Fermented foods have been a dietary staple for centuries, prized not only for their distinct flavors but also for their potential health benefits. The process of fermentation involves the breakdown of food by microorganisms like bacteria, yeast, and molds, leading to the formation of beneficial compounds. Beyond their cultural and culinary significance, fermented foods offer a range of advantages, including improved digestion and potential support for weight loss.
We spoke with Michelle Saari, MSc, RD, at EHealth project, to learn about four fermented foods she recommends for better digestion and help with losing weight. Saari shared that kefir, yogurt, fermented pickles, and sourdough bread are the ones we should include more of in our diet.
Kefir, a fermented milk drink, stands out as a nutritional powerhouse with potential benefits for both digestion and weight loss. This tangy beverage is rich in probiotics, which are live beneficial bacteria that promote a healthy balance in the gut microbiome. The probiotics in kefir can enhance digestion by aiding nutrient absorption and maintaining a robust gut flora. Moreover, kefir is a good source of protein, which helps with satiety and can contribute to the feeling of fullness, potentially curbing overeating.
"Kefir is filled with probiotics, which help improve gut health by promoting a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut microbiome. This balance is crucial for faster digestion and nutrient absorption. Kefir is also high in protein, supporting muscle maintenance and satiety, which can be beneficial for losing weight," says Saari.
Rich in probiotics, yogurt contributes to a balanced gut microbiome, fostering efficient digestion and nutrient absorption. The probiotics in yogurt also help maintain the integrity of the intestinal lining, enhancing overall digestive function. Additionally, yogurt is a good source of protein, which can increase feelings of fullness and reduce overall calorie intake.
"Yogurt, especially with live cultures, is a great source of probiotics. It's also rich in protein, aiding in muscle maintenance and feeling full. Yogurt provides calcium, essential for bone health, and has been linked to improved digestive health and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes," she says.
Naturally fermented pickles offer a dual advantage in supporting both digestion and weight loss. These pickles are created through the natural fermentation process, where cucumbers undergo transformation by beneficial bacteria. The fermentation not only preserves the cucumbers but also produces probiotics, promoting a healthy balance of gut bacteria. Furthermore, naturally fermented pickles are low in calories and fat, making them a satisfying snack option for those aiming to lose weight.
Saari says, "Naturally fermented pickles are a low-calorie snack rich in probiotics. They also contain vitamin K, which is important for blood clotting. But it's important to watch the sodium content in pickles, as high sodium intake can be detrimental to health."
Crafted from naturally fermented dough, sourdough bread presents a more health-conscious option compared to its conventional counterpart. The fermentation increases the availability of certain nutrients, potentially aiding in better nutrient absorption. Sourdough bread has a lower glycemic index compared to some conventional bread, meaning it may cause a slower rise in blood sugar levels, promoting sustained energy and reducing the likelihood of overeating.
"The fermentation process breaks down phytates, making it easier to digest and increasing the availability of nutrients. It also has a lower glycemic index, which can help maintain stable blood sugar levels, beneficial for weight management," says Saari.
Fermented foods contribute substantially to enhancing digestive health and facilitating weight management through the presence of probiotics. These beneficial bacteria, inherent in fermented foods, play a pivotal role in sustaining a harmonious equilibrium within the gut microbiome. This balance holds paramount importance for various reasons.
"A healthy gut microbiome aids in the efficient digestion and absorption of nutrients. Probiotics help break down food, making it easier for the body to absorb the nutrients that we need to be healthy. This can help to reduce bloating, gas, and constipation, leading to a more comfortable gut and health," Saari notes.
"Enhancing nutrient absorption, promoting a sense of fullness, improving metabolic efficiency, stabilizing blood sugar levels, and fortifying the immune system are ways in which fermented foods contribute to both weight loss and digestive health," she concludes.