Kate Rhéaume, ND
A: From sourdough to sauerkraut and every tangy delectable in between, there’s currently a huge resurgence of interest in foods created through the age-old process of fermentation. This natural technique uses microorganisms to preserve food and makes foods taste a little tarter. The buzz is only going to continue—and for all the right reasons. That unique flavor is one, but health advantages are others. Fermentation is nutritional alchemy, transforming the nature of, and nutrients in, fermented fare.
Those pickles and coconut yogurt deserve a spot on the national food guide plate for bringing probiotics (“good” bacteria) to the table, if nothing else. By including more of these beneficial bacteria and useful yeasts in each meal, we optimize our microbiome: the microbes (think bacteria, fungi and even viruses) that live on us and inside us, especially in our gut. A healthy microbiome has potential benefits for immunity, digestion and even mood.
Fermentation can also eliminate naturally occurring harmful compounds in food. Vegans rejoice: By neutralizing phytic acid and other nutrient-binders in plant-based foods, fermentation liberates minerals for greater absorption.
Like magic, fermentation can even create nutrients that simply didn’t exist in the original food. For example, take some soybeans, add the right kind of bacteria and soon you will have natto, which is brimming with vitamin K2 that wasn’t there to start with.
One lesser known but quick and easy way to enjoy fermented food—especially if you aren’t feeling the kimchi at breakfast—is to choose a fermented greens powder. New to the market, these powders one-up the benefits of a standard greens supplement by improving on digestibility and taste.