Health experts are talking a lot about probiotics these days, and for good reason. Boosting your gut health with healthy bacteria has so many benefits for the body, including improving your immunity. And there’s one especially delicious way you can get more probiotics into your diet — eating fermented foods.
We’re all doing our best to keep our immune systems functioning optimally these days as numbers of COVID-19 cases are increasing in many states. One of the best ways we can protect our body is by getting the right foods in our diet.
On top of getting more vitamin D, vitamin C, and zinc from our food, a growing body of research suggests that it may also be a good idea to add fermented foods to your plate if you’re trying to improve your body’s natural immune defenses.
What are fermented foods?
It’s estimated that the the process of fermentation has been used to preserve foods since the year 6000 BC. During fermentation, an acid is used to metabolize carbohydrate molecules like sugar, which would typically cause the food to spoil. This process prevents the growth of “bad” bacteria while promoting the growth of “good” bacteria — also known as probiotics. For example, cucumbers are fermented with vinegar, which is an acid, to make pickles. The acid in vinegar is used to kill off vegetable sugar compounds that are naturally found in cucumbers, and at the same time, they become rich in probiotics. This is why fermented foods also tend to have a sour taste!
The Microbiome and Immunity
The word “microbiome” refers to all the microbes that are found in the gastrointestinal tract. This includes bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses. So, what does that have to do with immunity? Well, studies have shown that eating fermented foods increases the probiotic bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract which then helps to mobilize immune cells and fight infection, disease, and inflammation.
Speaking to Harvard Health, Dr. David S. Ludwig, professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, explains, “If people eat probiotics (like those found in fermented foods) from early childhood, that can help train the immune system to tolerate — and cooperate with — a diverse, beneficial microbiome. After the first few months and years of life, a person’s microbe population is relatively stable, but adults who eat fermented foods regularly can still reap benefits.”
So what foods should you start adding to your plate? The experts at Harvard Health suggest that the best fermented food to start eating is yogurt, with Greek yogurt containing the most probiotics. You want to choose fermented foods that contain live active cultures of probiotic bacteria. Unfortunately, many of the pickle products you’ll find at your local grocery store aren’t naturally fermented and don’t contain those live enzymes that boost immunity. However, you can look for labels that say “naturally fermented” or “contains live active cultures” at health food stores. Other products that typically have those healthy microbes in them are sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir.
Check out this list for more probiotic foods to start including in your diet today. You can also follow this handy guide to fermenting your own vegetables at home which is fun and super easy. Your gut will certainly thank you!
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