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5 Fermented Foods You Need to Add to Your Diet

Thursday, March 05, 2015


90 grams of kefir grains, via Wikimedia CC.

This past week OPB rebroadcast an episode of America’s Test Kitchen about fermentation.  No longer is sauerkraut just a must-have topping for your brat, but it turns out that it is a genuine health food.  The general rule you need to follow to eat the best quality and healthiest diet is simply this:  Eat real food.  It doesn’t get much more real than fermented food.

Today’s food is filled with additives and preservatives in order to lengthen shelf life, but until modern-day refrigeration people relied on the fermentation process to lengthen the life of their food.  This is not paleo cave-man stuff; this is what is still practiced around the world in order to protect food supplies for those who do not have adequate ways to preserve food without it.  

One of the reasons this food is everywhere now is because it is a bit of a health fad.  However, the benefits that you can get from these prebiotic foods are immense — so it is one fad worth getting behind.  

Lactofermentation, the process in which natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the foods thereby creating lactic acid, not only preserves food, but creates beneficial nutritional side effects. This process creates beneficial enzymes which help to pre-digest your food (hence prebiotic), B-vitamins, and various strains of probiotics.  The benefits are numerous, including increased immunity, improved digestion, and greater amounts of nutrients, not to mention that the food has a much longer life.  For instance, homemade salsa cannot be kept for long in the fridge, but fermented salsa can be kept for months (if you don’t eat it all first!).

Try these fermented foods to boost your health and to please your taste buds.

1. Miso

This paste is made from fermented soybeans, and is most commonly known by those of you who enjoy a little bowl at your favorite sushi restaurant.  While soy and soybeans can be problematic, miso is one of the last forms of soy that is pretty much purely beneficial.  It helps to promote a healthy pH in your digestive system which can be incredibly helpful if you have a touchy stomach.  It is a lovely source of iron, calcium, potassium, B vitamins and complete proteins.

2. Sauerkraut

The most commercial of all the fermented foods, not just any old sauerkraut will do.  Most “sauerkraut” is just cabbage packed in vinegar, so you need to find one that says “live cultures,” “live,” or “not pasteurized” on the label.  If you want to eat this for health purposes, one of the best ways to do so is to start with 1-2 forkfuls at each meal.  It is also one of the easiest foods to ferment yourself.  Check here for a great recipe.

3. Kefir

This fermented milk product is high in nutrients as are the other fermented foods, and it is easy to make it tasty by adding just a little bit of fruit.  Kefir, in addition to the nutrients found in miso, is also high in folate, calcium, K2, and biotin.  There are many different kinds of kefir in the grocery store, but most are highly processed and contain lots of sugar and other additives.  Look for kefir with the least sugar possible, and the least amount of processing.  It is not difficult to make your own kefir, either, but you do need to purchase something called kefir grains, and if you take care of them one purchase should last you forever.  Although kefir is fairly low in lactose, if you have issues with cow milk, you can also purchase or make kefir with goat, sheep or coconut milk.

4. Kimchi

The lovely thing about kimchi is that in addition to being full of probiotics, all of the ingredients traditionally used in making kimchi have their own health benefits.  Made with Napa cabbage, radish, ginger, chili pepper and garlic, this spicy dish is quickly becoming a staple in the natural food world as well as in some of the best Portland restaurants.  Biwa puts a kimchi aoli on their burger, Foster Burger made a Kimcheeseburger for Burger Week last year, and Cameo Cafe is even serving kimchi for breakfast.  Eat up, Portland!

5. Tempeh

The second soy product on the list, tempeh is a vegan’s best friend because it contains as much protein as most meats.  This fermented soybean product has been hailed as a superfood, and is high in calcium, niacin, riboflavin and fiber, and because of the enzymes that come from the fermentation process, it is easier to digest than many other vegetarian and animal-based proteins.  Because of its firm texture, crumbly nature and nutty flavor, it is often used as a meat substitute — be careful, though, as these products tend to be highly processed, thus negating the potential health benefits. 

Fermented foods have the distinct benefit of being full of probiotics (read this article to find out why that is important), while also being in a unique class of food considered prebiotics.  Because of this they are often recommended as a sure-fire way to improve digestion and overall immunity.  Fermented foods are not for all people, however, and according to Chinese medicine they should be largely avoided (as should vinegar-containing foods) for young children.  Some people report digestive upset from fermented foods.  As with anything, pay attention to how it reacts to your (or your child’s) body.  The vast majority of you will see great benefits from adding moderate amounts of fermented foods to your diet.

Erin Brockmeyer, LAc, is owner and acupuncturist at Solstice Natural Health in downtown Portland.  She creates custom health plans for patients to help them tackle their most complicated health concerns, including infertility, prenatal care, fibromyalgia, thyroid conditions and chronic and acute pain conditions.  Visit her website for more information and to download her free e-book 5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Health Today.


Related Slideshow: The 7 Best Health and Fitness Apps

Here is a list of some of the most obsession worthy health apps.

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MapMyRun is the number one selling running app for a reason:  it is easy to use, offers community support if you want it, and tracks and stores your exact routes for you.  If you are training for a race or a serious runner, users say that the extra perks in the upgraded paid version are well worth it. 

Made for iPhone, Android and Blackberry 

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MyFitnessPal seems to be the clear favorite amongst everyone polled.  It is helpful not only for the fitness tracking aspect, but everyone polled mentioned how much they loved the food/diet aspect as well. From carb counting for diabetics to recipe ideas to complement your fitness goals, users love this app. 

Made for iPhone and Android

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JeFit is another fitness app that has rave reviews.  It not only tracks progress for you, but offers a huge database of workouts.  While many apps offer community support, JeFit allows you to sync workouts with friends who use the app, offering a (real) virtual buddy system.

Made for iPhone and Android

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Strava gets the highest mark of all the cycling apps.  While it is also great for runners, the cyclers seem particularly inclined towards the fierce competition that can be ignited by this app.  You can track all of your rides via GPS, then you can compare your efforts to those logged by others in the community on the same stretch of road.  You can also join ongoing challenges that can net you great prizes (in addition to bragging rights). 

Made for iPhone and Android

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YogaStudio gets the top vote for Yoga apps.  It has a lengthy collection of full class-length videos available at your fingertips.  Unlike many other apps, this one also allows you to customize your own video yoga class.  All of the poses are done by qualified yoga instructors, and you can find classes suitable for all levels of yogis.

Made for iPhone only

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SimplyBeing meditation app offers the best of both worlds.  You can choose to run this app as a background for your meditation with soothing music or natural sounds that run for a set amount of time.  Conversely, for those of you who have trouble focusing during meditation, you can choose a soothing voice-guided meditation. 

Made for iPhone and Android

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Fooducate is an app all about educating people so that they make healthier food choices.  Although not perfect, this app is easy to use (you can even take pictures of bar codes to instantly find foods in their database).  It gives food a letter grade, tells you the pluses and minuses, and gives you better ranked alternatives.  You can also use it as a weight loss tool by tracking your daily calories. 

Made for iPhone and Android


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