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You’ve probably heard (on more than one occasion) that you shouldn’t eat a lot of processed food. And this is wise advice. But there’s an exception to this golden rule of good eating…
There’s one type of processed food that’s actually healthier than its whole food version — fermented food.
I know what you’re thinking… is fermented food really “processed”?
Well, technically it is. In fact, it’s the original processed food. Fermentation was one of the first ways humans processed food to prevent it from spoiling.
Now, it’s important to note, that fermented foods are minimally processed foods. They’re nothing like the ultra-processed Frankenfoods you get at the fast food drive-thru or the freezer section at the big box grocers (you know, the foods that contain 15+ unpronounceable ingredients). You’re still going to want to avoid those at all costs.
But minimally processed fermented foods can actually do your health a world of good. In fact, a recent review of the available research on fermented foods found that these “processed” foods can help with everything from diabetes to osteoporosis.
Fermented foods: The healthiest processed food
A group of international scientists led by researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln delved deep into the research on fermented foods and determined that they do live up to all the health hype they’ve received in recent years…
As an example, some of the studies they reviewed showed that:
- Yogurt lowers diabetes rates.
- Chungkookjang (a Korean fermented soybean paste) reduces obesity risk.
- Kimchi (a Korean form of pickle) lowers diabetes rates.
- Soy sauce, miso and other fermented soy products are connected to lower heart disease rates.
- Yogurt, cheese and other fermented foods reduce moodiness and irritability.
- Drinking coffee (yes, coffee is a fermented food) reduces the risk of depression.
- Fermented foods help blood pressure, cholesterol, osteoporosis and digestion.
As a result of this long list of benefits, researchers believe fermented foods deserve a special spot in your diet and their own spot on the food pyramid.
“The data are compelling that there are health benefits associated with fermented foods,” said lead researcher on the review, Nebraska food science researcher Robert Hutkins. “Our recommendation is that fermented foods ought to be part of a balanced diet. Just like you eat fiber every day, you should eat fermented foods every day.”
Researchers hope their review inspires the scientific community to start pumping out research (especially clinical trials) on the health effects of fermented foods. Because, the fact is, we’ve only scratched the surface on their amazing benefits.
Eat fermented foods for fabulous health
Ready to make fermented foods a part of your daily diet? If you are, the good news is there’s just as many types of fermented foods to choose from as there are benefits to gain from them. You can choose from miso, kefir, tempeh, yogurt, sauerkraut, pickles, kombucha, kvass, natto, poi… the list goes on and on.
And if you did a double-take when I mentioned coffee as a fermented food above, you should know that there are a few other foods that you may not realize are fermented, including beer, wine, chocolate, bread, salami and cheese. Of course, some of these items come with characteristics that could harm your health too, so you’ll want to select your fermented foods carefully and eat certain types in moderation.
Whatever type of food you turn to get your fermentation fix, try to choose something that contains live organisms… because those are the little buggers that nourish your gut and help give you all the health benefits! Pasteurized foods won’t contain these live organisms because they’re killed off in the pasteurization process. The easiest way to make sure you are getting the right stuff is to buy it in the refrigerated section. For example, sauerkraut that is pasteurized will be found on the shelves in the middle of the grocery store, but the stuff that’s been fermented needs to stay refrigerated. Also check out your local health food store for fermented food products.
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Can yogurt each day keep the doctor away? — University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Retrieved May 16, 2017.
Maria L Marco, et al. “Health benefits of fermented foods: microbiota and beyond.” — Current Opinion in Biotechnology. Apr. 2017, V.44, 94–102.