Fermented Foods: Are They Really Beneficial?

Posted: September 4, 2015

Fermented foods provide beneficial microbes to support a healthy gut. Research conducted and published in leading medical journals suggest that the health of the stomach may play a major role in preventing or fighting diseases.

Not long ago, I was asked if canning sauerkraut would destroy the “good bacteria”.  The question was asked by an adult who was concerned the good health benefits of turning cabbage into sauerkraut would be destroyed after canning the product.  Heat will destroy the microbes, limiting the positive effects of the good microbes in fermented cabbage.  Placing the raw fermented cabbage under refrigeration will ensure that the microbes will remain active.  Since then, more questions have been surfacing around fermented foods leading to a renewed interest in eating fermented for beneficial health reasons.

The process of fermentation is the oldest and still one of the least expensive ways to preserve food. Fermentation dates back to over 8000 years, with earliest evidence suggesting the development of fermented beverages. Fermentation is a process in which sugar is converted to acids, gases or alcohol. The fermentation process allows for the preservation of the foods by extending the shelf-life between time of harvest and consumption. There are different types of foods that can be fermented, such as legumes, grains, vegetable, fruit, milk, and meat. For example in United States, items like Sauerkraut, Relishes, Sourdough breads, and cultured milk serve as popular foods. While in Africa & Middle-East, grains, kumis and kefir are popular fermented dishes. Fermented foods as a group may provide additional benefits besides the unique flavor or texture associated with that particular fermented product. The benefits are increasingly being seen as a boost to improving our health through our digestive system. Research conducted and published in leading medical and nutrition journals suggest that the health of the stomach may play a major role in preventing or fighting diseases. One can see this connection by the promotion of fermented cultured dairy products which have been front and center for many years now because of the probiotics of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium microbes that help to restore and nourish natural gut flora, for proper balance and digestion of our foods. Evidence at this time suggests that the health of the stomach could affect inflammation, allergies and autoimmune disorders in the body. However don’t rely entirely on fermented foods, as there are some risks associated with high intake levels of fermented foods. Some fermented products such as miso, soy sauce, pickles sauerkraut and kimchi typically are made with high amounts of added salt or sugars which could contribute to other health risks. Versions of low sodium or no added salt products are available.  When making your own fermented-foods take precautions to limit the use of sodium and sugars when possible.

LET’S PRESERVE - Sauerkraut (This fact sheet offers recipes, freezing and canning methods for sauerkraut.)

Contact Information

Richard Kralj, M Ed., RDN, LDN
  • Food Safety and Nutrition Educator
Phone: 814-849-7361 x1