We humans do not admit this often, but a large percentage of what constitutes health issues to us has to do with what we put into our bellies. Whosoever coined the term 'you are what you eat' definitely has a good idea of how important the kind of food we eat is to our health, although the statement might a little bit on the hyperbole side.
According to the World Health Organization, over 200 known diseases are attributable to the foods we consume, and 1 out of every 10 persons from food-related diseases annually worldwide. That is just talking about diseases due to pathogenic organisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc. There are a host of diseases bordering around cancer, cardiovascular health, urological health, hepatological health, and other diseases that inflict humans that are not due to pathogens but due to the foods we eat.
With this realization, it is only pertinent for us to watch what we eat in order to limit the risks of diseases. Talking about foods, one type that comes highly recommended are fermented foods. Let's find out why we should be eating more of this type of foods.
What are fermented foods?
Fermented foods are foods obtained by microbial fermentation of certain categories of food materials. Fermentation is simply a process whereby certain microbes transform the properties of foods by breaking them down using their metabolic processes. In other words, fermentation breaks down complex food materials into less complex ones primarily.
For example, the microbial fermentation of carbohydrates yields either lactic acids (homolytic fermentation) only or a mixture that is largely made of alcohol and some lactic acids (alcohol fermentation). Similarly, the fermentation of proteins yield peptides and or amino acids.
Fermentation does not only break down complex and useful food molecules, but also breaks down molecules in foods that may not be useful or even toxic. These molecules are otherwise known as antinutrients. Often times, the supposed antinutrients are broken down into pieces such the component nutrients become something that can be used by the body.
In addition, fermented foods have been reported to contain some essential vitamins that are synthesized through the normal activities of the microbial flora of fermentation media.
Why you should be eating more of fermented foods
If you have been following me up to this point, you already have an idea of why eating more of fermented foods comes highly recommended over other type of foods. The benefits inherent in the consumption of fermented food are numerous that it will exceed the scope of this blog. Nevertheless, I will try to highlight some of the most important benefits.
- Because fermented foods have already been broken down from complex to less complex food materials, they are more easily digested by the body system. This put less pressure on the digest system of individuals. A good example are people that are lactose intolerant, who have problem with digesting milk or any lactose-containing product. Many of them find the consumption of fermented milk product less problematic, if at all.
- Fermented foods offer more nutrients to the body due to the fact that many locked nutrients that would have passed out of the body as excretory products become available in fermented foods.
- If carried out under controlled conditions, fermented foods usually contain fewer spoilage and pathogenic organisms, if at all. The medium of fermentation is usually acidic due to the production of lactic acid. This hinders the growth of microbes that could cause illness or spoil foods. Hence, the consumption of fermented foods is not only healthier, but fermented foods have longer shelf lives.
- Instead of pathogenic or spoilage microbes, fermented foods contain microbes that offer the human body numerous health benefits. These microbes are otherwise known as probiotics. Probiotics help improve the health of the gut and urinary tract, help in the biosynthesis of vitamins, and help keep away pathogens, among several other benefits.
- The consumption of fermented foods has been linked to lower risks of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and different type of cancer.
Are there downsides?
Of course! Just as every good thing must always have their bad sides, the consumption of fermented foods has been linked to a host of issues.
Topmost on the list of potential issues with the consumption of fermented food is the presence of pathogenic organisms. This is quite common with traditionally fermented foods as controlled fermentations have a way of carrying out the process in aseptic conditions. Other issues with fermented foods include:
- Bloating due to the activities of probiotics
- Headache and migraine
- Histamine intolerance
These downsides, however, are very rare. The benefits in fermented foods far outweigh the potential disadvantages. So, go ahead. Increase yourself in the consumption of yogurts, kombucha, wine, and don't forget to say:
Alrosan, M.; Tan, T. C.; Koh, W. Y.; Easa, A. M.; Gammoh, S.; and Alu’datt, M. H. Overview of fermentation process: Structure-function relationship on protein quality and non-nutritive compounds of plant-based proteins and carbohydrates. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 2022, 1–15.
Silberman, E. S.; and Jin, J. Lactose Intolerance. JAMA. 2019;322(16).
Ojokoh, A. A comparative study on the effect of traditional and improved methods of fermentation in the production of ogi food. Oriental Journal of Chemistry. 2009, 25.
Materia, V. C.; Linnemann, A. R.; and Smid, E.J. Contribution of traditional fermented foods to food systems transformation: value addition and inclusive entrepreneurship. Food Sec. 2021, 13.
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