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Fermented foods carry many health benefits

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Plenty of people know sauerkraut goes great with sausage, but if it’s made correctly, this fermented food — among others — can also pack plenty of beneficial bacteria, vitamins and enzymes.

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Plenty of people know sauerkraut goes great with sausage, but if it’s made correctly, this fermented food — among others — can also pack plenty of beneficial bacteria, vitamins and enzymes. Photo Store

The health benefits of fermented foods, a staple of many traditional diets, have been known for years.

Sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt and fermented beverages such as kombucha and kefir are not only delicious, but can improve overall health and well-being.

The process of fermentation involves the breakdown of carbohydrates (sugars) into
alcohol using yeasts and or beneficial bacteria. This is the same process by which beer and wine are made.

However, when starchy foods and dairy are allowed to ferment, the result is a potent superfood, loaded with beneficial bacteria, vitamins and enzymes that taste alive and provide many health benefits.

For example, in people suffering from constipation, lactose and gluten intolerances, fermented foods have been known to help restore proper digestion and bowel movements by adding vital gut bacteria that are often missing in these individuals. Also, because fermented foods are technically "pre-digested" they are often better tolerated than their raw versions.

Fermented foods have also been known to guard against the loss of digestive enzymes as we age. This has led some researchers to speculate that this could protect against the aging process itself.

According to another study, fermenting foods naturally increases their vitamin, riboflavin and biotin content depending on the strain of bacteria used.

Unfortunately, the standard Canadian diet rarely contains any fermented foods. The two most common fermented foods consumed in Canada, pickles and sauerkraut, are typically heat pasteurized and preserved in vinegar, instead of the traditional method of lacto-fermentation using salt. This commercial processing all but eliminates any of the beneficial bacteria and enzymes.

Fortunately, it has become easier to find live, traditionally fermented foods, many of which are now available at health food stores.

Here are some of the top fermented foods to add to your diet:

Sauerkraut — live cultured, lacto-fermented kraut can be made with cabbage, carrots, ginger, sea vegetables and other starchy vegetables.

Kefir — a fermented dairy drink that is slightly fizzy and loaded with lactase, the enzyme needed to properly digest dairy.

Kimchi — a traditional Korean food made with cabbage, tomato paste, dehydrated shrimp and spices. An acquired taste for some. Choose a brand without added sugar.

Kombucha — a flavoured tea drink using yeast cultures as a starter. Again, watch the sugar content of these drinks.

Sourdough bread — Made with traditional sourdough starter, not baker’s yeast. The live cultures are what give this bread its sour, tangy taste. Because it’s made with rye flour, sourdough bread does not have the same gluten content as wheat.

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