8 fermented foods that will help restore your gut health

As more people are paying attention to their gut health, we're seeing a rise in popularity of fermented foods. But, which ones are the best for your gut, and how can you incorporate them into your diet?

Eating a diet that's rich in fermented foods doesn't need to be too complicated and you'll be surprised at how adding these ingredients into your diet can allow you to explore new flavour combinations.

Radley Spring, PT, massage therapist and founder of Spring Wholefoods lifts the lid on eight fermented foods and how to incorporate them into your cooking.

Kefir

This is a fermented milk drink made with a yeast or bacterial fermentation starter of kefir grains and has been around since the late 19th century.

"Traditional kefir was made in goatskin bags that were hung near a doorway; the bags would be knocked by anyone passing through to keep the milk and kefir grains well mixed," explains Radley. "A complex and highly variable community of lactic acid bacteria and yeasts can be found in these grains."

Kefir is also usually a good substitute for people who are lactose intolerant. "The slower transit time associated with Kefir, in comparison to milk, can further improve lactose digestion," explains Radley.

"So essentially you get all the incredible nutrients of your favourite milk but with added bioavailability and ease of digestion," he adds.

Try it: Use it in place of milk on cereal, granola, milkshakes, salad dressing, ice cream, smoothies and soup.

Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is finely cut raw cabbage that's been fermented by various lactic acid bacteria.

"It's high in vitamin C and has a long shelf life and a distinctive sour flavor, both of which result from the lactic acid formed when the bacteria ferment the sugars in the cabbage leaves," says Radley. 

"Additionally, like kefir, the fermentation process adds valuable lactobacilli, microbes, enzymes, fibre and probiotics, increasing the nutritional value of the cabbage," he explains. Sauerkraut is low in calories and high in calcium and magnesium, and it is a great source of fibre, iron and potassium, which can improve digestion and promote gut health.

Try it: Add sauerkraut to a tossed green salad, on a pulled pork burger or a home-cooked hotdog.

Miso

You might be familiar with the soup, but you might not know that Miso is made by fermenting soybeans with salt and koji and sometimes rice, seaweed or barley and has the consistency of a thick paste.

"Miso is high in protein and rich in vitamins and minerals, experts suggest it’s also a source of B12 and lactobacillus acidophilus. However, miso is relatively high in salt, which enhances flavour terrifically but can contribute to increased blood pressure in the small percentage of the population," says Radley.

Try it: Use Miso paste as a salad dressing, or in stir-fries as a seasoning alternative to soy sauce.

Tempeh

Originating from Indonesia, tempeh is made by a natural culturing with a special fungus and controlled fermentation process that binds soybeans into a cake form. 

"Tempeh's fermentation process and its retention of the whole bean give it a higher content of protein, dietary fibre, and vitamins than it’s Chinese cousin, tofu," explains Radley. "The soy carbohydrates in tempeh become more digestible and reduced the phytic acid in soy, as a result of the fermentation process. 

Try it: Sautee it and serve hot, or mash it and combine with mayo and onions for a sandwich spread.

Kimchi

A famous side dish made from salted and fermented cabbage and Korean radishes, chilli powder, scallions, garlic, ginger, and salted seafood, kimchi is well-recived the Korean culture.

"As with its western cousin, sauerkraut, kimchi contains a high concentration of dietary fibre, while being low in calories. One serving also provides over 50 per cent of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C and carotene," explains Radley.

The nutritional benefits don't end there, as it's also rich in vitamin A, calcium, iron, and contains lactic acid bacteria, which is good for the gut.

Try it: Add kimchi to your scrambled eggs at breakfast, to a taco or simply serve as a side dish.

Kombucha

You've seen it everywhere - but what exactly are the benefits of Kombucha? "It is produced by fermenting tea using a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast commonly called a mother or mushroom," explains Radley. 

"There have not been any conclusive human trials conducted to assess its biological effects, but millions of people drink kombucha for its many purported health benefits including improving gut health, mood, immunity and general wellbeing," he says.

Try it: It's a refreshing alternative to alcohol or soft drinks.

Sourdough bread

Yes, some types of bread are good for the gut! Sourdough falls into this category as it made with fermented dough with naturally occurring lactobacilli and yeast.

"Due to this process, properties of grains that often cause gut irritation or poor digestion are broken down to make for a more digestible bread," says Radley. "Sourdough bread has a relatively low glycemic index compared with other types of bread with quicker leavening yeasts. One reason is that the acidity of sourdough bread during fermentation may inhibit formation of phytates, which affect the absorption of some dietary minerals," he says.

Try it: It's bread! Buy a fresh loaf to enjoy or make toast for a crispy alternative.

Natto

This is a traditional Japanese food made from fermented soybeans usually enjoyed at breakfast. You'll find it accompanied with soy sauce, karashi mustard and Japanese bunching onion.

"Natto may be an acquired taste because of its powerful smell, strong flavor, and sticky, slimy texture. But if you’re anything like me, it becomes more palatable when you consider it’s nutritional value," offers Radley.

A 100g serving of natto gives you 22 per cent of your daily recommended dose of vitamin C, 48 per cent of iron and 22 per cent of dietary fibre.

Try it: Add natto to an Asian-style rice bowl with an egg.

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