Fermented products: benefits on gut microbiome, immune system and general health

They may sound like a trend the past years, but the truth is that fermentation has been around since ancient times with the earliest archaeological evidence of fermentation to be 13,000-year-old residues of a… beer (1). Today, there are many researches and evidence that fermented products in our everyday-life and nutrition, vegan or not, can help in many aspects of our overall health, starting from gut microbiome and immune system.

Fermentation was used primarily as a technique for food preservation, long before fridge came around and is basically the natural procedure through which microorganisms, like bacteria and yeast, convert carbs like sugars and starch to alcohol or organic acids, which act as a natural preservative and give a pungent taste in food.

Most of you may have associated fermented products mostly with dairy, like yoghurt and cheese, but there are plenty healthier options out there. Sauerkraut, kefir with any plant milk, tempeh, miso, pickles, olives in brine, kombucha, sourdough bread are much healthier options, as research on dairy is rather controversial and many studies have linked them with cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and heart diseases (2). Therefore, it’s better to turn to the least processed and more plant-based options of fermentation, like the above. When you do, health benefits will come one after the other in the following.

Better digestive health
Probiotics from fermented foods are your safest bet towards a healthy digestive system, as they are the best way to restore the balance in your gut microbiome, which is the microbe population in our intestines –good and bad. Once the balance is restored, digestive problems, uncomfortable symptoms like pain or gas, IBS, bloating, constipation and other bowel problems seem to go away and the severity of the symptoms to lessen (3, 4, 5). What’s more, consumption of fermented foods helps breaking down nutrients and antinutrients in food, which helps us in digestion and in the absorption of beneficial nutrients. Especially for those who are lactose intolerant, fermented products help as lactose is broken down in galactose and glucose (6) and it’s easier for them to digest kefir and yoghurt. When it comes to lectins and phytates (antinutrients) found in legumes, grains, nuts and seeds, which are shown to interfere with nutrient absorption, fermentation seems to help as it helps break down and destroy antinutrients (7).

Stronger immune system
It is well-known that the gastrointestinal tract is one of the most microbiologically active ecosystems, with the bacteria living in it found to play a crucial role in the immune system. Fermented foods and their probiotics seem to be really helpful in the prevention of acute upper respiratory tract infections (8), while according to researchers they demonstrate therapeutic potential for diseases, including several immune response-related diseases, such as viral infection, eczema and allergies (9). It has also been found that such foods help in our faster recovery from a disease (10) so wait no more and incorporate them in your meals. Bonus: Most fermented foods are also rich in other nutritional elements that support our immune system, like vitamin C, zinc and iron.

Better mental health
Mental disorders like depression and anxiety often relate to the gut microbiota and gut problems, showing a bidirectional relationship between them. There are many possible mechanisms behind this, such as intestinal permeability, inflammation, dietary deficiencies and disturbed gut microbiome composition with the microbiome-gut-brain axis to be of special interest in the scientific community (11). Fermented foods, due to certain probiotic strains, are found to ease symptoms of anxiety and depression (12).

Better heart health
Additional data may be needed, but research up to now shows that consumption of fermented foods lowers the risk of heart diseases and probiotics actually “eat” cholesterol, as they break it down and use it for nourishment (13). It’s also shown that probiotics can play a role in blood pressure reduction (14).

Better shape
If your digestive system works well, you automatically get rid of flatulence and gas which may lead to bloated belly. Apart from that, there are some researches that link certain probiotic strains to weight loss and decreased belly fat, so it’s a win-win situation. (15, 16).

How to make your own fermented salsa
Now that you’re at it, why not make your own fermented foods, starting from salsa! It’s easy, it’s healthy, it’s delicious. Remember you don’t necessarily have to use salt, or even if you do, don’t overuse it. About 3 tbsp per 5 pounds of vegetables is ok.

For your salsa, you’ll need 
2 tomatoes or about 10 cherry tomatoes
1 onion of medium size
1 clove of garlic
1-2 chili peppers
1/2 tea spoon dried oregano
a handful of fresh cilantro
a bit of lemon juice
2 tbsp sea salt (you can also use 1 tbsp sea salt and ¼ cup water kefir)

Dice your tomatoes, your onions and your peppers, chop your cilantro and your garlic and mix all your ingredients together along with the sea salt (and water kefir).

Put your mixture in a fermentation container and press it so as to release liquids, trying to keep the mixture under the brine. See if you need to add water.

Leave your container with the mixture in your kitchen, preferably in a warm spot, and let it ferment for 3 or more days.

Once your salsa is fermented, put it in a storage container in the refrigerator and enjoy it at your own time!

Check out more plant-based tasty recipes for a balanced gut microbiome and strong immune system with probiotics, fibre and antioxidants on our website.