The advancement of technology has paved the way for the enhanced processing of food. However, to make them last longer and increase their shelf life, it has become a common practice to infuse these foods with preservatives and other chemicals. Because of this, the job of the trillions of good bacteria in our digestive tracts has become infinitely more difficult than before. As such, this has further highlighted the importance of probiotics in food.
One staple source of probiotics is fermented food such as yogurt and kimchi. These foods are achieved through a process called fermentation, a concept we will discuss further below. With that said, in this article, we will be further discussing probiotics and its usual source: fermented food. Aside from defining what they are, we will also list down their benefits and correlation as well as the typical foods rich in probiotics.
Correlation Between Probiotics and Fermented Food
For centuries, even before the invention of preservatives and refrigerators, we have managed to make our food last longer through a process called fermentation. However, more than just preserving our food for longer shelf life, fermentation also creates an environment that’s conducive to the growth of “good bacteria” in our gut or known as probiotics. As such, fermented food is considered as the best source of probiotics that are needed to enhance our digestion and allow our body to rid itself of the toxins to which we’re constantly exposed. This is especially true now that we’re consuming more and more food infused with artificial ingredients that can be unhealthy and lead to various diseases.
Fermentation: Definition and Its Process
Fermentation is the metabolic process wherein a complex substance such as carbohydrates are slowly broken down into simpler substances like starch or sugar. It usually involves a microorganism like yeast to aid in the process. Fermentation is achieved when natural bacteria break down these substances by feeding on the starch and sugar. This results in a substance called lactic acid. This process of fermenting food allows for a longer lifespan, enabling you to store these foods longer and at the same time creating an environment that’s conducive to the growth of beneficial enzymes and good bacteria as well as vitamins and minerals like omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins. Fermented food typically only undergoes the primary fermentation process as the secondary is often reserved for substances requiring a longer fermenting time like wines and beers.
To ferment food, you will need:
- The food you’re going to ferment such as vegetables
- A bacterial starter like yeast
- A container to store it in.
Remember that exposing it to air will hinder the natural fermentation process from occurring and can cause spoilage and food poisoning.
What Are Probiotics?
In recent years, there has been increasing attention paid to the importance of probiotics in food but what exactly are they, and why are they important? Probiotics are live microorganisms that offer plenty of health benefits when added to one’s diet. Considered as “good bacteria,” they aid in digestion and keep our guts healthy, fighting off the “bad bacteria” that can cause harmful diseases. By adding food rich in probiotics to our diets, we can help our bodies rid of the harmful bacteria and increase the “helpful bacteria” residing in our bodies. Gut health has become especially important due to the various positive effects it has on our bodies.
In terms of classification, there are many types of bacteria considered as probiotics but most of them come from 2 major groups. They are as follows:
- Lactobacillus – This is the most common probiotic. You would find this type of bacteria in fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut. These bacteria can aid lactose-intolerant people to digest the lactose in milk and mitigate the effects of diarrhea.
- Bifidobacterium – Commonly found in dairy products, this type of bacteria can alleviate the symptoms of digestive diseases like Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS.
In addition to this, Saccharomyces boulardii is a kind of yeast found in probiotics. This yeast helps fight the effects of diarrhea as well as other digestive issues.
What Are the Benefits of Probiotics?
As mentioned, probiotics are necessary to ensure the continuous healthy states of our guts which offer many benefits, especially for our health. Ranging from physical to mental, probiotics benefits are numerous, making them an essential part of our diets.
So, what exactly are the benefits of probiotics?
1. They help balance the bacteria in our guts, maintaining homeostasis.
As the saying goes, too much of anything is bad. This is true, especially when it comes to the bacteria in our bodies. Probiotics help increase the number of good bacteria in our guts, neutralizing the negative effects of the bad bacteria. By doing so, we maintain our homeostasis or a state of equilibrium in our bodies, keeping us healthy and free from illness.
2. It helps treat and prevent diarrhea.
If you have ever taken antibiotics, then you might have experienced its side effect: diarrhea. Diarrhea, when severe enough, can lead to dehydration – a condition wherein your body loses a lot of its water and electrolytes. When these electrolytes and water aren’t replaced fast enough, this results in severe dehydration which can cause death. As such, probiotics can help treat or at least reduce the severity of antibiotic-induced diarrhea due to its natural ability to increase the “good bacteria” in our guts – something which antibiotics eliminate as well. Aside from that, it has also been found that probiotics can also help treat non-antibiotic-induced diarrhea as well as prevent it from reoccurring. However, this effect varies greatly, depending on the type of probiotic taken. Besides diarrhea, probiotics can also help with other digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, and Crohn’s disease.
3. It can help keep your heart healthy and reduce the risk of heart diseases.
Another benefit of taking probiotics is that it can keep your heart healthy, therefore, greatly reducing the risk of suffering from heart diseases. This is because probiotics can lower the levels of LDL or the “bad cholesterol” in the bloodstream as well as your blood pressure. This happens because certain bacteria help break down bile in our guts, therefore, preventing it from re-entering the bloodstream as cholesterol.
4. It can help boost your mood and improve some mental conditions.
There are studies showing that there’s a link between mental health and gut health. Since probiotics improve gut health through the increase of good bacteria, it also helps improve one’s mood and alleviate symptoms of mental health conditions like depression, stress, anxiety, and even memory problems.
5. It can boost your immunity.
By fighting against the bad bacteria in our bodies, probiotics can also help boost our immunity which can enable us to fight against infections like UTIs (urinary tract infections) as well as respiratory infections. Some probiotics have been shown to increase the production of natural antibodies as well as immune cells that kill off harmful disease-causing germs and bacteria.
Types of Fermented Food
One of the many benefits of fermented food is the fact that it’s a great source of probiotics that can help keep our bodies and minds healthy.
Fermented food is enjoyed in many countries across the globe and while not everyone enjoys the strong smell and taste associated with fermented food, it’s undeniable how beneficial they can be for one’s health.
Here are some of the most common types of fermented food enjoyed by people around the world, starting with…
Probably the most common type of fermented food, yogurt is rich in probiotics and can be enjoyed as a healthy snack or dessert. Yogurt is milk that has been fermented by good lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria. Aside from improving gut health, it has also been associated with improved bone health as well as lower blood pressure and improved heart health.
A staple side dish in Korean cuisine, kimchi is made of fermented vegetables, usually with the main one being cabbage. Aside from vegetables, it also involves other seasonings such as garlic, ginger, and red chili pepper flakes, making it one spicy side dish. It contains the lactic acid bacteria, Lactobacillus that helps aid in digestion. Aside from this, it’s also rich in other vitamins and minerals like vitamin K, iron, and vitamin B2. The best place to buy Kimchi is Korean grocery stores or Asian grocery stores. They make Kimchi in their stores and sell in a bigger jar much better priced than ones from American-chain grocery stores. Most time, the owners start selling fresh-made Kimchi right away. Depending on what stages of the fermenting process, you tasted Kimchi first time, you would love or hate it. Some might say I tasted nothing but hot spicy. Some might say I love the tangy taste. So after you bring Kimchi jar from stores, don’t put them in the refrigerator. Keep them in room temperature on the kitchen countertop for a couple of days, that would speed the fermenting process. When you open the jar first time, if it makes bubbles and overflows the jar, that is totally fine, That tells you there are lots of good bacteria.
Sauerkraut is one of the oldest traditional dishes and is often used as a side dish to sausages and other meat products. It’s particularly popular in Europe and features a sour and salty taste. This dish has been fermented by lactic acid bacteria and is rich in antioxidants as well as other vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, iron, manganese, and sodium.
Created with cucumbers pickled in a solution of water and salt, pickles are a great source of probiotics and can serve as great snacks. They are often left to ferment using their own natural lactic acid bacteria, the reason why they are sour. Pickles serve as great low-calorie snacks or addition to various other dishes. Aside from being rich in probiotics, it is also rich in vitamin K, a vitamin essential for blood clotting.
With the prevalence of processed foods in our diets nowadays, it can make the work of our digestive systems more difficult. This is why we recommended you to include probiotics as part of your diets. A fermented food, like kimchi and yogurt, is a great source of probiotics as well as other vitamins and minerals, needed for healthy minds and bodies. Remember, your immune system comes from the gut. Research has shown that probiotics have plenty of health benefits and not just as an aid for digestion. Ranging from physical to mental health benefits, eating food rich in probiotics can result in long-term positive effects on our health.