Your stomach’s secret weapon: fermented foods

December 20, 2012, 2:56 pmYahoo!7

Elixr Health Club nutritionist Maria Adzersen on the power of femented foods.

Your stomach’s secret weapon

Flickr/Chiot's Run

When you hear the word superfood, images of berries, cacao, kale and quinoa likely spring to mind.

However, there’s one very important food that’s essential to our wellbeing which is not often spoken about: fermented foods. They are among the true nutritional heroes.

Fermented foods, such as yoghurt, cabbage, pickles, sourdough, or drinks like “kombucha”, promote good bacteria (probiotics) in our gut or digestive system. Our gut, aptly nicknamed “the forgotten organ” houses between 300 and 1000 different species of bacteria, both good and bad, and when our gut is in balance this influences our mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. Even Hippocrates once stated that all diseases begin in the gut.

Did you know: that 90 per cent of the body’s total serotonin - the “happiness and wellbeing” hormone - is located in the gut?

The balance of good bacteria to bad bacteria or pathogens can be disrupted by a number of factors, such as antibiotics, medications, excess alcohol, excess sugar, stress, lack of sleep, food and water-borne pathogens and also gut conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's Disease, or food allergies such as lactose and gluten intolerance.

When the presence of good bacteria is compromised in the gut, this can cause a whole host of problems including a low immune system, reoccurring illnesses, thrust, chronic diarrhea, constipation, poor digestion, skin conditions, allergies, intolerances and even ADHD and depression.

So when the gut flora (bacteria) is healthy, it assists the digestive cells (called enterocytes) to regenerate, which heals and seals the gut lining and digests and absorbs essential nutrients. This in turn strengthens your immune system, reduces systemic and gut inflammation, supports mental health and cognitive functioning, and supports healthy weight management.

Fermented foods are easily digested and readily absorbed by the body. They help to break down the lactose in dairy, or the gluten and lectin components of bread.

Not all fermented products are created equal, however. Wine and beer are also fermented, however I don’t suggest drinking alcohol as a healthy measure to restore the good bacteria in your gut (because the strength of the alcohol itself kills the beneficial flora in your gut). And avoid buying canned or commercially produced fermented foods. These are often highly processed, pasteurised and just soaked in vinegar, devoid of any added beneficial bacteria.

Rather, try fermenting foods yourself and bring out the old-fashioned cook in you!

Seven fermented foods to try

• kefir (yoghurt)
• sauerkraut or kimchi (cabbage)
• pickles
• ratfisk (salted, fermented trout)
• wine
• beer

• kombucha (a lightly carbonated drink made from a yeast)

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