The Surprising Benefits of Fermented Foods for Overall Health
Fermentation is the process of yeast and bacteria chemically breaking down carbs into alcohol or acids. When we think of fermented foods and drinks today, sugar-laden kombucha is often the first to come to mind. While this fermented drink might be a current fad, fermentation has been around for centuries to preserve foods naturally. Fermenting foods brings a wealth of benefits, benefits a majority of the population is missing out on today. Let’s discuss some of these benefits and easy ways to incorporate fermented foods into your diet. (1)
Health Benefits of Fermented Foods
Improved Insulin Sensitivity:
If you’ve followed this blog for any period, you know how much improving insulin sensitivity and controlling blood glucose matters to overall health. There are various ways to do this, such as a low-carb/ketogenic lifestyle, resistance training, intermittent fasting, increasing protein intake, etc. Did you know consuming fermented foods can also help improve insulin sensitivity and blood glucose control? (2,3,4,5)
Fermented foods are rich in probiotics, which promote good gut bacteria and stimulate better absorption of carbohydrates, thus preventing blood sugar spikes. Breaking down complex carbohydrates and proteins into simpler compounds makes it easier for the body to absorb. (6) This is ideal for insulin-resistant patients, particularly by stabilizing blood sugar levels throughout the day. (12)
A 2021 study from Stanford University showed that additional consumption of fermented foods in the diet increases the microbiome and decreases inflammatory blood markers. The damages of chronic inflammation are well documented, and lowering inflammation has great long-term health benefits. (10)
Lowers the Antinutrient Content and Boosts the Nutrient Content of Food:
Fermentation increases the bioavailability of nutrients like B vitamins, iron, zinc, and calcium. It does this by breaking down substances, like phytic acid, that can block their absorption. Additionally, it makes dairy more acidic, making calcium and phosphorus more bioavailable. (11). It can also help destroy lectins, which are compounds in nuts, seeds, and legumes that interfere with nutrient absorption.
Weight Loss and Decreased Belly Fat:
Two strains, including Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus gasseri, have been linked with weight loss and decreased belly fat. This area needs more research, but several honorable mention studies are worth noting. (13)
Improvement In Mental Health:
Fermented foods have been linked with fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression. Another study linked fermented foods with lower levels of perceived stress. We know from previous posts how important our gut health is to our mental health. (14)
How to Boost Your Consumption of Fermented Foods:
- Use vinegar in salad dressings
- Mix Kefir in with your favorite protein shake
- Consume diluted apple cider vinegar before a meal
- Add a little kraut or kimchi to eggs or breakfast
- Stir a forkful of fermented veggies into sauces
- Top off your salad with fermented veggies
Some common examples of fermented foods and drinks include kimchi, kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, and apple cider vinegar. Some products, especially kombucha, contain high amounts of sugar. Be sure to avoid these and check nutrition labels before making a choice! These items are affordable and easy to incorporate into your day-to-day meals.
It’s important to note that apple cider vinegar before meals proves very beneficial. Studies show ACV may improve insulin sensitivity by 19-34% during a high-carb meal and reduce blood sugar by 31.4%. (8, 9) To do this, take a diluted 1-2 tablespoons around 30 minutes before a meal. This helps increase insulin sensitivity by reducing blood sugar and improving the effectiveness of insulin. It also slows food movement through the stomach, giving the body more time to process sugar.
Whether or not you struggle with insulin sensitivity, fermented foods and drinks are worth incorporating into your lifestyle. They aid in blood sugar balance and insulin sensitivity but are also instrumental in maintaining gut health. Try to include a fermented food product like the ones described above in your next meal!
- Dimidi E, Cox SR, Rossi M, Whelan K. Fermented Foods: Definitions and Characteristics, Impact on the Gut Microbiota and Effects on Gastrointestinal Health and Disease. Nutrients. 2019 Aug 5;11(8):1806. doi: 10.3390/nu11081806. PMID: 31387262; PMCID: PMC6723656.
- Jones, A. (2021, September 23). UAB researchers find that 40 percent of young American adults have insulin resistance and cardiovascular risk factors. UAB News. Retrieved April 7, 2023, from https://www.uab.edu/news/research/item/12289-uab-researchers-find-that-40-percent-of-young-american-adults-have-insulin-resistance-and-cardiovascular-risk-factors#:~:text=They%20found%20that%20four%20in,physical%20activity%20and%20high%20cholesterol.
- Yuan X, Wang J, Yang S, Gao M, Cao L, Li X, Hong D, Tian S, Sun C. Effect of the ketogenic diet on glycemic control, insulin resistance, and lipid metabolism in patients with T2DM: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutr Diabetes. 2020 Nov 30;10(1):38. doi: 10.1038/s41387-020-00142-z. PMID: 33257645; PMCID: PMC7705738.
- Yuan X, Wang J, Yang S, Gao M, Cao L, Li X, Hong D, Tian S, Sun C. Effect of Intermittent Fasting Diet on Glucose and Lipid Metabolism and Insulin Resistance in Patients with Impaired Glucose and Lipid Metabolism: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Int J Endocrinol. 2022 Mar 24;2022:6999907. doi: 10.1155/2022/6999907. PMID: 35371260; PMCID: PMC8970877.
- Och A, Och M, Nowak R, Podgórska D, Podgórski R. Berberine, a Herbal Metabolite in the Metabolic Syndrome: The Risk Factors, Course, and Consequences of the Disease. Molecules. 2022 Feb 17;27(4):1351. doi: 10.3390/molecules27041351. PMID: 35209140; PMCID: PMC8874997.
- Cleveland Clinic. (2020, February 20). 5 Reasons to Add More Fermented Foods to Your Diet. Retrieved from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/5-reasons-you-should-add-more-fermented-foods-to-your-diet-infographic/.
- Sivamaruthi BS, Kesika P, Prasanth MI, Chaiyasut C. A Mini Review on Antidiabetic Properties of Fermented Foods. Nutrients. 2018 Dec 13;10(12):1973. doi: 10.3390/nu10121973. PMID: 30551623; PMCID: PMC6316541.
- Carol S. Johnston, Cindy M. Kim, Amanda J. Buller; Vinegar Improves Insulin Sensitivity to a High-Carbohydrate Meal in Subjects With Insulin Resistance or Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care 1 January 2004; 27 (1): 281–282. https://doi.org/10.2337/diacare.27.1.281
- Brighenti F, Castellani G, Benini L, Casiraghi MC, Leopardi E, Crovetti R, Testolin G. Effect of neutralized and native vinegar on blood glucose and acetate responses to a mixed meal in healthy subjects. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1995 Apr;49(4):242-7. PMID: 7796781.
This article is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.