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Fermented Foods: How to tap into the abundant benefits

Every week new fermented food items seem to bubble up in grocery store aisles.  But fermentation is nothing new; this process of preserving the shelf-life of fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats and more has existed since ancient times and in cultures around the world. Recent media attention and grocery store real estate dedicated to fermented foods exists for good reason. There is a growing body of evidence that supports incorporating more fermented foods into one’s diet and may lead to improved digestion, a stronger immune system, and enhanced nutritional status. 

Five ways to incorporate fermented foods into your diet:

  1. Kefir: Kefir is best described as a drinkable yogurt, this fermented milk beverage is delightfully tangy and can come plain or in a variety of flavors. Similar to other dairy products, kefir is high in calcium, vitamin D, and protein. It also contains live and active cultures which come with a host of potential health benefits. Kefir can be added to smoothies, poured over cereal or granola, or used in salad dressings. 
  2. Sauerkraut: A simple combination of just cabbage and salt, sauerkraut is a traditional German food which is very easy to make at home. While historically consumed with rich meats, sauerkraut pairs well with lighter, plant-based dishes including atop salads, in soups, on toast, with roasted vegetables, or in your next grain bowl.
  3. Miso: This fermented soybean paste is packed with rich umami flavor.  A little can go a long way but miso will transform soups, marinades, salad dressings, and goes well with glazed vegetables such as turnips and eggplant. The most common miso varieties are white, yellow, and red; these will be found in the refrigerated section of your grocery store. 
  4. Kimchi: A not-so-distant relative of sauerkraut, kimchi is a Korean condiment made of spicy fermented cabbage. Look for it in the refrigerated section next to other Asian ingredients and give it a try it on your next avocado toast.
  5. Tempeh: This vegetarian protein source is made from naturally fermented soybeans. The nutty flavor pairs nicely in savory dishes. The texture holds up well to being roasted or grilled but can also be easily crumbled into chili or made into “chicken” salad. 

Tips:

  • When buying fermented foods at the grocery store, look for them in the refrigerated section. Seek out products that are free of preservatives and unpasteurized which eliminates any friendly bacteria.  And if you decide to make sauerkraut or kimchi at home, work in a sanitary environment and be sure to always practice proper food safety techniques. 
  • Salt is a common ingredient and necessary in the process of fermenting many foods.  Reading the labels, choosing low-sodium varieties when available, and watching portion sizes can help keep the salt in check. The American Heart Association recommends keeping sodium intake to under 1500 mg per day.

Ready to make the jump and begin experimenting with fermented foods? Start by gradually introducing these foods into your diet and have fun adding them to some of your favorite dishes.