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Eating Fermented Vegetables for Health: Top Tips

Updated: Apr 11

Whenever appropriate, I recommend fermented foods to my clients as part of nutritional therapy plans. Mainly, it is to support their intestinal microbiome (gut microbes), but there are nutritional benefits too.


Why is it crucial to care for our gut microbes?


A healthy and diverse microbiome can benefit health in a variety of ways, based on its involvement in a number of effects, in particular:


  • modulate the immune system

  • lower inflammation (both locally and systemically)

  • break down indigestible fibre

  • produce essential nutrients

  • oppose pathogenic organisms that may enter the body through contaminated water or food

  • promote elimination of toxins - both endogenous (produced by our catabolic functions, e.g. hormone metabolites) and exogenous (those we absorb from the external environment).


Each person has an entirely unique and dynamic network of trillions of microorganisms, and here’s the double-edge sword: we all have both beneficial and less beneficial microbes that normally coexist without problems in a somewhat delicate balance. However, when potential disturbances (e.g. infections, poor nutritional status, toxins, prolonged use of antibiotics or other medications, etc.) alter that balance, dysbiosis may occur, and this can contribute to increased risk of a variety of health conditions, including autoimmune disorders, metabolic imbalances, cognitive dysfunction, cancer, and others. 


Various types of fermented foods

Providing our digestive system with a variety of beneficial microorganisms from fermented foods is a simple but mighty dietary hack to keep the microbiome healthy and well balanced, and in so doing support general health and wellbeing in a profound way.



Plant fermented foods and health


Focusing just on plant fermented foods here, traditional products like sauerkraut and kimchi have been gaining wide interest thanks to the numerous bioactive components they contain that have been associated with immunomodulating, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and even cancer-protective properties:


  • probiotics, especially lactic acid bacteria

  • anti-inflammatory compounds such as indole-3-carbinol, sulforaphane, and allyl isothiocyanate, and others 

  • antioxidants such as vitamins E and vitamin C

  • essential vitamins like vitamin K, folate, vitamin B12 and vitamin B6

  • minerals such as iron, manganese and potassium


Although clinical studies in humans are still limited, growing evidence is showing a positive association between regular consumption of fermented foods like sauerkraut and a lower risk of inflammatory conditions and certain types of cancer. As an example, a 2021 case-control study among 284 women in the US found that those who had eaten more than three servings per week of both raw cabbage and sauerkraut during adolescence or adulthood had a 72% lower chance of breast cancer compared with those who had eaten 1.5 servings or less.


Eating Fermented Vegetables: Top Tips

Including fermented veggies often in the diet is a simple but powerful health-supporting strategy

If you are not familiar with eating fermented foods, start with small amounts to allow the body to adjust. Even just a tablespoon a day in a salad or as a side can go a long way to support your gut health and microbiome.

If you are prone to allergies, food intolerances, or other types of gut issues, fermented foods can be helpful in the long term, but it is safer to start very small and monitor possible reactions, before going ahead with consuming larger amounts. If in doubt, consult a health practitioner.

When buying in store: some fermented foods get pasteurised so that they can be stored on the shelf at room temperature, however this process kills off any live beneficial bacteria. Look for ‘live’ fermented foods

Vegetables can be easily fermented at home. If you are just starting I recommend finding a reputable source of information, a book or a course to learn the process and start making your own ferments safely.

Finally, if you’d like to start eating more fermented veggies but are a little too busy to embark on the home-fermenting journey, there are good organic products out there, and I would choose brands that use glass jars, such as for example these favourites of mine:

Loving Foods Kimchi







References




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