Why Fermented Foods Make You Healthier (And How to Prepare Them)

You may already know that a daily dose of the probiotics from fermented food is a good idea, but do you know why? There are many options out there when it comes to getting your daily dose of healthy bacteria from food – here’s the “why” plus a few recipes to kick your health into higher gear.

Get More Good Bacteria

Why do you want to eat foods full of bacteria in the first place? Good question. In most cases, eating food that’s so old it’s fermented would be a big no-no. But in the case of these traditional recipes, fermentation yields major bonuses for your health.

Super Sauerkraut

Traditional fermented foods like sauerkraut are surprisingly effective as part of a weight loss plan. Fermented foods are typically low in sugar and calories, but high in fiber, which makes them wonderfully filling. Made from fermented cabbage and occasionally other vegetables, sauerkraut is not only extremely rich in healthy live cultures, but might also help with reducing allergy symptoms. Sauerkraut is also rich in vitamins A, B, C and E. Some, such as kimchi, have high levels of beta-carotene and after undergoing three weeks of fermentation the levels of B1, B2, and B12 double1Farnworth, E. R. T., ed. Handbook of Fermented Functional Foods. (CRC Press: Florida, 2008)..

Fermented foods also help stabilize your blood sugar, which reduces food cravings, keeps insulin sensitivity high, and aids weight loss. In a new study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, subjects who ate a fermented cabbage dish daily saw drops in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol (or “bad” cholesterol), and fasting blood glucose levels after just one week.

Kick-Sugar Kimchi

Studies done on kimchi have shown that this Korean staple develops helpful bacteria that fight bad bacteria, helping prevent conditions such as yeast infections, urinary tract infections, obesity, diabetes, and gastrointestinal cancers.

Plus, the more you eat, the more benefits you reap! A study from Pusan National University in Korea included 100 young men, some of whom ate huge amounts of kimchi daily, and some who ate just half an ounce. The subjects who ate a huge amount of kimchi (about half a pound) daily saw much greater drops in cholesterol levels than those who ate a small amount every day for a week. Both groups still saw a drop in total and LDL cholesterol levels over the course of the study.2Choi, I. H., et al. “Kimchi, a fermented vegetable, improves serum lipid profiles in healthy young adults: randomized clinical ...continue

Kimchi has been shown to lower fasting glucose,3Choi, I. H., et al. “Kimchi, a fermented vegetable, improves serum lipid profiles in healthy young adults: randomized clinical ...continue thereby resetting your hormone insulin. Another study showed that Korean subjects who were told to eat their usual Korean traditional diet – rich in kimchi – had lower glycated hemoglobin (HbA₁c), and more evidence of lower glucose.4Jung, S. J., et al. “Beneficial effects of Korean traditional diets in hypertensive and type 2 diabetic patients.” Journal of Medicinal ...continue Still not convinced? A trial randomized overweight and obese subjects (body mass index > 25 kg/m2) to groups eating fresh versus fermented kimchi, and demonstrated that eating fermented kimchi significantly decreases body weight, body mass index, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio, blood pressure, total cholesterol, and fasting blood glucose.5Kim, E. K., et al. “Fermented kimchi reduces body weight and improves metabolic parameters in overweight and obese patients.” Nutrition ...continue

Proactive Probiotics

If you want to take a preventative approach to your health management (and I strongly encourage everyone to do so), adding probiotic-rich foods to your weekly diet is a wonderful place to start. Not only are they delicious, fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt, and kefir help weight loss, are full of vitamins and fiber, and deliver a much-needed serving of disease-fighting bacteria to your gut with each mouthful. Lastly, they boost your immunity more than any powder you can get.

How to Make Fermented Foods

Fermented foods are made by a process called lacto-fermentation. There is beneficial bacteria present on the surface of all fruits and vegetables. Lactobacillus is one of those bacteria, the same bacteria found in yogurt and many other cultured products. When mashed with salt, the fruit or vegetable releases liquid, creating its own brine solution. When submerged in a brine, the bacteria begin to convert sugars into lactic acid, a natural preservative that inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria.

Here are some DIY recipes to get you started! Aim to eat 5 forkfuls per day, or more.

I adore Meyer lemons and start every morning with squeezing half a lemon into a mug of warm water to gently wake up my system and detox my liver. These probiotic rich lemony wedges are a traditional North African condiment.

Preserved Lemons

Makes one quart

Ingredients:

5 organic Meyer lemons, washed, ends cut off and discarded, then sliced thinly into rounds
2 tablespoons unrefined sea salt
3 cinnamon sticks

Equipment needed:

1-quart mason jar with a storing cap

A large bowl

A Vitamix plunger, muddler or wooden spoon

Instructions:

Toss the lemon rounds in a large bowl with sea salt and cinnamon sticks.

Spoon into the glass mason jar.

Mash with a wooden spoon (or utensil of your choosing) until the rinds of the lemon begin to soften and the lemons release their juice. The juice combines with the salt to create a brine conducive to the proliferation of beneficial bacteria.

Continue mashing the lemons down until the liquid covers them.

Fill with additional salted water or lemon juice if needed, until the brine level comes up to one inch below the top of the jar.

Cover tightly and let sit at room temperature for 2 weeks.

Meanwhile, every day – shake the jar.

Taste the lemons at the end of the fermentation time to see if the flavor is where you want it.

Transfer the lemons to cold storage to stop the fermentation process.

The lemon peels will be slightly translucent and smooth and the liquid will be cloudy.

Take out a lemon or section as needed and separate the peel from the pulp. They come apart easily with a little prodding.

If using the peel, dice or mince, and remember, this is both salty and very flavorful.  A little goes a long way! If the taste is too salty for your liking, rinse before adding to your dish.

Notes:

  • Using organic citrus is important because you are actually going to eat the peel.
  • You can substitute limes, oranges or regular lemons but you may need 3-4 more for sufficient juice.
  • Get creative and experiment with spices (ideas: clove, cardamom and star anise).

I’ve never been a huge fan of store bought sauerkraut… I bought it, I ate it, but didn’t exactly love it. Now that I make my own though, I crave sauerkraut.

Korean Sauerkraut (Kimchi)

(adapted from Nourishing Traditions)

Makes 1 quart

Ingredients:

1 head of Napa cabbage, cored and shredded

1-cup carrots, grated

1 cup red radish, grated

2 bunches green onions, chopped

2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

½ teaspoon dried chili flakes

2 tablespoons sea salt

Equipment needed:

1-quart mason jar with a storing cap

A large bowl

A vitamix plunger, muddler or wooden spoon

Instructions:

Place all ingredients in a bowl and pound with a wooden pounder to release the juices.

Place in a quart-sized mason jar.

Press down until the juices come to the top of the mixture. The top of the mixture should be covered at least 1 inch below the top of the jar.

Cover tightly and store at room temperature for about 3 days. Then transfer to the refrigerator.

Notes:

  • As it’s fermenting, keep the sauerkraut away from direct sunlight and at a cool room temperature – ideally 65°F to 75°F.
  • Check it daily, and press it down if the cabbage is floating above the liquid. There’s no hard-and-fast rule for when the sauerkraut is “done” – go by how it tastes. Start tasting it after three days. When the sauerkraut tastes good to you, remove the weight, screw on the cap, and refrigerate.
  • While it’s fermenting, you may see bubbles coming through the cabbage, foam on the top, or white scum. These are all signs of a healthy, happy fermentation process. The scum can be skimmed off the top either during fermentation or before refrigerating.
  • If you see any mold, skim it off immediately and make sure your cabbage is fully submerged; don’t eat moldy parts close to the surface, but the rest of the sauerkraut is fine.

Pickled Daikon

Makes 1 quart

I adore radishes of all kinds but my favorite is the spicy Japanese Daikon, which I first discovered at the Berkeley Bowl in Berkeley, CA. I add a few forkfuls to everything!

Ingredients:

3 pounds daikon radish, peeled and grated

2 tablespoons sea salt

Equipment needed:

1-quart mason jar with a storing cap

A large bowl

A Vitamix plunger, muddler or wooden spoon

Instructions:

Place grated radish and salt in a large bowl. Mix well and then pound with a wooden pounder until juices are released. (Free therapy, anyone?)

Place radish mixture in a quart-sized, wide mouth jar (Mason jars are perfect).

Press down till the juices (aka brine) come to the top of the mixture.

The top of the radish mixture should be covered at least 1 inch below the top of the jar. Cover tightly and store at room temperature for about 3 days. Then transfer to the refrigerator.

Keen to learn more about keeping healthy for longevity? Pre-order my upcoming book, Younger, A Breakthrough Program to Reset Your Genes, Reverse Aging, and Turn Back the Clock 10 Yearsbefore its sales price goes up upon release March 17, 2017.

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About Sara Gottfried MD
Sara Gottfried, MD is the author of the new book, Younger: A Breakthrough Program to Reset Your Genes, Reverse Aging, and Turn Back the Clock 10 Years. She’s the two-time New York Times bestselling author of The Hormone Cure and The Hormone Reset Diet. After graduating from Harvard Medical School and MIT, Dr. Gottfried completed her residency at the University of California at San Francisco. She is a board-certified gynecologist who teaches natural hormone balancing in her novel online programs so that women can lose weight, detoxify, and slow down aging. Dr. Gottfried lives in Berkeley, CA with her husband and two daughters.

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References   [ + ]

1. Farnworth, E. R. T., ed. Handbook of Fermented Functional Foods. (CRC Press: Florida, 2008).
2, 3. Choi, I. H., et al. “Kimchi, a fermented vegetable, improves serum lipid profiles in healthy young adults: randomized clinical trial.” Journal of Medicinal Food 16, no. 3 (2013): 223-229.
4. Jung, S. J., et al. “Beneficial effects of Korean traditional diets in hypertensive and type 2 diabetic patients.” Journal of Medicinal Food 17, no. 1 (2014): 161-171.
5. Kim, E. K., et al. “Fermented kimchi reduces body weight and improves metabolic parameters in overweight and obese patients.” Nutrition Research 31, no. 6 (2011): 436-443.