6 Reasons Why You Should Eat Fermented Foods

Sauerkraut is a fermented food you should add to your diet! (Photo: Susan Brooks-Dammann/Westend61/Corbis)

When we’re trying to eat right, reaching for the freshest foods is usually the way to go — but there’s one group of good-for-you foods that’s completely bucking this trend.

Fermented foods have been around for thousands of years; the process helped our ancestors preserve food long before refrigerators and canning systems were available. When a food is fermented, it’s left to sit and steep (sometimes for months!) until the sugars and carbs are digested by lactic-acid producing bacteria. It sounds kind of scary that bacteria is left to run rampant through your food, but it’s actually a good thing — for your health and your tastebuds. Thanks to the acidic environment produced by the bacteria, no unwanted bacteria can grow, and the food itself (think yogurt, kimchi, or sauerkraut) is left to take on a delicious, tangy flavor.

Aside from helping you live like the ancient Romans, incorporating fermented foods like kimchi, kombucha, and kefir into your diet provides a huge source of probiotics that have some amazing benefits. Probiotics create a protective lining in the intestines to shield your body from icky pathogens like salmonella and E. coli. And, because 80 percent of our immune system is found in the digestive tract, loading up on probiotics through fermented foods ensures our entire body functions and looks its best.

Check out the health-boosting qualities of these friendly microflora, plus my favorite (and super easy!) homemade sauerkraut recipe, below.

1. Boosts immune system: The live bacteria in fermented foods strengthens the immune system by upping the amount of antibodies fighting infectious disease in your body. Having more healthy bacteria in your gut — the largest immune organ in our bodies — also helps reduce chronic inflammation, a major factor in diseases like asthma, Crohn’s, diabetes and high blood pressure.

2. Improve digestive function: When the balance of good and bad bacteria in our digestive tract is off, it can lead to a weak digestive system, which has repercussions past spending too much time in the bathroom. Irritable bowel syndrome, heartburn and Celiac’s disease are all related to digestive health. Eating fermented foods helps maintain the bacteria ecosystem in our guts, ensuring things run (ahem) smoothly.

3. Creates better skin: You might be staring at an imbalance of gut bacteria face-on. If you suffer from eczema, acne, rashes, or other skin issues, adding more fermented foods to your diet can ease symptoms. That’s because the healthy bacteria these foods add to your body will reduce inflammation, improving your skin condition. Lay off the makeup and load up on the sauerkraut.

4. Absorbs more nutrients: During the fermentation process, nutrients have been pre-digested by beneficial bacteria. This means when it’s time to chow down, your body is able to extract the minerals and nutrients from foods more easily. Plus, anti-nutrients (stealth compounds that interfere with your body’s ability to extract the good stuff from foods) are also broken down during fermentation, leaving your body free to absorb what it needs.

5. Brightens your mood: Scientists are just realizing how integral to the body the gut and its health are. Recent studies show that when there’s havoc in your gut — your body’s “second brain” — it can manifest itself in your mood.

If you’re anxious about an upcoming presentation or big event, it might even be wise to nibble on pickles or some yogurt; one recent study found that eating fermented foods reduced social anxiety. That’s something to smile about!

6. Easy on the wallet: Popping supplements and reaching for all-organic healthy foods can get pricey. Luckily, fermenting foods can easily be done at home and on a budget. And, since fermented foods are preserved for long periods of time, you can make large batches and have a ready-to-eat dose of microflora at your disposal for months. (Just make sure you do so safely and properly!)

Are you ready to delve into the world of fermented foods? Try my simple and super-cheap homemade sauerkraut recipe to start reaping the benefits of these foods ASAP.

For more on probiotics, watch the video below:

Josh Axe is a C.N.S. Certified Nutrition Specialist and a doctor of natural medicine and chiropractic. In addition to being a sought-after speaker for Fortune 500 Companies (Nissan, Whole Foods) and bestselling author of The Real Food Diet Cookbook, Axe has served as a health care practitioner for Olympic-level athletes, including gold-medal swimmer Ryan Lochte and others. He’s also the founder of draxe.com, the No. 9 most-visited natural health site in the world.