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What are the benefits of fermented foods?

Patricia Conte has a background in marketing communications and works as an independent writer. In 2010, she was given the opportunity to combine her love of writing and food when she started as a contributing writer for the Food channel...

Ponder probiotics

You’ve likely heard that bacteria, especially in your stomach, can be associated with positive health benefits. That’s right. Bacteria isn’t just a bad thing -- there is “good bacteria,” too.
Woman eating yogurt

Probiotics are microorganisms (including yeast) that are thought to improve your health and can be found in different foods, including fermented foods.

The good with the bad

The human digestive system contains good and bad bacteria. In digestive terms, you want to create a balance for optimal health.

Probiotics are similar to the organisms that occur naturally in the human digestive tract. Adding probiotics to our diet and tummies (often referred to as our “gut” in research) is thought to have numerous benefits, including improved intestinal function and help maintaining a strong immune system.

Research is still being conducted on the proven benefits of probiotics, but some say they can help:

  • Reduce fat gain.
  • Reduce the risk of high blood pressure.
  • Help reduce diarrhea from certain infections.
  • Help to relieve constipation.
  • Help provide calcium to people who are lactose intolerant.
  • Help improve overall immunity.

Fermented food fest

There are several types of probiotics that can be found in different foods, with different health benefits. You might be most familiar with yogurt (many yogurt products with probiotics include Lactobacillus acidophilus or Bifidobacterium in the ingredients).

Other fermented foods, which are becoming more and more popular, can also contain probiotics, or active bacterial cultures. These foods have high nutritional value and may be a welcome addition to a healthy diet. Check out some of the following types of fermented foods:

  • Miso – Miso soup is made from fermented soy. You can buy miso paste at many grocery stores; it's often found in the Asian food section.
  • Yogurt – One of the most widely known foods that contain healthy bacteria. Look for low-fat options that are also low in sugar, and contain bifidus and acidophilus.
  • Sauerkraut and kimchi – Fermented cabbage -- sauerkraut -- along with the similar, spicy Korean dish kimchi, is loaded with vitamins that can help boost the immune system. Keep in mind, however, that the pasteurization process (used to treat most supermarket sauerkraut) kills active, beneficial bacteria.
  • Kombucha – This type of fermented tea has fans and foes alike, but many people swear by this fizzy tea for its health benefits.
  • Kefir – This fermented milk product is becoming more common and can even be found in smoothies and ice creams. Thick and creamy, it tastes like tangy yogurt.

Probiotics also come as supplements, but you should check with your health care provider before deciding whether to take supplements or to make a change in your diet. People with compromised or damaged immune systems should avoid using probiotics or speak to their health care providers about it.

If you’d like to add fermented foods to your meals as part of a healthy diet, consider the following recipe.

Miso-marinated grilled tilapia

This dish is simple to put together, but is tasty and nutritious. Serve with steamed or grilled vegetables and a side of brown rice for a complete meal.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 4 filets (6 ounces each) of tilapia or other firm white fish
  • 3/4 cup white miso
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry or white wine
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together. Add the filets to the bowl and coat well.
  2. Cover and marinate the fish for about an hour in the refrigerator.
  3. Grill the fish over medium-to-medium-high heat. Cook for about 3-5 minutes per side, more if your fish is extra thick.
  4. Serve with steamed vegetables and brown rice.

For more information on probiotics, refer to the National Institutes of Health and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

More on probiotics

Digestive health: Optimizing probiotics and prebiotics
Probiotics benefit children’s health
Digestive health: Eat more prebiotics

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