Everywhere you flip these days, it seems like you just can’t avoid fermented foods – these are very popular in the nutrition and diet world, and for good reason.
They contain live microbes that have a range of benefits, from making vitamins to training our immune system and deactivating toxins.
Microbes also improve the taste, texture and digestibility of food (including reducing lactose – the milk sugar – in dairy products, for example). And they can increase the concentrations of vitamins.
While fermented foods are now a regular part of my diet, I know that for some people, products like kefir, kimchi, or sauerkraut can be an acquired taste.
And to get the full range of benefits, you should eat the stuff you need to store in the fridge, which can be strong-flavored (the jars on the shelves tend to be pasteurized, which kills the things you want: microbes).
You might be surprised to hear that any food or drink that relies on microbes for its production is technically considered “fermented.” This includes chocolate, cheese, coffee, olives, soy sauce, vinegar, and even alcohol.
Everywhere you flip these days, it seems like you can’t avoid fermented foods—these are very popular in the nutrition and diet world, and for good reason, writes Dr. Megan Rossi (pictured)
But just brewing it doesn’t automatically mean it’s good for you.
Take yogurt. Yogurt is not only a delicious snack on its own, but studies have linked it to a host of health benefits including weight management and a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.
A study from Wageningen University in the Netherlands, involving more than 110,000 people, found that those who ate yogurt were more likely to be at a healthy weight. Another study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2016, found that those who consumed 80 grams of yogurt per day had a 14 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those who ate none.
These benefits are due to the combined effects of the protein, calcium, and bacteria in the yogurt.
The bacteria help break down lactose into lactic acid (more on that later), converting many of the milk proteins and fats into compounds with anti-inflammatory properties, for example.
Some of these compounds act like blood pressure medications known as ACE inhibitors.
Other compounds in yogurt are thought to have an effect on appetite. This may explain, for example, the results of a 2014 study conducted by the University of Missouri in the US in which people consumed about 100 fewer calories at dinner when their afternoon snack was a yogurt rather than a calorie-matched chocolate bar.
Furthermore, the lactic acid in yogurt—which naturally helps prevent bad microbes from spoiling it—may enhance nutrient absorption and have antioxidant powers of its own.
Because the bacteria in it help “digest” some of the lactose, people with sensitive intestines or lactose intolerance can tolerate yogurt better than non-fermented dairy products, such as milk.
However, not all yogurts are created equal. To make yogurt, two types of bacteria are needed, Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. However, some manufacturers heat yogurt to extend its shelf life, which kills bacteria.
For maximum health benefits, look for yogurt that not only advertises as “live,” but also specify the number (you want at least 100 million) and the names of the bacteria. This way, you can be sure it contains enough bacteria to survive in your acidic stomach.
Many products in supermarket coolers contain all kinds of additives, including thickeners and sweeteners. As I explained before, sweeteners can affect the gut microbiome, resulting in an increased blood sugar response to food, hepatitis, and weight gain.
Making your own means you can ferment them for longer for a tart flavour. It will also provide more lactic acid and less lactose, unlike regular yogurt
Although this research has been largely done in animals, it has recently been backed up in human studies, including one published just this month in the journal Cell.
This showed that eating saccharin or sucralose every day for two weeks affects the balance of people’s gut microbes and their blood sugar responses (in other words, how well the body processes sugar, which can lead to weight gain and type 2 diabetes).
It amazes me how some of the yogurt brands that claim “gut health” and list bacteria on the label also contain such sweeteners.
It’s worth checking out your usual brand – or make your own! My recipe (top right) shows that there is none for it.
Fermented food reminds me of a slow cooker: Once you make it, you just leave it out because the mixture (specifically the microbes) does the hard work.
Yogurt is cheap to prepare and only takes two minutes to prepare. Then leave it on overnight, and voila! – By morning it’s ready.
Making your own means you can ferment them for longer for a tart flavour. It will also provide more lactic acid and less lactose, unlike regular yogurt.
And you can add additives, such as milk powder to make it thicker and creamier; Or filter it through a muslin cloth for Greek-style yogurt, which will boost the protein and reduce the lactose content. (Use the filtered liquid, whey, for an extra dose of calcium and microbes. Add it to smoothies.)
If you saute your fruit flavors while making them, this allows the microbes to ferment some of the fructose as well, enhancing the final flavor as well as supporting the growth of beneficial microbes often added to yogurts like lactobacillus species.
I use yogurt in sauces, dips, and baking – to replace cream in a baked cheesecake; I also substitute half of the butter or oil in other cake and biscuit recipes with equal amounts of thicker yogurt.
Can you make yogurt with plant milk? The microbes used to make traditional yogurt eat the lactose found in animal milk. If you try to add these microbes to lactose-free milk, they starve and leave a watery mess. But yes, this can be done by using a vegan yogurt garnish along with thickeners like cornmeal. You can find recipes online.
But one thing is for sure, once you start making your own yogurt, you won’t look back!
Note: If you are on antibiotics, I suggest eating some live yoghurt every day for a month after completing the course. It helps nourish the lining of the intestine, which is often more sensitive afterward.
Did you know?
If you’re getting 30 grams of fiber a day, you’ll wind up 10 to 20 times a day. Do not be alarmed – this is a sign of a well-nourished and functioning gut microbe.
Try this: live yogurt with raspberry jam
This yogurt will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, or even longer depending on how ripe the milk is.
- 2 tablespoons plain yogurt (check the “live cultures” label)
Topper: 140 g of blueberries or other berries; 1 chopped medjool dates 1 tablespoon chia seeds
Put the milk and milk powder in a saucepan over a low-medium heat and simmer until they reach about 45°C. Place the yogurt in an ovenproof bowl and slowly stir in the warm milk mixture until the yogurt is evenly dispersed.
Preheat the oven to 50 ° C, then turn it off. Turn on the oven light. Leave the jar open in the oven for 8 to 12 hours – the longer you leave it, the thicker and tart the yogurt will be.
To cover the jam, put the berries, chopped dates and half a cup of water in a saucepan: bring to a simmer, then crush the fruit with the back of a spoon and simmer for ten minutes.
Add the chia seeds and simmer for 2 minutes or until the mixture thickens. Remove from heat and leave to cool. Stir a spoonful of jam into each serving of yogurt and put it in the fridge to firm up.
I’ve been taking GERD medication for several years and generally have a good, albeit bland, diet to avoid any ‘fits’. But it is very limited and I like the advice to make it more interesting.
Enjoying food is a major part of my style, and I agree that we need to enjoy a wide range of food again.
The first step is to talk to your doctor about the underlying cause of GERD. Has H. pylori been ruled out (this common bacterial infection can cause reflux)? Are you at your happy weight (excess weight can put pressure on the valve between the stomach and esophagus)? Medications such as aspirin and ibuprofen can irritate the intestinal lining and can also be a factor.
Once these questions are considered, it may be helpful to review your current reflux medication and whether the type and dose is right for you.
In a previous column, I looked at nutritional strategies for managing reflux, including eating smaller, more frequent meals – this simple step is enough in many cases to provide adequate relief so you can enjoy a more varied and delicious array of foods again.
It’s also worth trying herbs and spices, such as paprika and smoked rosemary, which provide great flavor without causing GERD.
Connect with Dr. Megan Rossi
Email email@example.com or write to Good Health, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT – please include contact details. Dr. Megan Rossi cannot enter into personal correspondence. Responses should be taken in a general context; Always consult your doctor about your health concerns