Developing a healthy gut microbiome requires eating consistently and consuming a variety of foods, including fermented foods. Fermentation is the process of breaking down sugar to yield acid (the sour taste of yogurt), alcohol (wine and beer), and carbon dioxide (those bubbles in your kombucha). Fermentation, while a recent health-food buzzword, is an ancient concept aimed at food preservation. Fermenting foods increases shelf stability, enhances and even adds nutrients, produces good bacteria, and halts the growth of foodborne illnesses.
Your digestive tract is home to approximately 100 trillion bacteria…that’s 10 times the number of cells in your entire body, but don’t panic because bacteria isn’t all bad! A healthy gut, or a digestive tract populated with probiotics (commonly referred to as “good bacteria”), builds the immune system, regulates mood, and aids in nutrient absorption and digestion of food. By eating just 1 gram of a fermented food like yogurt, vinegar, tempeh, cheese, sourdough, miso, or pickled vegetables, you’re eating an estimated 1 million to 1 billion microorganisms. Continue to nourish a flourishing gut microbiome with other fermented foods like…
Kimchi and Sauerkraut
Spicy and garlicky, kimchi originated in Korea, while salty and tangy sauerkraut came from western Europe. Both are variations of fermented cabbage and are rich with bacteria, vitamin C, and B12. One of the few plant-based sources of vitamin B12 thanks to the fermentation process, kimchi and sauerkraut are excellent additions to vegetarian and vegan diets. This fermented cabbage also provides fiber and a serving of vegetables to promote healthy and comfortable bowel movements. Try adding sauerkraut to your sandwich or avocado toast or mixing kimchi into your salad or grain bowl.
Sweet tea is a staple in the South, but have you ever considered enjoying a glass of fermented sweet tea? Kombucha is also referred to as mushroom tea because of the mushroom-esque film that forms on top of the tea called the SCOBY, or symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. Because kombucha is made with green or black tea leaves, it contains antioxidants and polyphenols which may be protective of cancer and help our body fight against inflammation. Kombucha tastes like a tangy, slightly sweet tea. There are so many variations using herbs and fruit to flavor. Taste test multiple brands and flavors to find your favorite!
Kefir comes from the Turkish word keyif which means “good feeling”—and no wonder! This drinkable yogurt is an excellent source of protein, energy, calcium, and bacteria. It’s made by adding kefir grains to milk or non-dairy milk and waiting for fermentation. Kefir grains contain well over 50 varieties of bacteria and yeast, making kefir a great way to diversify your microbiome. There are more ways to enjoy kefir besides just drinking it…try adding it to your smoothie, salad dressing, or overnight oats.
In addition to flavoring meals with fermented foods, if you’re looking to intentionally take care of your gut health, keep in mind that sleep, exercise, stress, and some medications also affect the amount and types of bacteria in the gut. There are currently no recommended amounts of fermented foods to consume, so Memphis Nutrition Group suggests taking inventory of those you already incorporate into your eating and then consider branching out and trying some new ones. Once a day or once a week, experiment and enhance your health with functional and flavorful fermented foods!
Sample Menu for a Happy Gut
Breakfast: Banana + peanut butter smoothie, with kefir blended in
Lunch: Spinach and Turkey sandwich on sourdough with sauerkraut
Dinner: Beef Bulgogi Bowl topped with kimchi
Caroline Shermer, MS, RDN, LDN is a nutrition therapist and Registered Dietitian at Memphis Nutrition Group. Memphis Nutrition Group believes in a non-diet approach that promotes overall health and optimal performance without compromising the enjoyment of food. For more information call Memphis Nutrition Group at 901.343.6146 or visit MemphisNutritionGroup.com.