With over 40 trillion bacteria that make our gut a home, these beneficial bacteria, collectively known as gut microbiota, help to digest the food we eat, produce vitamins like vitamin K and the B-vitamins, protect against invading harmful bacteria, and help support our immune system.
Despite the importance of gut health in regulating a number of functions, including those of the digestive system, the number of stresses we encounter every day is unimaginable — such as poor diet, drugs like antibiotics and anaesthesia, which put incredible strains on our gut health, thereby affecting everything from how we feel to having acne prone skin.
The idea of fermented foods is not new. Historically, they have played an important role in almost every culture’s culinary traditions, including our very own staple, amasi. One of the main factors for its recent rise to popularity is the alleged health benefits of fermented foods and the surge in interest in digestive health.
According to the National Library of Medicine, fermentation is the process of converting food components through enzymatic action and controlled microbial growth to produce foods or beverages.
Simply put, food fermentation is most advantageous because it breaks down large nutrients or other indigestible structures in food, making it easier for humans to digest. It has been practised for centuries and has gained popularity for its ability to preserve food.
Registered dietitian Monique Piderit says: “Fermented foods add to the nutritional value of our diet. This is because these foods can contribute towards making some vitamins and other healthy bioactive compounds more available to the body.
“We also know that fermented foods can help remove and reduce toxins (like mycotoxins) and anti-nutrients (like tannins and phytic acid) from our diets, as well as help with the digestion of parts of the food that sometimes cause trouble in our guts (like how the lactose in fermented dairy is pre-digested for easier absorption).”
According to Piderit, fermentation is attractive because it improves preservation and shelf life, both of which are vitally important for food security.
She adds: “Regularly enjoying fermented foods in our diets can then help to restore the balance of gut bacteria because of the live cultures that exist naturally in these foods.” And what’s more, studies have shown that if we regularly eat fermented foods and beverages, the live cultures can potentially increase the microbes in our gut by 10,000 times. “
Eating fermented foods has great gut-enhancing benefits because they are a source of live and active cultures like kefir, kombucha, yoghurt and maas.
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