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  • Writer's pictureLisa Smith

Are Fermented Foods Healthy?

Updated: Apr 22

fermented foods in jars

What are Fermented Foods?

Fermented foods are foods that undergo a natural process of fermentation, where beneficial microorganisms like bacteria, yeast, and moulds transform the food. This process not only enhances flavours but also gives us numerous health benefits. 

Why are Fermented Foods Healthy?

Fermented foods are a nutritional powerhouse. They are a natural source of probiotics, the good bacteria essential for maintaining a healthy balance in the gut microbiome. These foods also increase nutrient bioavailability, making it easier for your body to absorb essential vitamins and minerals.

How do Fermented Foods Improve Gut Health?

The probiotics in fermented foods play a crucial role in promoting a diverse and balanced gut microbiome. They help maintain a healthy digestive system, improve nutrient absorption, and support the immune system. A happy gut translates to overall well-being. Fermented vegetables also contain vitamin b12 which is produced by the bacterium lactobacillus reuteri. 

Why is it Important to Look After Your Gut?

Your gut is not just the core of digestion; it plays a key role in your overall health. A well-balanced gut microbiome can improve mental health, strengthen the immune system, and help us absorb nutrients from our food. Adding fermented foods into your diet is a simple way to boost your gut health. 

4 Reasons Why Fermented Foods are Good for Your Gut:

  1. Probiotics: Fermented foods are rich in probiotics, live bacteria that confer numerous health benefits when consumed. These friendly bacteria help to populate the gut with beneficial microorganisms, crowding out harmful bacteria and promoting a healthy balance of gut flora.

  2. Improved Digestion: The enzymes produced during the fermentation process aid in the breakdown and absorption of nutrients, making fermented foods easier to digest. This can ease the symptoms of bloating, gas, and indigestion, promoting smoother digestion and regular bowel movements.

  3. Enhanced Immunity: A significant portion of the body's immune system resides in the gut, making gut health crucial for overall immunity. The probiotics found in fermented foods help to strengthen the gut barrier, reducing the risk of infections and supporting immune function.

  4. Reduced Inflammation: Imbalances in gut bacteria have been linked to inflammation, which is a root cause of many chronic health conditions. By promoting a healthy balance of gut flora, fermented foods can help to reduce inflammation and support overall health and well-being.

7 Fantastic Fermented Foods:

1. Yoghurt: Rich in probiotics, yoghurt supports gut health and boosts the immune system. Making your own yoghurt is easy to do. Yoghurt is such a versatile ingredient, it makes a quick breakfast with seeds and berries. You can add it to curries and make dips too.

2. Sauerkraut: Fermented cabbage, a crunchy and tangy side dish packed with probiotics. Curtido is popular because it tastes like a fresh coleslaw and its flavours complement most meals.

3. Kimchi: A spicy Korean staple made from fermented vegetables, often cabbage or radishes.

4. Kombucha: A fizzy, tea-based drink fermented with a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY). A ginger bug starter is easily made and doesn't require any culture.

5. Kefir: Often made with milk, like a thin yoghurt drink. It contains a wide variety of probiotics which support digestion and gut health. Water kefir is a refreshing probiotic drink. You can buy kefir grains for milk or water from Happy Kombucha.

6. Sourdough: I love baking my own bread, pizza, seeded crackers, cookies and cakes with sourdough. Here is a link to recipes for a sourdough starter.

7. Lacto-fermented foods: These are vegetables that are fermented in a brine for a short time. Some favourites are cherry tomatoes, red onions, radishes and baby carrots. You can even make lacto-fermented ketchup! Other foods can be fermented too just by using the probiotic rich liquid from your fermented vegetables.

Histamine Toxicity and Fermented Foods Caution!

Histamine toxicity or excess histamine is often referred to as histamine intolerance. This occurs when the body has difficulty breaking down histamine, which is naturally present in certain foods, this can produce a wide range of symptoms. Histamine levels build up in the body, which can lead to a wide range of symptoms such as headaches, flushing, hives, digestive issues, and more.

Fermented Foods Are Not Healthy For Everyone!

Fermented foods are rich in histamine due to the fermentation process, which encourages the growth of histamine-producing bacteria. Histamine levels increase as the food ferments, making them potential triggers for those who struggle to eliminate excess histamine. So, fermented foods are out if you have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS) or a number of symptoms that may suggest excess histamine, such as gut issues, flushing, hives, headaches, migraines, sleep issues, dizziness or runny nose.

Histamine toxicity or intolerance occurs when the body is unable to properly metabolise or eliminate excess histamine, leading to a build-up of this compound in the body. This build-up can result from various factors, exacerbating symptoms in individuals sensitive to histamine.

6 reasons why histamine toxicity or intolerance may occur:

1. Histamine-rich Foods: Consuming foods high in histamine can overwhelm the body's capacity to break down histamine efficiently. These foods include aged cheeses, fermented foods, processed meats, certain fish (e.g., tuna, mackerel), and alcoholic drinks.

2. Histamine Release: Certain foods and drinks, as well as environmental factors like stress, can stimulate the release of histamine in the body. This release adds to the histamine burden, especially in individuals already susceptible to histamine intolerance.

3. Reduced Enzyme Activity: Histamine is primarily broken down by enzymes such as diamine oxidase (DAO) and histamine-N-methyltransferase (HNMT). Reduced activity or deficiency of these enzymes can impair histamine metabolism, leading to increased histamine levels in the body.

4. Gut Health Issues: The gut plays a crucial role in histamine metabolism and elimination. Conditions such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), leaky gut syndrome, and dysbiosis can disrupt this process, contributing to histamine intolerance.

5. Medications: Certain medications can interfere with histamine metabolism or increase histamine levels in the body. These may include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antibiotics, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), and some antidepressants.

6. Genetic Factors: Genetic variations can affect the activity of enzymes involved in histamine metabolism, predisposing individuals to histamine intolerance. Polymorphisms in genes encoding DAO and HNMT, for example, can impact enzyme function.

Nutritionist in Manchester

Lisa Smith Nutritionist

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I am a BANT registered nutritionist and health coach based in Manchester, specialising in metabolic health in midlife. I help women over 35 stop yo-yo dieting, balance hormones, ease digestive issues and lose weight - without calorie counting!

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Book a free 30 minute mini consultation. It's a great opportunity for us to connect online before hopefully working together. Cheshire Nutrition is based in Manchester. I work online with women across Manchester and the UK.


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