What Is Fermentation? 4 Incredible Health Benefits Of Fermented Foods

All of Spread ‘Em Kitchen’s cream cheese-style cashew spreads are lacto-fermented which offer a ton of added health benefits in addition to just being downright tasty. We get asked all the time what this means so we’re here to break it down for you.

What is fermentation?

Fermentation is an ancient practice dating back at least 10,000 years. The process preserves food, improves nutritional quality and produces beneficial probiotics and enzymes. It is the chemical breakdown of a substance by yeast, bacteria or other microorganisms, converting carbs into alcohol or acids in the absence of oxygen. There are two types of fermentation: alcoholic fermentation and lactic acid fermentation (AKA lacto-fermentation).

In the alcoholic kind of fermentation, yeast is used to turn a product such as barley malt into beer by metabolizing the grain sugars and converting them into alcohol. In lacto-fermentation, lactobacillus bacteria (hence the name) converts sugars into lactic acid. These are the good bacteria that are naturally present in our guts and are needed to keep the bad bacteria at bay. All fruits and vegetables have beneficial bacteria, like lactobacillus, on the surface. ‘Probiotics’ is a term that’s everywhere these days, and that’s just what you get from the lacto-fermentation process: foods that contain active live cultures that have beneficial health properties. Lacto-fermentation also helps to preserve food, giving it a longer shelf life.

A list of some popular fermented foods and drinks includes:

  • Sauerkraut
  • Kombucha
  • Kimchi
  • Certain yogurts and kefir
  • Miso and tempeh
  • Some chutneys
  • Strongly aged cheese (and cream cheese-style spreads like Spread ‘Em!)

What are the health benefits of eating these probiotic powerhouse foods?

When we started researching the health benefits of fermented foods we couldn’t believe what they can do for our bodies. Here are just four reasons why you should start introducing fermented foods into your diet:

#1: Eating fermented foods aids in digestion, improves overall gut health and boosts immunity.

The process of fermentation breaks food down so that it is more easily digestible. In effect, these microorganisms essentially predigest the food. For instance, soybeans, which are used to make miso and tempeh, are not easily digestible without the process of fermentation. 70-80% of our immune system resides in our digestive tract, and without the beneficial bacteria to balance out our gut flora, harmful bacteria have free rein to grow rapidly. Making fermented foods part of a healthy diet has also been shown to help alleviate food allergy symptoms in infants and children.

#2: Fermented foods become more vitamin and mineral rich and contain healthy probiotics.

When those good bacteria multiply, the vitamin and mineral levels in the food actually increase as these microorganisms feed on the starches and sugars. Eating fermented foods is a great way to get probiotics into your diet without having to take a supplement. Just one spoonful of some fermented foods can contain trillions of these healthy probiotics, which is significantly more than you get from a probiotic supplement (which is usually in the billions).

#3: Good gut bacteria helps prevent and treat many diseases.

The latest findings in a number of recent studies suggest that gut bacteria can offer health benefits beyond simply digestion. These good bacteria have been shown to treat, prevent and reduce the risks of certain cancers. Beneficial gut bacteria may also offer a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis; prevent inflammation that contributes to fatty plaque buildup and leads to heart disease; helps relieve the symptoms of IBS; and help to mitigate the risk factors associated with liver disease.

# 4: Lacto-fermented foods are good for our mental health.

It’s not just our guts that benefit from eating fermented foods, but our minds as well. The consumption of high-fat and high-sugar foods is wreaking havoc on our intestinal health and is linked to a general decline in mental health. A recent article in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology suggests that mental health can be improved by way of gut to brain communication and that eating lacto-fermented foods can help to alleviate depression and other mental health disorders, such as anxiety. As the conclusion of this particular study suggest, “we are only scratching the surface in our understanding of the relationship between potentially beneficial food-derived microbes and brain health.”

Stay tuned for a simple how-to on lacto-fermentation. It’s easier than you think! (Hint: all you need is water, salt and the food you want to ferment!)

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