7 Ways Fermented Foods Can Benefit Your Health

Fermented foods.  You hear about them all the time, but what exactly are fermented foods, and how can they benefit us?

In Russia it’s kombucha.

In Japan it’s miso.

In Indonesia it’s tempeh.

In northern Europe it’s Sauerkraut.

In England it’s Mead (we like to get drunk).

In France it’s cheese and wine.

In Korea it’s kimchee.

As Sally Fallon says in her book Nourishing Traditions, countries that have a culture, grow cultures their food.

While the parallels with artistic culture and cultured foods may be interesting, it’s the extraordinary health benefits I’m enamoured with.

But let’s answer a few questions first. . .

What does ‘fermented’ mean in food?

Fermenting is a process of culturing food, using bacteria and yeasts, so they are more nutritious.  It’s also a method of preserving.

Are fermented foods bad for you?

All the science is pointing towards them being very good for you.  You’ll see below that I talk about how they can aid digestion and be good for your microbiome, which is now thought to be linked to brain function.  If you’re new to fermented foods, you might want to ease yourself in and not eat to many different types in a short period of time, or you might upset your tummy a little.

What fermented foods are good for your gut?

There are so many.  I can’t think of any that aren’t good for you, aside from the ones that contain alcohol.  I believe that the negative effects of alcohol make any benefits not worth it.

So with that in mind, some of my favourites are: miso, yoghurt, kombucha, coconut water kefir, cheese, sauerkraut and kimchi.

Are fermented foods raw?

Yes!  As long as they haven’t been heated above 116f in the fermentation process and haven’t been pasteurised for lasting on the supermarket shelf longer.

Where to buy fermented foods

I highly recommend making your own fermented foods at home, as they’re so much cheaper and you can fully control the quality of the ingredients that go into them.

If you do want to buy them, your best bet is a smaller health food shop.  Make sure you get unpasteurised every time.

Related: Want to learn how to make more than just sauerkraut?  Check out Raw Fermentation at Home here.

Here’s my manifesto of the best 7 reasons I can come up with, as to why I think fermented foods have more of a place in your life than they do now.

1. One serving of sauerkraut has more probiotics than a whole bottle of supplements

I only came across this recently, but I found it incredibly exciting.

Dr Mercola sent off a sample of sauerkraut to the lab to be tested. He said, “We had it analyzed. We found in a 4-6 ounce serving of the fermented vegetables there were literally ten trillion bacteria.”

By my calculations (this’ll make my maths teacher, Mr Thomas, proud) that means just a 1-1.5 ounce (28-64 grams) serving of sauerkraut – which is really just a couple of mouthfuls – has more beneficial bacteria than a whole bottle of probiotics.

Not just your normal probiotics either – a bottle of one of those high-strength brands.

And because Mr Thomas says we should always show our workings. . .

I calculated this based on the highest strength probiotics I could find. The Garden Of Life Raw Probiotics have 85 billion live bacteria per 3 capsules (1 serving).

There’s 30 servings in a bottle that has 90 capsules. So multiply 30 servings by 85 billion and you get 2.5 trillion.

Plus when you eat sauerkraut, you’re not eating a powdered supplement, you’re eating actual food. I do think powders and supplements have their place, for sure, but fresh is best.

I’ve always found it kind of strange that store-bought fermented foods are pasteurised to maintain shelf life

Here’s a sauerkraut video to get you started.

A word here on store bought sauerkraut. . .I’ve always found it kind of strange that store-bought fermented foods are pasteurised to maintain shelf life. Why would you go the trouble of growing that bacteria in the food to then kill it off with heat?

2. There’s a whole world of plant-based cheeses to have fun with out there

When I was looking for ways to clear up my skin years ago, one of the first things I cut out of my diet was dairy.

Maybe it’s because of that, or maybe I just love the creativity of raw, tree nut-based cheeses, that I’ve spent so much time making them. Tree-nut cheeses are my jam.

There’s a whole world of possibility out there in the tree nut cheese world, from simple macadamia cheeses, to hard, sliceable cashew cheese, to cheese that you can grate by adding pectin. I always have one of these cheeses on hand, since they can last months in the fridge. When I was looking for ways to clear up my skin years ago, one of the first things I cut out of my diet was dairy As long as I have them around, I know I can make a really simple meal, like a salad, and make it into something really special with a cheese. Here’s a video I shot on how to get started with a macadamia cheese.

I’ve also got a PDF download for you, which you can get by clicking here.

3. Antibiotics and other medications can wreck your internal flora

Back when I had acne, I went through several courses of antibiotics. Not only did they not really work, but I was never made aware that if you do go the antibiotics route, you need to build your internal bacteria back up to full strength.

So ‘antibiotic’ seems to mean ‘anti-life’

I looked up the etymology of ‘biotic’ and this is what I found. . .

“pertaining to life,” 1847, in the medical sense, from Latin bioticus, from Greek biotikos “pertaining to life,” from bios “life”

So antibiotic seems to mean anti-life.

Now I understand why I like the idea of probiotics so much!

A friend sent me this recently. . .

Photo of newspaper clipping about the dangers of antibiotics on the gut

I’m not in the habit of going to mainstream media for my health advice, but they were reporting on this study.

Heavy use of antibiotics can raise the risk of diabetes. That was news to me.

And in looking that article up, I found this item that reports the use of antibiotics in children can cause obesity and diabetes.

So the first obvious thing to do is avoid antibiotics. As the study showed using more than one course can expose you to these risks.

But if you’ve ever taken antibiotics, even many years ago, it’s possible that you’re internal flora never repaired itself and may still be causing you issues.

Regular consumption of fermented foods can rebuild that internal flora and heal your gut.

4. Fermented Foods will boost your immune system

Your gastrointestinal tract is an amazing thing.

At the same time as absorbing nutrients, it protects against ‘harmful entities’ that may be in the food.

As well as that, the gut contains 70-80% of the gut’s immune cells. Source.

You’re only one meal away from being a healthy eater

Think of your gut as a garden that you need tend well. In order for the good plants to grow, it’s not the gardening that’s strengthening your immune system, it’s the gardening that creates the environment for the whole garden (your gut) to thrive.

Gut bacteria thrive on what you feed them. That starts from the very next thing you eat.

I’ve always said that you’re only one meal away from being a healthy eater. That’s never been more so than when talking about the gut, and specifically, fermented foods that are teeming with the good bacteria your inner garden is craving.

5. Get your digestion working like Jabba The Hut on a cheat day

Fermented foods are pre-digested, which means they have been broken down in structure, to allow easy digestion and absorption, not to mention the probiotics they contain.

I’ve taken to eating 2ozs of sauerkraut with or after most meals, because I find it so beneficial to my digestion. Both from the actual food itself, to the environment it creates.

A warning though, introducing too many fermented foods too quickly, will have the opposite effect. I mean, you’ll have some, ahem, ‘digestive unrest’, shall we say.

Start out with 1 to 2 ounces of sauerkraut, or the same amount of kimchee, or a couple of tablespoons of kefir and build up from there.

6. Give your skin the glow

For a man, I put a lot of attention on my skin.

I got into raw foods for their ability to clear up my skin. For a man, I put a lot of attention on my skin.

I really notice how different things effect my skin, because I’ve spent so many years worrying about it in the past.

The first time I ate a lot of flax crackers (there’s been many times since), I immediately noticed how smooth my skin was 24 to 48 hours later.

I can remember being in the shower and washing my face. My skin at the time was acne free, but gone were the small bumps I could normally still feel.

I get the same when I eat lots of raw, fermented foods. My skin is clearer and my are eyes brighter.

These are all the things that raw food can do for you anyway, but with fermented foods, it’s so much more obvious. It’s very real and it must come from all those healthy, living probiotics.

7. Take care of your second brain

An article published in New Scientist referred to the enteric nervous system in your gut as the 2nd brain, because it shares some of the features of the brain in your head.

They also said that the gut sends messages to the brain; what’s really exciting for me, is that sounds like an explanation for, “I know it’s the right thing to do, I just feel it in my gut”.

This is purely my theory, but I think the healthier your gut, the better that you can connect to your intuition.

Often we overthink things, getting too ‘in our own heads’.

Speaking to other entrepreneurs over the many years I’ve been in business, I’ve often heard the advice to, “go with your gut instinct”.

It seems the first decision you make ends up being the right one.

Anything that comes after that is overthinking it

Here’s the way I experience it. . .

I become aware of the right decision, or a new idea, as a thought. The words to describe it come in later. Anything that comes after that is overthinking it. This is when doubt or second guessing make an appearance.

Since realising this, I’ve made my gut health a priority and it’s served me very well.

Related:

How to make coconut yoghurt

How to make fizzy coconut water kefir

FAQs:

  • Q. Is apple cider vinegar fermented?A. Yes.  But only the good ones have remained unpasteurised.  Look for that on the label.  You’re looking for unpasteurised and preferably ones that contain the ‘mother’, which is part of the original culturing process.
  • Q. Is cheese fermented?A. Yes it is.  If you want exclusively raw nut cheeses, check out our Tree Nut Cheese online course.
  • Q. Is yoghurt a fermented food?A. Sure is.  And it’s one of my favourites.  If you want a non-dairy yoghurt, you make make your own like this.
Russell James

Post by Russell James


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September 22nd, 2015

58 thoughts on “7 Ways Fermented Foods Can Benefit Your Health”

  1. I would like to make sauerkraut, but am concerned about all of the salt as I have high blood pressure (controlled by medication) and problems with fluid retention. What effects does sauerkraut have on the sodium sensitive? Thanks.

    Reply
    • Apparently you can do it without the salt. I’d give that a shot and just add some acidophilus powder to be sure it’ll have the best chance to ferment. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
  2. Hi there! I live in a fairly small town with not much shopping available. Can you tell me where I could find nut cheeses?

    Reply
  3. Hi Russell,
    I am not sure of my 1st attempt to post a question on here, it did not show, thus I am trying once again. I first wanted to thank you , and also Amy for your awesome video, & work, as you are helping many. I’ve a group I just started on facebook , Vegetarians in Weston Florida, that is slowly but surely growing in members & I posted your video there. My question is, & also others in my group would like to know, does the salt need to be sea salt that is grey, or himalayan, or any grey salt which u mention but I have had a hard time finding, will just plain sea salt work?. Also is a cup of salt the amount that is needed, or more? Thank you so very much again for all you guys do.. Warmest regards, Vivian Aaron

    Reply
    • Hey Vivian, ideally you want to use salt that has some colour to it, such as Himalayan or celtic. If it’s white table salt, it’s had the minerals cooked out of it, then it’s been bleached white.

      What recipe are you asking about salt quantity for?

      BTW, when you post a question it comes to us for moderation, so we can approve it and answer it and the same time. That’s when it will appear on the site ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
    • The organic farmers market in Coconut Grove has organic pink and gray sea salt. Trader Joes also sometimes carries pink Himalayan sea salt.

      Reply
    • Great question. The stuff off the shelf, in any packaging, will not be raw and therefore will not have the probiotics in them. So fridge is the way to go with all fermented products.

      Reply
      • Amy,
        It is the heating process that kills the bacteria, good or bad, it will be destroyed. The veggies may be raw, initially, in the jars but the canning process, to seal the jars, is heated, therefore killing anything “alive.”
        Some “health food” shops put jars in cold section that have been heated. Careful!
        Been-bacteria dislike three things: 1) metal containers, 2) iodized salt, & 3) chlorinated water. Other than that, fermenting is child’s play.

        Reply
  4. Hi,

    I’ve been wondering for a while if the cabbage needs to be organic as I’d like to do red cabbage but can’t find an organic one in the supermarket (only green). Do the pesticides affect the good bacterial growth or is it enough to just take the outside leaves off?

    Thanks,
    Tina

    Reply
      • Russell,
        Outer leaves of cabbage contain their own special bacteria, called lactobacillus planetarium. It is essential not to wash the outer leave, unless a light spray for obvious soil, as so this bacteria be allowed to jumpstart the fermentation process. For anyone interested in fermenting foods, cabbage is perhaps the easier choice for this very reason.

        Reply
  5. Have just watched your video, and want to try making this. I also do Kefir about everyday, and was wondering if I should continue this or if sauerkraut is enough of a probiotic for me.

    Reply
    • It’s good to get a mix of sources for your probiotics, so adding differently fermented foods and beverages is always a good thing ๐Ÿ™‚ And it’s yummy!

      Reply
  6. Hi Russell

    I’ve been trying to make your sauerkraut for about a year now and every time my cabbage leaf and the cabbage center that I use to push my shredded cabbage down on top goes mouldy! What am I doing wrong?

    Thanks for your help!

    Reply
      • A little mold is okay, but make sure the cabbage is submersed. Also, only use sea salt, for iodized will kill bacteria. If your batch does not have quite enough sea salt, this is also another reason for additional mold. Remember, the bacteria are living organisms, who like us, need salt for energy (scientifically speaking, an action potential in cells) for energy. We want the little buggers to get busy to eat, drink, be merry, and multiply!

        Reply
    • No metal containers! Glass is okay, a crock or clay, even porcelain is best. If you have nothing but a 5 gal. Bucket, that will work! Only use sea salt and mix it into the cabbage shreds by hand. Let sit over night. This helps draw the water out of the leaves. By no means over wash the outer cabbage leaves!!! A special bacteria lives on these outer leaves that will kickst your sauerkraut! Use only purifies water, no chlorinated tap for it will kill the good bacteria and ruin your batch and all your work and expectations! Make sure the whole batch is covered by an inch of good water, place a plate or a flat surface on top to hold down firmly the brew, place a clean, large stone, a washed brick or a natural, heavy object on top. Cover with a tea towel, and leave u disturbed for a week. Then, lift towel and put your nose to use by smelling the batch. It should smell like a healthy, sour, yet appetizing food. Check periodically. Keep in a warm, not hot, area so the bacteria feel nice and cozy and get into just the right mood for sex! Yes, we want the little guys to be fruitful and multiply!-Cheers!

      Reply
  7. Hello dear Russell,
    Since few days i m been wondering on making coconut water kafir. Firstly i need grains. So i was browsing for it and i got stumbled on your video. Began to watch it attentively. Found it very useful and touched by your calm composure and delighted to find you are raw like me. I became raw, vegan since 6 years. I live in India, down south, a place called Auroville , an intentional universal township where i have a raw vegan restaurant and of course i too teach. I smile how raw food once comes in , one cannot contain the values for oneself it is bound to be shared with others.

    I am blessed to know you and your work by going through your website and blog. Oh, how i wish to send my sauer kraut, kombucha, banana flower bread, raita, sambar, rasam, dehydrated jackfruit, mango and on on…. i think it is better you visit me to devour all of them. Like to talk to you a lot , Is there a way to get coconut water kefir grains from you? as you know we have plenty of coconut here and we eat lots of coconut and how i long to feed you my coconut mylk, cocnut mylk ice cream etc………. see how i became excited………….. thanks a lot.

    Reply
  8. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and thoughts, Russell. I love watching your videos and reading your blog posts, you have such a warm vibe. I am learning a lot of things from you that are helping me to live a better life and I’m really grateful for that.

    Reply
  9. Great post Russell, some great points. I love fermented foods and drinks, I’ve been having them, without fail, with every meal, for years, and I can’t imagine not having them…they make my body feel so happy!

    Reply
  10. Hi Russel, thanks for this great article! My question is this: I live in France and I want to know if animal cheese (goat’s and sheep’s milk) is ok to consume? What are your thoughts on this? Thanks, Gilliane

    Reply
    • Hey Gilliane, it’s really a personal choice, based on health and also ethics.

      Some people don’t want to eat cheese because of the dairy industry and how it treats animals in that production. But also some people will eat goats or even cow cheese if it’s unpastuerised and they know the farmer and are happy with the conditions under which it is produced.

      Then there’s the issue of health. Just like coffee, some people seem to do OK with it and some don’t. If you’re in the 2nd category and want to use raw dairy that feels ethically resourced, then you may want to try kefir, as it predigests the lactose.

      Reply
  11. Just wanted to let you know that Tempeh isn’t a Japanese food. They do eat lots of fermented foods besides miso though- Pickles (otuskemono) which are part of almost every meal,and natto are just a couple.

    Reply
  12. So happy to read this post. I teach fermented classes in South London and get really happy when I see people like you promoting the wonders of this amazing food-medicine. Thank you!

    Reply
  13. I Love the outreach you are doing. Sharing recipes and personal experience, it feels of wholeness, I am inspired again since your latest videos, and have been at my fermenting, brining,and krauting again. Next fun project macadamia cheese, thanks for it making so accessable!

    Reply
  14. Hi! I get water kefir grains and yesterday I started making the first batch of water kefir (I followed your video). I cannot wait to see the result and start using it! Thank you for great inspiration!!!

    Reply
  15. Brilliant article. I am a nutritionist and base majority of my consults around healing the gut and pshycology.
    It’s fantastic you are sharing your thoughts and articles like this as there are so many amazing foods with incredible healing benefits that main stream society overlook. Hopefully this will stir up some emotion . 5 stars to you .

    Reply

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