Digestive Benefits Of Fermented Foods

By Dr Harold Gunatillake - Health Writer

Early records show that Chinese workers ate acid-fermented vegetables while building the great wall of china, Japan traditionally serves pickled vegetables with their meals. pickled onions, aubergines, cucumber, mustard, vinegar, and all that go into the fermentation of pickles. Pickling is the process of preserving food by anaerobic fermentation in brine (salt water) or vinegar. The pH drops to about 4.6 or lower in pickling which is sufficient to kill most bacteria

For centuries humans used methods of fermentation to preserve food long before they invented fridges and ice cubes for the purpose. Native Americans buried from sauerkraut in Russia to cheese in Baghdad and vegetables in earthen pots, these foods have been valued for hundreds of years.Today there is a surge in the popularity of fermented foods, such as fermented vegetables, but also fermented sweet ice teas, like kombucha or its milky equivalent, kefir.

Then, spices and salt became popular to preserve food especially in the sailing boats during long periods at sea. History tells us that Portuguese sailed all the way to Serendib (Ceylon) to purchase spices like cardamoms, cinnamon and others to use mainly for preserving food, mainly animal products.

Today, fermented foods are becoming popular for its benefits in enhancing the gut flora- bacteria that are friendly, keeping our guts free of disease producing microbes. Infact, they encourage the growth of "good' microorganisms, while preventing the growth of spoilage-causing microorganisms. Fermented foods ranging from sauerkraut to yogurt have become a boon to the gut to benefit not only to feed the friendly bacteria but also possibly for allergies and even weight loss.

Bacteria or yeast feeds on the natural sugars in our foods. These microorganisms create compounds such as lactic acid or alcohol which facilitates to preserve the foods. The Lactic acid produced during food fermentation promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in the small gut.

Lactic acid also enhances food digestibility and increases vitamin C and vitamin A levels.
Lactic acid seems to remove toxins from the gut, too. If you have chronic digestive problems like IBS, or Acid reflux symptoms among others, it is not possible to cure such diseases through medication. Today, it has been found that a balance between beneficial bacteria and disease-causing bacteria in the gut can relieve most symptoms of digestive problems. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria found in fermented foods. Sour milk products have been a part of the diet among our ancestors, since the collecting of milk from animals began. In Sri Lanka, the southern part of the coastal region is famous for curd, which is purely a fermented treat. The saying goes that there is always a place in the stomach for curd and honey, even when it is over-filled with food. What this means is that curd has a beneficial effect for digestion of the rice and curry meal.

Yogurt is simply milk or cream that is cultured with active live cultures of bacteria. These bacteria prevent the growth of harmful bacteria that cause diseases in your gut. It is also referred to as a pro-biotic. It is also considered a natural antibiotic. Eating a cup of plain low sugar yogurt daily is beneficial to maintain a healthy flora in the gut.

According to the adopted definition by FAO/WHO probiotics are: "Live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host. The most common types of bacteria used as probiotics are Lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria, and certain yeasts and other bacilli may also be helpful". (Prebiotics are a special form of dietary fibre found naturally in foods including whole grains, bananas, garlic, onions)

The difference between having antibiotics and pro-biotic for gut bacterial infections is, that the former will destroy the good beneficial germs, whilst the latter will nurture the healthy bacterial flora. Eating yoghurt regularly can help restore your good bacteria levels. Yoghurt is also beneficial to individuals having lactose intolerance, as the active live cultures reduce yoghurt's level of lactose.

Early records show that Chinese workers ate acid-fermented vegetables while building the Great Wall of China. Japan traditionally serves pickled vegetables with their meals. Pickled onions, aubergines, cucumber, mustard, vinegar, and all that go into the fermentation of pickles. Pickling is the process of preserving food by anaerobic fermentation in brine (salt water) or vinegar. The pH drops to about 4.6 or lower in pickling which is sufficient to kill most bacteria.

Antimicrobial herbs and spices such as mustard seed, garlic cinnamon or cloves are often added.Pickle or Achcharu as it is called, considered popularly 'rice pullers' and served with meals in most homes in Sri Lanka. The older the pickle, more mature and seasoned it is, the better its quality and benefits. Koreans seem to ferment cabbage and was considered a most beneficial healing agent since early humans. Korean dish kimchi; soybeans into miso are other Korean fermented foods. Beer drinkers should be happy that beer is an alcoholic beverage produced by saccharification of starch and fermentation of the resulting sugar. Beer also is flavoured with herbs or fruit, and should be considered a friendly drink to the gut. It is the oldest fermented beverage. Beer should be sipped whilst enjoying a meal, which is more beneficial and friendly to the gut and digestion of food – just one drink.

Help low acidity in the stomach
Gastric juice is mainly composed of acid (hydrochloric acid). Fermented foods help to correct the acid balance in the stomach. When the production of hydrochloric acid by the stomach lining is low, fermented foods help increase the acidity of gastric juices. On the other hand, when the stomach produces too much acid, fermented foods help protect the stomach and intestinal lining. When you do not have much of an appetite for food, adding fermented pickled foods creates an appetite by increasing the acid juice in the stomach. It is beneficial for a balanced functioning of your gut, to eat a small portion of traditional fermented foods on a very regular basis, may be daily with your rice and curry, or in your sandwich.

Chronic constipation.
Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter which helps to transmit nerve impulses. This action, increases the movement of the bowel, and can help relieve constipation problems. Fermented foods also increase the production of all enzymes, such as those secreted by the pancreas, stomach and small gut and act as digestive aids. It is suggested that 95% of serotonin neurotransmitters and feel-good hormone come from the gut rather than from the brain and further 85% of our immune system is manufactured in the lining of our gut. Keeping and maintaining a healthy gut by consuming fermented foods encourages the growth of beneficial microorganisms.

Fermented foods helps diabetes
The acids in fermented foods — lactic and acetic acid – block carbohydrates from entering the blood and turning into blood sugar, reducing spikes. And these benefits can carry over to the next meal.

Fermented foods are lower on the glycaemic index than non-fermented foods. This helps the diabetics to maintain a healthy weight because fermented foods are low in carbohydrates and prevent blood sugar spikes. Eating chutneys, pickles, and other fermented foods daily is good for you. So, to be healthy, introduce fermented foods into your daily diet. Sip a chilled glass of beer with your food.

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