Take 5 to Eat Alive

Have you noticed the surge in live fermented products found on the shop shelves? Kimchi, Kombucha, Kefir, Sauerkraut? You’ve probably been eating fermented products unknowingly for most of your life; yoghurt, cheese, bread and chocolate to name just a few.


First things first, what does fermentation actually mean, and how does it work?

Fermentation is a naturally occurring process, during which microorganisms, such as yeast and bacteria, break down the carbohydrates present in food into acids, alcohol, and gases. This process not only helps to prevent food spoilage, but it perpetuates the growth of beneficial microbes called probiotics.

Eating fermented foods has been considered beneficial to health by many cultures for thousands of years. The recent explosion of research into gut health and the connection between our microbiome and wellbeing has encouraged many of us to keep this ancient tradition going, not least for the wonderful flavours it produces.


Keep reading for five key reasons to ‘eat alive’!


1) They’re probiotic powerhouses…

The main area of research concerning fermented foods is their probiotic content. Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms, essential for a healthy digestive system. Fermenting foods before eating them is like digesting part of the food in advance, making them easier to digest – people with an intolerance to lactose often find yoghurt much easier to digest than milk, this is because the bacteria found in yoghurt have helped to pre-digest the lactose. We also need probiotics to digest dietary fibre such as whole grains, that cannot be completely broken down by our own digestive enzymes. Fermented food consumption has even been shown to lessen the severity of IBS symptoms, such as bloating, gas, and constipation!


2) … and vitamin synthesisers…

During the fermentation process, microbes begin to work on the substances that inhibit our body’s ability to absorb some essential nutrients. Amazingly, Cornell University found that fermented sauerkraut can provide up to 12 times more vitamin C than raw cabbage! It’s also full of vitamin A, K, and loads of the B vitamins. Not only do fermented foods enable us access to more vitamins, but they also aid us in manufacturing our own. Several lactic acid bacteria species, such as those found in yoghurt and kimchi, can synthesise vitamin K and several of the B’s from within our gut.


3) They encourage increased immune function

Hippocrates said: ‘All disease begins in the gut’, and it’s still debated to this day! What we do know is that up to 70% of the immune system is housed in the gut, so maintaining a diverse microbiome is undoubtedly important for proper immune system functioning. Housing a wide range of bacteria in our guts also makes us less susceptible to invasion by pathogens (bad microbes). Probiotics can crowd out any of these pathogens by competing for food and space and strengthen our gut lining, making it less permeable to pathogens. They even produce acids to kill these bad bacteria! Kimchi and Kraut are both rich in Vitamin C, Iron, and Zinc, all of which help the body fight against infection by contributing to a healthy immune system.


4) Because they’re delicious

Fermentation provides amazing new flavours that can’t be replicated by chemical additives, or the addition of vinegar and spices. The rich and complex notes that make wine so much more alluring than fresh grape juice is our favourite example! During fermentation, larger, less flavourful compounds are broken down by microbes into a variety of smaller molecules. This process amplifies existing flavours, expands the depth of flavour, and creates new ones too! These new and desirable tastes and textures can be completely unlike and often much more exciting than those present within the starting materials. More wine and cheese, please!


5) It’s Good Mood Food!

Fermented foods have even been shown to alter brain activity. Research into the direct and indirect links between gut health, and mental health and cognition is building as we speak! Fermented foods may support mental health by reducing levels of inflammatory microbes and decreasing gut inflammation, and there have even been studies to support the antidepressive efficacy of probiotics. They have also been shown to reduce brain fog… kimchi for Monday morning breakfast, please! Let’s face it: it’s too early to make any bold claims in this department, but the zing and crunch of our kimchi definitely puts a smile on our faces.

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