Once upon a time, before the industrial processing of our food took place, people used to ferment vegetables, primarily to help to preserve them. It was, and still can be, a natural process. There were no artificial preservatives added then, as they are in the majority of modern processed foods today. Anyone who aspires to a holistic health lifestyle has already learned to avoid processed foods as much as possible; but fermented vegetables, such as sauerkraut and kimchi, are naturally processed foods that are not only permissible, but preferable to include in any healthy well-balanced diet, especially if you make them yourself! Fermented foods contain incredible health benefits.
More than just a natural way of preserving food
In the old days, the process of fermenting vegetables not only helped to preserve the food for longer, but it also added a new taste dimension. In subsequent years, with the advent of modern medical science, we’ve also been able to establish that fermenting vegetables beneficially increases their nutritional content too.
How does fermenting vegetables work?
The name of the natural process that fermented vegetables go through is a process knows as lacto-fermentation. This is a process whereby natural bacteria is encouraged to feed on the sugars and carbohydrates in the vegetables, which then creates something known as lactic acid. As well as helping to preserve the food for many weeks, it also adds certain beneficial enzymes, vitamins and fatty acids, plus a number of probiotics into the food that is being fermented.
It is theorized by many medical professionals, dieticians and nutritionists, that the production of the probiotics is the reason why the consumption of fermented vegetables is linked to an improvement in digestion.
But it’s not just being good for your digestion that fermented veggies are known for. They are also associated with many other benefits too, and here in this article, we’re going to be taking a look at what those benefits are. Let’s start off with the benefit we’ve already made mention of – namely aiding digestion
Benefit of consuming fermented veggies # 1 – Aids digestion
In some ways, the condition of fermented veggies is rather like food wherein the digestive process has already begun. So when you consume fermented veggies, such as sauerkraut (the one that most of us are familiar with), you’re eating food in which the digestive process is already underway, inferring that your gut hasn’t got to work so hard. But it’s the enzymes that the lacto-fermentation process produces that help your digestive system to get the best nutrient value of the other food you eat. They increase the absorption rate of vitamins and minerals, and generally help to speed up the digestive process.
Benefit of consuming fermented veggies # 2 – Helps to avoid constipation
The fact that eating fermented veggies can actually help to speed up your digestive process, means that you are far less likely to become constipated, and here’s why.
The speed of your digestive system is in large, partly down to the amount of active good bacteria that you have in your gut. The more the merrier. Fermented veggies have a high probiotic content; a content which is enriched with good bacteria. Consuming fermented veggies therefore helps to supplement the amount of good bacteria in your gut. In effect, the more good bacteria you have in your gut, the more quickly and efficiently it will digest the food that you eat, thereby minimising the risk of constipation.
Benefit of consuming fermented veggies # 3 – Enhances vitamin content
Fermented veggies enhance the amount of vitamins you consumes in two ways. Firstly, the food itself, whether it’s fermented cabbage or yoghurt, develops vitamins as it ferments. Most fermented vegetables are great sources of vitamin C. Going back in time, history tells us Genghis Kahn and his hordes of Mongols were fed on sauerkraut which helped to keep scurvy at bay.
While fermented veggies are vitamin C rich, fermented milk (yoghurt) is a great source of vitamins B6 and B12.
The other way that fermented veggies enhance vitamin nutrition, is that thanks to the enzymes they contain, they help your body to absorb more of the vitamin content from the food; the same enzymes that also enhance digestion.
Benefit of consuming fermented veggies # 4 – Enhances nutritional value
As well as being a rich source of vitamins, fermented veggies are also nutritious to boot. They are good sources of amino acids and minerals too. For example, the minerals that sauerkraut contains include: calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium. Furthermore due to the special enzymes they contain, they not help our bodies to absorb vitamins more effectively as mentioned above, but they enhance our bodies’ ability to extract the maximum amount of nutrition from the food we eat too; a process known an increased bioavailability.
Benefit of consuming fermented veggies # 5 – Enhances the immune system
Another of the great health benefits of fermented veggies is their ability to boost your immune system. This benefit arises from the fact that they are rich in vitamin C, as well as being loaded with minerals, and substances known as phytochemicals, which help to keep disease at bay, and minimise other health issues, including skin disorders, and colds and flu.
The probiotic bacteria from fermented veggies help to colonise intestinal flora, which may also contribute to warding off illness and disease. This also helps to ensure that in terms of the bacterial balance in your colon and digestive tract, the amount of good bacteria remains in the ascendancy over bad bacteria.
Benefit of consuming fermented veggies # 6 – Helping to ward off Cancer
One particular fermented veggie, sauerkraut, contains powerful antioxidants known as glucosinolates. These are what give cabbage its strong, pungent flavour and odour. As the fermentation process of the sauerkraut takes hold, these glucosinolates convert into something called isothiocyanates; compounds that have specific anti-cancer characteristics that can inhibit the growth of cancer cells, and potentially eliminates certain carcinogens. This could help to reduce the risk of developing liver cancer, colon cancer, breast cancer and lung cancer.
Benefit of consuming fermented veggies # 7 – Protects heart health
Another of the important benefits of fermented veggies is that they contain flavonoids, which are known to be beneficial in terms of heart health. Flavonoids have the ability to lower the levels of bad cholesterol in your bloodstream, thereby reducing the long-term effects, and danger of heart disease.
The dangers of buying commercially produced fermented veggies
The one thing you need to be careful about if you’re considering buying fermented veggies off-the-shelf in the supermarket, is to avoid any products that have been pasteurised, because the pasteurisation process nullifies their probiotic content and dramatically lessens the vitamin and mineral content too. Another problem with many commercially produced products is that they contain high levels of salt, and some also contain preservatives. If you are intent on purchasing commercially produced product, you’re better to go to your local health food shop and if they stock it, but raw, natural fermented veggies.
DIY fermented veggies
Better still – make your own fermented veggies. It’s not very difficult. You only really need the time and the inclination; but in terms of your holistic health, it’s definitely the best approach.
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