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Must Eat: Fermented Foods

Five fermented foods to add to your diet…

By Karen Kwan

From the health nut in front of you in the lineup at the grocery store who has their cart stacked with bottles of kombucha, to the kimchi that’s suddenly popping up in more recipes and menus, fermented foods are having a moment. Although they’re nothing new, fermented foods are becoming mainstream thanks to people realizing their gut health-boosting benefits.

What are fermented foods, though? Through the action of yeasts, bacteria and enzymes, these foods are broken down and preserved, which boosts their shelf life and ups their nutritional value. These foods provide you with probiotics, which are good bacteria that help with digestion.

When shopping for fermented foods rich in probiotics, be sure to look for naturally fermented foods. For example, while sauerkraut is a naturally fermented pickled cabbage, that jar of dill pickles, while also a pickled veggie, is pickled using vinegar (rather than the beneficial microorganisms), so it won’t contain probiotics.

Boost your digestive health by making room in your diet for these popular fermented foods, which can now be easily found in most supermarkets.

Kefir is a fermented milk product (usually made with cow or goat milk) that is like a thinner, drinkable yogurt. Think of it as a tangy smoothie. It is rich in calcium, vitamin B12, magnesium, biotin, folate and probiotics.

Kombucha is a fermented beverage made of black or green tea and sugar. When you add specific strains of bacteria and yeast, the tea is fermented. As it ferments, it also produces acetic acid and other compounds, trace amounts of alcohol and gases that give it a subtle carbonation. Kombucha has been around for thousands of years, and while its benefits are not conclusively backed by research, many people find it can help boost digestion and energy.

This fermented green or red cabbage, whose name means “sour cabbage” in German, is high in fibre as well as vitamins A, C, K and B; and is a source of iron, calcium, manganese and magnesium. When shopping for sauerkraut, look for a glass jar with a label that says it’s fermented (rather than the canned variety).

Made of soybeans that have been combined with a starter, tempeh is similar to tofu but is springier in texture. It is a good helping of both protein (a three-ounce serving provides 15 grams of protein) and prebiotics. It is a dense cake-like form, which you can steam, sauté or bake.

A traditional Korean dish of fermented vegetables, such as napa cabbage and Korean radish, kimchi is made with a variety of seasonings including gochugaru, garlic, ginger and fish sauce. It’s salty and spicy, and very versatile; use it as a dip, an ingredient or a side dish on its own. In Korea, it’s enjoyed at almost every meal, including breakfast; experiment with it and try it out in your stir-fry dishes, sandwiches, noodles, eggs, fried rice, or even on top of your pizza. In addition to containing probiotics, there is some evidence that kimchi can also help reduce inflammation and reduce cholesterol.

KAREN KWAN is a freelance health, travel and lifestyle writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter at @healthswellness and on Instagram at @healthandswellness.

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