Ever noticed the increasing popularity of fermented foods on the supermarket shelves? In particular, there’s a recent rise in the availability of fermented drinks such as kefir and kombucha. The price of these could be the new reason (besides coffee and avo toasts) why youths can’t afford to buy a house!
Fermented foods have been consumed for thousands of years. Fermentation is not only part of food culture but a form of food preservation back in the days when human civilization has yet to flourish. The beneficial role of fermented foods in the diet is all thanks to the goodness of probiotics.
What Is Fermentation?
Fermentation is a chemical process of rotting, essentially. But it is under slow and controlled environments. This process turns sugars into acids, alcohol and carbon dioxide. It also turns bread, beer, and yogurt into what it is!
The little helpers of fermentation are microorganisms (bacteria and yeast) or natural enzymes. It is such a science, to produce an array of fermented products with different taste, texture and other properties.
Examples Of Fermented Foods:
- Grains: sourdough bread, injera
- Meat and alternatives: tempeh, natto, fermented fish
- Dairy food: yogurt, some cheeses, milk kefir
- Vegetables: kimchi, sauerkraut, dill pickles
- Fruit: pickled mango, pickled plum
- Seasonings: miso, soy sauce, shrimp paste
- Beverages: kombucha, fruit based water kefir
Wow, that’s a lot of fermented foods! And some of these are common household staples. But wait, do all fermented foods contain probiotics?
Fermented Foods= Probiotics?
Not necessarily. Probiotics are defined as live microorganisms that confer health benefits in a certain quantity. Unfortunately, not all fermented products contain live bacteria, or in beneficial quantities. Many tend to forget that some fermented products undergo additional food processing which can kill the live bacteria. For example, baking of sourdough bread in the oven or shelf-stable pickles.
Benefits Of Probiotics
The benefits of probiotics boils down to two things: the type of live bacteria and the quantity of it that will lead to benefits. Researchers are still studying the effects of different bugs and its quantities. Most of the benefits we know so far are related to gastrointestinal health. There has been good evidence to show that selected antibiotics can prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhoea (AAD) Specifically in adults, Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Saccharomyces boulardii are most effective. For children, Lactobacillus GG, Lactobacillus sporogens and Saccharomyces boulardii are most effective.
Some of you might have also heard that probiotics can help ease irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms. But the current research review found no substantial benefit so far. However, the use of probiotics is still considered safe for IBS. It is best to try one type at a time, and for 4 weeks to see any potential benefits.
The upcoming research interest for probiotics is not limited to gut health. There have been some evidence and continuous research into its benefits for allergies, oral health disorders, necrotising enterocolitis, liver disease and the common cold. But we do need to wait a little longer to uncover substantial evidence!
Are All Probiotic Foods Good For Health?
Seeing as there’s a large range of probiotic foods available, not all of them are necessarily good for health. It also depends on the availability and quantity of live microorganisms present. Some probiotic foods can contain high amounts of sodium and sugars. Examples of these include fresh kimchi or sweetened yogurts with live bacteria. Frequent intake of high sodium foods spells trouble for our heart and kidney health. And high intake of sugars can lead to weight gain. Hence, it is still important to label read and control the portions that we are taking! The bottomline: Include a wide range of probiotic rich foods in the right proportions to reap the best benefits.