Fermented foods? What the heck are fermented foods anyway? Fermentation is the process of using microorganisms to change carbohydrates to alcohol or organic acids. Alcohol fermentation is typically used to produce wine, beer, and bread. In the case of fermented foods, lactose is converted to lactic acid. Historically, fermentation was used as a way to preserve food. Lactic acid and alcohol act as preservatives and keep the food from spoiling. We now know that this process results in some incredibly significant health benefits.
Fermented foods are full of beneficial bacteria called probiotics. These probiotics are crucial for our digestive tract and since roughly 80% of our immune system lies in our digestive tract; probiotics are crucial for our overall health. In fact, having adequate levels of probiotics has been shown to help optimize blood sugar levels, regulate our mood, boost our metabolism, and balance our hormones. Check out this article for more on the role digestive health plays in our overall health.
We are constantly bombarded with foods, medications, and environmental toxins that kill off our beneficial bacteria (our microbiome). If we don’t do anything to replenish the bacteria that are killed off we will start to see consequences. For example, estrogen and phytoestrogens are metabolized in the gut by an enzyme that is secreted by our microbiome. If our microbiome is not healthy then this enzyme can be under or over produced resulting in a disruption in circulating estrogen. When estrogen decreases you may experience hot flashes, night sweats, anxiety, depression, memory impairment, weight gain and more. Decreased estrogen also puts you at risk for osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. As estrogen is overproduced (estrogen dominance) you may experience bloating, heavy or irregular periods, acne, ovarian cysts, and fatigue. Excess estrogen also puts you at risk for breast, uterine, and ovarian cancers.
An ample supply of probiotics also helps balance several other hormones including: cortisol, leptin, oxytocin, and melatonin.
- Cortisol (the stress hormone) affects blood sugar balance, metabolism, and inflammation. Lowering cortisol levels is extremely important for long-term health. A healthy level of gut bacteria (probiotics) actually reduces levels of cortisol in our bodies.
- Leptin is the hormone that signals our brain that we have enough fat and that we should eat less and move more. Leptin resistance is a major contributor to obesity. The bacteria in our gut increase our body’s sensitivity to leptin.
- Oxytocin, otherwise known as the “cuddle” hormone intensifies feelings of love, attachment, and overall wellbeing. Probiotic bacteria has been shown to increase levels of oxytocin.
- Melatonin is our sleep hormone. This hormone signals the body when it’s time to rest and makes us sleepy. Melatonin is converted from another hormone, serotonin. This process requires something called tryptophan. Probiotics increase our tryptophan and as a result improve melatonin production, which results in better sleep.
In addition to the hormone benefits, fermented foods can help drastically with digestive issues. The fermentation process makes the food easily digestible and provides beneficial enzymes along with the probiotics. This results in decreased bloating and gas and increased regularity.
Not sure how to get started with fermented foods? No problem! We’ve got you covered. We created an “Understanding Fermented Foods” guide to teach you all about fermented foods and help you decide which ones are right for you. Just
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Let us know in the comments which fermented foods you try and what you think. We love hearing from you!