.

2. Additional Health Benefits 

Lemon Garlic Habanero Sauerkraut/One Green Planet

Recent studies have shown a direct correlation between gut health and energy metabolism, the immune system, and even brain health.

In regards to brain health, an imbalance of bacteria in the gut is said to cause mental-health related issues like anxiety and depression. When consuming a diet rich in probiotic foods, studies have shown that as gut health flourishes so too does the mind. Stress relief and even memory enhancement were seen with the introduction of probiotics.

Establishing a healthy gut is also important to the overall functioning of our immune system. This is because 70-80% of our immune system resides in the gut. In the intestine, epithelial tissues create a barrier to protect our bodies against pathogens and other harmful substances. In order for this epithelial tissue to continue to regenerate, gut flora is necessary. To insure your body is receiving appropriate amounts of gut flora to protect this tissue, it is important to include fermented, probiotic food sources.

Lastly, probiotic bacteria positively impacts energy metabolism because they ferment carbohydrates that can’t be digested and convert them to carbon dioxide, hydrogen, methane and short chain fatty acids. These short chain fatty acids made in the intestine are then absorbed and transformed into energy. These healthy bacteria strands also aid with glucose synthesis to further enhance energy metabolism.

3. Fermented Foods on a Vegan Diet

Mexican-style Pickled Veggies/One Green Planet

Eating fermented foods on a vegan diet is effortless and delicious. The top plant-based sources of probiotic-rich foods are:

  1. Sauerkraut
  2. Kimchi
  3. Tempeh
  4. Miso
  5. Kombucha
  6. Cultured Coconut Milk Yogurt
  7. Pickles (lacto-fermented and found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store)
  8. Dairy-free kefir

4. How to Incorporate Fermented Foods into your Diet

Spice-Preserved Lemons/One Green Planet

Including fermented foods in your diet is an easy way to add a punch of flavor to ordinary dishes, while also being kind to your gut at the same time. They are also easy to prepare and get better with age.

If you’re looking to add probiotic-dense foods to your meal plan try this Homemade Raw Sauerkraut, Fermented Fire Cider, Fermented Mango and Carrot Hot Sauce, Cinnamon Coconut Yogurt, Icelandic Pickles Beets, and this Soy Milk Kefir.

For more fermented food inspiration like 5 Fermented Foods You Should Be Eating, we recommend downloading this Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!

Lead Image Source: Pickled Asian Cucumber Salad/One Green Planet