Are you a fan of sauerkraut? Do you enjoy a good bowl of kimchi, or maybe some kombucha? If so, you’re already taking advantage of the health benefits of fermented foods, our More Than Healthy Tip #44 of our Full Year of Resolutions. This one was pretty eye-opening for me. I knew that fermented foods were good for you, but until a few months ago, I didn’t know why.
Here at More Than Healthy, we believe that our health starts in our gut. In fact, we wrote a whole book about it! (Check out Unlocking the Leaky Gut Code to learn more about how David not only reclaimed his health but saved his life by healing his gut.) Since then I’ve learned that there is a direct connection between fermented foods and gut health.
Your fridge = no fermentation
Our ancestors were very used to consuming fermented foods. They were a staple for thousands of years, right up until the invention of the refrigerator. In 1913, the first refrigerators for home use were invented. Once food could easily be stored, we stopped using fermentation as a preservation method. But there were some unforeseen negative consequences of that on our health.
It turns out that all those microbes and bacteria in fermented foods help tremendously when it comes to keeping our gut microbiome in tip-top shape. And it’s a double whammy, because along with eating far less fermented foods, we’re taking far more antibiotics, which kill the important good bacteria in the gut. Between the two, we’ve increased the bad bacteria and reduced the good bacteria in our gut microbiome, leaving us much more vulnerable to disease and health problems.
What is fermentation?
Fermentation is an ancient technique for preserving food and drinks involving controlled microbial growth and enzyme actions. During fermentation, microorganisms like bacteria, fungi, or yeast convert carbs like sugars and starch into alcohol or acids. These act as natural preservatives while improving the taste and texture of fermented foods.
Fermentation can happen naturally, where the micro-organisms that are naturally present in the food or environment of the food initiate fermentation. Kimchi and sauerkraut are examples of natural fermentation. Fermentation can also happen spontaneously, where a ‘starter culture’ is added to the food. Yogurt and kefir are examples of spontaneous fermentation, and we’ll be talking more about how to do this below.
Why fermentation is good for us
Both natural and spontaneous fermentation promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria, or probiotics. Probiotics are key to gut health, improve immune function, and are directly related to digestive and heart health. They are even related to weight loss.
In addition, the bacteria responsible for fermentation produce biologically active peptides that are well-known for their health benefits. Here are a few of them and what they do:
- Conjugated linoleic acids (CLA): lower blood pressure
- Exopolysaccharides: Have prebiotic properties
- Bacteriocins: Have anti-microbial effects
- Sphingolipids: Have anti-carcinogenic and anti-microbial properties
- Bioactive peptides: Contain anti-oxidant, anti-microbial, opioid antagonist, anti-allergenic, and blood pressure lowering effects
As a result, fermented foods provide many health benefits such as anti-oxidant, anti-microbial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, and anti-atherosclerotic activity.
Five benefits of fermented foods
Let’s talk about five benefits of fermented foods. Or more specifically, five of the reasons that David and I have deliberately incorporated fermented foods into our daily diet. (If you want to do a deeper dive into all the benefits of fermented foods, I highly recommend Dr. Davis’ book Super Gut.)
Benefit #1: Fermented foods are excellent for gut health
This is the #1 reason that we started eating more fermented foods was because of the connection between them and gut health. Most fermented foods contain healthy bacteria that has a probiotic effect. That means these bacteria help restore the balance of bacteria in your gut and support and alleviate digestive issues.
Studies show that the probiotics that result from fermentation are so good for your gut microbiome. Studies also show that probiotics reduce uncomfortable symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). One study of 274 adults with IBS found that consuming 4.4 ounces of yogurt-like fermented milk each day over six weeks improved IBS symptoms, including bloating and stool frequency. Additional studies show that fermented foods lessen the severity of diarrhea, bloating, gas, and constipation.
A good probiotic has been shown to help heal leaky gut and reduce your chances of getting gut issues like SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). These intestinal issues occur when there are abnormal amounts of bacterial population in the small intestine.
We know firsthand the importance of maintaining excellent gut health, and we’re interested in anything that helps us do that. Fermented foods are a powerful tool when it comes to stabilizing and maintaining the right balance of healthy bacteria in your gut.
Benefit #2: Fermented foods reduce wrinkles and repair skin damage
This next benefit might come as a bit of a surprise. But fermented foods have been shown to smooth out skin wrinkles and accelerate healing of skin issues. When it comes to the L Rueteri yogurt we’re going to talk about in a minute, regular consumption reduces these skin issues by almost half. According to Dr. William Davis (of Wheat Belly fame), this is due to the explosion of dermal collagen that happens naturally when you eat this yogurt.
Fermented foods contain Lactobacillus, a strain of probiotic bacteria that produces superoxide dismutase. That mouthful is the name of a powerful antioxidant that prevents collagen breakdown by reducing production of free radicals.
It’s said that one of the secrets behind Korean women’s flawless complexions isn’t their skincare; rather, it’s the amount of kimchi they eat. They eat this traditional Korean dish of fermented red cabbage with nearly every meal – piled on top of everything from pancakes to burgers to soups. Kimchi is loaded with gut-friendly bacteria that help prevent and treat acne, wrinkles, and rosacea.
High-level studies prove that fermented foods are good for your complexion by working from the inside out. Since it’s only been a few months since we started eating our daily fermented yogurt, we’re not seeing this yet, but I have before pictures and plan to take a look at them in a year and see if it’s made a difference, I’m looking forward to seeing those results as I age.
Benefit #3: Fermented foods increase testosterone
Another of the important health benefits of fermented foods is that they can increase testosterone in men and improve libido. This is an issue that is incredibly common as we age. Statistics say that three out of five men will struggle with ED, a common side effect of poor health. In our book, we talk about David’s struggles in this area. Thanks to all the work we’ve done to get healthy, that’s no longer an issue.
Testosterone is a really important hormone, and not just for men. Research says that one of every four men over the age of 30 has low testosterone levels. And it’s estimated that somewhere between 8-19% of women will experience low testosterone as well. Not only is it linked to your sex drive, it’s also linked to muscle mass, fat distribution, and your mood. Healthy testosterone levels are important for your overall health.
Whole nutrition affects testosterone levels. But studies show that fermented foods give testosterone levels an extra boost. The body uses the sulphur compounds in fermented foods to help restore healthy hormone balance. This, in combination with the probiotic effect they produce, helps with hormone balance. The extra nutrients found in fermented foods, such as vitamin K2, vitamin C, and iron, help the body maintain healthy hormones.
If something as simple as eating a healthy, fermented yogurt each day can do all that, you can count me in!
Benefit #4: Fermented foods preserve bone density
Fermented foods can also help prevent osteoporosis. Studies show that these foods help preserve bone density. This is because these foods contain beneficial nutrients for building bone mineral density, like dietary fiber, vitamin K2, vitamin B, manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, and calcium.
If you’ve followed us, you’ve heard me talk about my concerns regarding osteoporosis since I have a family history of that. I’ve done a lot to improve my bone density: focus on the quality of the food I’m eating, work to get adequate sunshine and vitamin D, do resistance training, and use vibration and redlight therapy. Now I’ve added fermented foods to my regimen. And it’s all working! Even though I’m getting older, my bone density has improved. I’m excited to watch my Dexa Body Scans see how much I can continue to improve my bone density.
One more note about bone health – although osteoporosis is very common for women as we age, bone density is important for men, too. Men older than 50 are more likely to break a bone due to osteoporosis than they are to get prostate cancer. Each year, about 80,000 men will break a hip. And, men are more likely than women to die within a year after breaking a hip, due to complications related to the break. One of the reasons for poor bone health is low testosterone, so these two benefits of fermented foods are closely connected.
Benefit #5: Fermented foods improve deep sleep
There are many other benefits of fermented foods, but the last one that we’ll mention is that they have been shown to improve deep sleep. This is something that David and I are tracking on a regular basis. We watch our deep sleep daily, so we will notice if it starts to improve.
Fermented foods are connected to both improved mood and sleep because of the probiotic effect they have on our gut. Did you know that 90% of our serotonin is produced in the gut? That all-important chemical plays a role in digestion, nausea, wound healing, bone health, blood clotting, and libido. It also helps to stabilize our mood, regulate feelings of well-being and happiness, regulate anxiety, and controls sleep. Fermented food selectively stimulates the growth and activity of beneficial bacteria in our gut. Which in turn directly affects all of the other things I’ve listed above. So, for a good night’s sleep, be kind to your gut and eat some fermented food. A little yogurt, sauerkraut, or kimchi before bedtime just might help you overcome insomnia.
What’s the deal with deep sleep?
While all stages of sleep are necessary for good health, deep sleep offers specific physical and mental benefits. During deep sleep, your body releases growth hormones and works to build and repair muscles, bones, tissue, and immune system functioning. Experts say that of our time spent sleeping, somewhere between 13-23% of it should be spent in deep sleep. That means that if you sleep eight hours, you should get approximately 1-2 hours of deep sleep.
We track our sleep with our Oura rings (read more about this cool technology here). I’m getting 2-3 hours of deep sleep a night (5 hours total of REM & deep) so I’m not sure I’m going to improve, but David has some wiggle room. We will report back on a follow-up post in about six months to see what we’ve improved on by eating our yogurt each day.
L Reuteri Yogurt – our favorite fermented food
David has eaten his fair share of sauerkraut over the years, but until recently, that was probably the extent of our foray into fermented foods. Then I discovered Dr. Davis’ recipe for L Reuteri yogurt, and I started making it for us to eat each day. (For a live demonstration of how to make this, please check out our video here.) Since David is lactose intolerant, he has stayed away from yogurt. But I found a way to make this healthy yogurt dairy-free using coconut, and he thinks it’s pretty good. We try to have a half-cup serving every day for breakfast. Even though we just started doing this a few months ago, he has already noticed that it seems to help his gut feel better.
We demonstrate how to make this yogurt in our weekly video, so be sure to check that out. The dairy-free version is a bit more complicated, but if you’re interested in that recipe, you can find it here. For the regular L Reuteri yogurt instructions and recipe, see below:
How to make L Reuteri yogurt
I began making this in my instant pot, but since it takes 36 hours, I realized pretty quickly that wasn’t going to work for me; I use my instant pot for too many things! So, we bought this Luvele yogurt maker, and I love it! Here are the steps for making the yogurt:
- Take ⅓ cup of your last batch of yogurt (your “starter”) and mix it with 2 tablespoons of inulin. (Inulin is a type of prebiotic that’s not digested or absorbed in the stomach. It stays in the bowel and helps beneficial bacteria to grow. You can purchase it here or in the supplements section of your local grocery store.)
- Add it to one quart of half and half.
- Stir well and put the lid on.
- Add water to the yogurt maker, set degrees to 100 degrees, set the timer, and wait 36 hours.*
- Once it’s done, put it in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours to chill it before serving.
*The reason it takes 36 hours is because every hour that the yogurt processes, the number of healthy bacteria multiplies.
To make the initial batch, you’ll need BioGaia Gastrus tablets. Using your rolling pin, put 10 tablets between 2 pieces of parchment paper and crush them. Then take ⅓ cup of the half and half, add the inulin powder, and then add the crushed BioGaia tablets. Stir those ingredients into a slurry. Stir that mixture into the rest of the half and half (the remaining quart minus the ⅓ cup you already used). Put the lid on and start the 36 hours of cooking at 100 degrees. Refrigerate for six hours before serving. Be sure to save some of this “mother batch” to use as a starter for the rest of your batches of yogurt.
Dr. Davis says this yogurt offers the normal nutritional benefits of homemade yogurt. But it does more than that…this yogurt protest your heart, curbs your appetite, boosts oxytocin, and smooths wrinkles. Adding a half cup of L Reuteri yogurt each morning to our breakfast serves a lot of bang for your homemade yogurt buck!
Other fermented foods you can eat
Adding just a few servings of fermented foods to your daily diet is beneficial. For best results, start by eating one or two servings a day, and then slowly work your way up. Here are some additional fermented foods you can add:
|Sauerkraut||A popular condiment made from shredded cabbage that has been fermented.||High in fiber and vitamins C and K
You can use sauerkraut in many ways, from casserole to soup to sandwiches.
|Kefir||Dairy product made by adding kefir grains (a combination of yeast and bacteria) to milk.||Helps with digestion, bone health, and inflammation.
This tangy beverage is similar to yogurt.
|Kombucha||Fermented tea made from green or black tea.||Contains potent health properties including anti-cancer properties. Due to recent popularity, kombucha can be found at most grocery stores.|
|Miso||A common seasoning used in Japanese cuisine, made by fermenting soybeans with salt and koji (a type of fungus).||Most often found in miso soup, miso is linked to lower risk of breast cancer and stroke.|
|Probiotic yogurt||Produced from fermented milk.||HIgh in calcium, potassium, phosphorus, riboflavin, and vitamin B12. Reduces high blood pressure and improved bone density.|
|Kimchi||Popular Korean side dish made from fermented cabbage of other vegetables.||Many health benefits, included lowering cholesterol, stabilizing blood sugar, blood pressure, and body weight.|
|Tempeh||Made from fermented soybeans compressed into a cake.||High in protein, meat substitute, impressive probiotic content, high in nutrients, reduces risk of heart disease.|
|Natto||Traditional Japanese cuisine made from soybeans.||High in fiber and vitamin K, aids in digestion, aids in bone health.|
Fermented foods really can make a difference in your gut health, which then affects every area of your body.
The health benefits of fermented foods are for you
What do you think? Are there any fermented foods you like? Have we helped you discover any additional fermented foods you’d like to try? If you give our L Reuteri yogurt a go, we want to hear all about it! As always, please let us know if you have any questions about the health benefits of fermented foods. We always love to hear from you!
For those of you interested in our free More Than Healthy coaching calls, we do them once a month on a Tuesday night at 6 PM MST. Anyone can join us. This is a fabulous resource for anyone interested in achieving optimal health. If you’d like to join us, just text COACHING to 1-647-558-9895 to join our email list, or watch our social media pages and we will have the link there.
Thanks for joining us! Have a super week!