Updated: Jun 28, 2021
Dill pickles, sauerkraut, and kimchi may not be the first things that scream "healthy" at you at first glance. However, these foods have undergone fermentation, making them taste a bit sour and giving them a boost of nutrients and good bacteria to help your digestive tract function better!
Fermentation is a process that allows vegetables such as cucumbers, radish, cabbage to be aged for a few weeks to create allow the sugars in the vegetable to break down into bacteria and probiotics. Probiotics are important for the digestive tract as it helps to diversify the gut microbiome. A diverse gut microbiome helps absorb nutrients better, prevent diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBS), and help fight against digestive discomfort.
There are many different kinds of fermented foods, such as kefir, tempeh, kimchi, natto, kombucha, sauerkraut etc.
To vegetarians, fermented foods may be essential as some offer high and compact nutrients in a small serving. For example, tempeh is a type of fermented soy product that can be marinated and baked to be enjoyed as 'fries' or marinated and cooked to be a meat substitute for teriyaki entrees. Tempeh is full of nutrients, with more than 15g of protein in an 85g serving (3 ounces). It also contains the important pre-biotics, which are created through fermentation. In addition, this process helps the phytic acid found in soybeans to break down, helping to improve digestion and absorption. See here for an excellent example of how to incorporate tempeh into your diet: Teriyaki Tempeh.
Kimchi is also an extremely beneficial fermented food that is becoming more popular worldwide. Kimchi is usually made from fermented cabbage but can also be made from radish or cucumbers. This type of fermented vegetable may help lower cholesterol and reduce insulin resistance, as found in one study conducted with 21 people with prediabetes. Delicious recipes can be found here: Maagchi's Ultimate Kimchi Recipes, Spicy Kimchi Cold Noodles, Kimchi Stew Kimchi Fried Rice, Vegan Kimchi, Kimchi Dumplings.
Natto is another type of fermented soy commonly consumed in Japan. Though it may not look very attractive, this is a staple in Japanese culture as a side dish consumed with soy sauce or rice. It contains a good amount of fibre, providing 5.4 grams per 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving. This is important as fibre is undigested and moves through the body, adding bulk to the stool to help promote regularity and alleviate constipation. Natto also is high in vitamin K, with more than 29% of the daily recommended value in a 100g serving size. Vitamin K is crucial in the process of metabolizing calcium which is important for maintaining healthy bones.
Lastly, kombucha is a popular fizzy, tart, and sweet drink many younger generations get excited about. It is often made from green or black tea and is fermented with sugars to create beneficial bacteria to help digestion. However, many brands often add artificial flavourings, excessive sugars, or food colouring to enhance the drink's flavour. Therefore, you should always watch out for drinks that contain more than 10g of sugar in the entire bottle to avoid adding extra unneeded calories and sugar into your diet.
Happy Fermenting and Tasting!