Before I started eating real foods, things like sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir were definitely not on my radar. I preferred my bland carbohydrates thanks very much! Fast forward a couple years and as I studied more about their health benefits, I was eventually brave enough to try them out.
Cultures around the world have been eating fermented foods for years, like sauerkraut in Germany, kimchi in Korea and kefir in Turkey. The average UK diet is definitely lacking in fermented food – unless you count cheap beer, of course. Even when we do eat foods that are traditionally fermented, like sauerkraut they’re often mass produced, processed versions from the supermarkets and preserved in vinegar instead of the traditional (and naturally occurring) fermentation juices.
What are fermented foods?
Fermented foods are foods that have been through a process of lacto-fermentation in which natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food creating lactic acid. This process preserves the food, produces B vitamins, beneficial digestive enzymes and various strains of probiotics to support digestion and immune health. The lactic acid does the same in a jar of sauerkraut as it does in your large intestine - it keeps the bad yeast and parasites at bay while providing the right environment for healthy bacteria such as lactobacillus acidophilus to thrive. Lactic acid is why real sauerkraut is sour - it is not because of vinegar.
Why eat fermented foods?
How to incorporate fermented foods into your diet
Most sauerkraut on the market is pasteurised (contains no bacteria or enzymes) - If it doesn't say unpasteurised, it's not the real thing. Ask for unpasteurised sauerkraut in the refrigerated section of your health food store. The key to using unpasteurised sauerkraut for digestive health is to take small amounts on a regular basis. Eat it raw with meals to get the benefits of the digestive enzymes. Start with a forkful or two depending on the health of your digestion. At most, consume 5-6 forkfuls at a time with 2-3 of your daily meals.
Kefir can be drank as a drink or used the same way as you would use plain yoghurt – over fruit, with your breakfast muesli, as a snack with nuts and seeds. Look for an organic version in your local health food store.
What’s the difference between kefir and plain yoghurt?
Like yoghurt, kefir contains beneficial bacteria but unlike yoghurt, which contains transient bacteria (passing through your gut) kefir contains bacteria that will reside in your gut and actually help colonise your intestinal tract. Some of the well-researched strains of bacteria (aka probiotics) are found in kefir such as Lactobacillus Caucasus, Acetobacter species and Streptococcus. Unlike yoghurt, kefir also contains beneficial yeasts such as Saccharomyces kefir and Torula kefir which help control and eliminate disruptive pathogenic yeasts from your body. You can drink it or use it as you would use yoghurt. It can also be very useful during acute diarrhoea, traveller’s diarrhoea and antibiotic associated diarrhoea.
Studies have shown that kefir intake enhances lactose digestion in people with low intestinal levels of lactase (the enzyme needed to digest lactose).The effect may be explained by the ability of the starter cultures used in the manufacture of kefir with live cultures to produce the enzyme lactase, which digests the lactose.
What’s your verdict? Are you a fan of fermented foods or are you still unsure? If you already eat fermented foods, please share your favourites in the comments below!
Thanks to savvy marketing and nutritional buzzwords, most of us think we are automatically doing a good thing for ourselves when we choose soy foods. Unfortunately, this isn’t always true. Make the right selections to ensure you’re getting the best and purest forms of nutrition from soy foods and soy products.
A sensible approach is to avoid heavily processed, refined or GM soy products and to choose only organic soy in its most natural state. Your best bet: edamame beans, tofu and other fermented soy foods such as tempeh, miso and natto
Read more: Is Soy Safe?
Historically, soy foods have been an integral part of the Asian diet. Therefore, Asian populations have consumed soy and its components in substantial quantities over long periods of time.
With the level of growth seen in the soy research field, it remains a challenge for scientists to come to a solid consensus on aspects of soy as they relate to human health. In addition, many different types of studies are performed using a variety of soy products. Conclusions from only one or a few studies on specific soy preparations cannot be simply generalised about the consumption of soy on the whole. As a result, much confusion is generated regarding the health effects of soy. Soya’s safety has been reviewed by a number of major Western committees including the public health community, the UK Committee on Toxicity and opinion leaders such as the US Food and Drug Administration and American Heart Association who agree that soy foods are healthy additions to the diet.(1).
Controversy around soy appears to relate primarily to the difference between observed health outcomes from epidemiological studies of soy food intake and the data obtained using specific isolated and concentrated fractions of soy(2). In contrast to epidemiological studies that look at soy food consumption, research data from animal or human intervention studies use fractions of soy (e.g. soy concentrates or isolates, isolated isoflavones mixtures, pure genistein etc.) By not fully specifying what has been used in epidemiological studies, it is often difficult to understand what researchers mean when they use terms such as “soy” or “soy protein” (3). It is known that these different forms of soy can produce varying results.
Additionally, differences in soy components also arise from the variety of the soybean used, specifically processing techniques, and/or growing and storage conditions (3).
Here’s a closer look at some of the research:
Tofu contains phytoestrogens, one example being isoflavones - plant-derived substances that have a chemical structure similar to that of oestrogen. Due to this unique structure, isoflavones have weak oestrogen-like effects in various tissues, such as reproductive, cardiovascular and skeletal tissues (9,10). There has been concern regarding the oestrogenic effects of soy isoflavones; however it has been estimated that isoflavones are 1/400th to 1/1000th the potency of synthetic oestrogen (11). Phytoestrogens may help to balance oestrogen levels with the ability to either exert oestrogenic activity if body levels of oestrogen are low or anti-oestrogenic activity if body levels are high. However, more research is still required in this area. Like all foods, phytoestrogens are not “magic bullets” and need to be incorporated into a person’s overall diet in a balanced way. In moderation like all foods. How much a person should eat depends on their unique health needs.
In men, there has been concern as to whether soy consumption might lead to infertility by decreasing testosterone levels and semen quality. Kurzer reviewed four published clinical trials investigating the effects of soy isoflavone consumption in men and reported that:
“…there are no adverse effects of soy isoflavone consumption on sperm quality, although there may be small effects of soy consumption on sex hormone-binding globulin and steroid hormones”(8). It is also worthwhile to note that based on a variety of studies, it has been suggested that soy consumption may reduce prostate cancer risk without any significant adverse effects (17-23). Further studies to evaluate the effects of soy consumption on hormone metabolism by the prostate are needed for a better understanding of this effect of soy.
Does soy have a negative impact on thyroid function?
Well-designed human clinical studies have demonstrated that soy has a minimal effect on overall thyroid function in healthy individuals (7,8) Individuals who have a history of thyroiditis and/or consume a diet marginally deficient in iodine may be more susceptible to these effects. If there is a history of thyroiditis problems it is advisable to consume sea vegetables along with the soy in order to ensure there is enough iodine. (Iodine is involved in thyroid hormone synthesis).
Not all soy products are created equal. Find out which soy foods and soy products to choose
1. Henkel J. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Soy: Health claims for soy protein, questions about other components. Available at http://www.fda.gov/fdac/features/2000/300_soy.html.
2. Messina M, Erdman J Jr, Setchell KD. Introduction to and perspectives from the Fifth International Symposium on the Role of Soy in Preventing and Treating Chronic Disease. J Nutr 2004;134(5):1205S-06S.
3. Erdman JW Jr, Badger TM, Lamoe JW, Setchell KD, Messina M. Not all soy products are created equal:caution needed in interpretation of results. J Nutr 2004;134(5):1229S-33S
7. Duncan AM, Underhill KE, Xu X, LavalleurJ, Phipps WR, Kurzer MS. Modest hormonal effects of soy isoflavones in postmenopausal women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 1999;84(10):3479-84
8. Persky VW, Turyk ME, Wang L, et al. Effect of soy protein on endogenous hormones in postmenopausal women. Am J Clin Nutri 2002; 75(1):145-53
10. Setchell KD, Cassidy A. Dietary isoflavones: biological effects and relevance to human health. J Nutr 1999;129(3):758S-67S.
11. Hudson T. Perimenopause and menopause alternatives to conventional HRT for symptom management – Women’s Health Update. Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients; November, 2002.
17. Peterson G, Barnes S. Genistein and biochanin A inhibit the growth of human prostate cancer cells but not epidermal growth factor receptor tyrosine autophosphorylation. Prostate 1993;22(4):335-45.
18. Geller J, Sionit L, Partido C, et al. Genistein inhibits the growth of human-patient BPH and prostate cancer in
histoculture. Prostate 1998;34(2):75-79.
19. Barnes S. Effect of genistein on in vitro and in vivo models of cancer. J Nutr 1995;125(3 Suppl):777S-83S
20. Adlercreutz CH, Goldin BR, Gorbach SL, et al. Soybean phytoestrogen intake and cancer risk. J Nutr 1995;125(3 Suppl):757S-70S.
21. Nagata C, Takatsuka N, Shimizu H, Hayashi H, Akamatsu T, Murase K. Effect of soymilk consumption on serum estrogen Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2001;10(3):179-84.
22. Habito RC, Montalto J, Leslie E, Ball MJ. Effects of replacing meat with soyabean in the diet on sex hormone concentrations in healthy adult males. Br J Nutr 2000;84(4):557-63.
23. Mitchell JH, Cawood E, Kinniburgh D, Provan A, Collins AR, Irvine DS. Effect of a phytoestrogen food supplement on reproductive health in normal males. Clin Sci 2001;100(6):613-18.
Stir fries are a great way to get extra vegetables into your diet and add lots of flavour. Here are some of the benefits of the ingredients from my Not Just for Hippies Tofu Stir Fry:
Cabbage: Cabbage is a great source of calcium and magnesium (and in a more absorbable form than calcium from dairy produce). It also supports the liver.
Tofu: Tofu is rich in calcium, magnesium, selenium as well as phytoestrogens which may help balance hormones and support bone health. It’s also rich in omega 3 fat so good for heart health.
Sesame seeds: Another great source of calcium and magnesium to support bone health and contains iron, B1 and dietary fibre
Peppers: Source of antioxidants and vitamin C
Ginger: Anti-inflammatory herb which works in a similar way to NSAIDs but without the nasty side effects. Also supports circulation as it’s warming
Coriander: antioxidant, bursting with phytonutrients and flavonoids, it’s antimicrobial and supports healthy blood sugar balance
Garlic: antiviral, antimicrobial, anti yeast, immune supporting
Aim to include any dark green leafy veg at least once a day in your diet. These foods have shown to be anti-carcinogenic and liver supportive as well as being rich in many minerals. Examples include: cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, spring greens or kale. If you feel bloated after eating these foods, you may lack digestive enzymes or stomach acid to digest the food properly. This can lead to bloating, excess gas and burping. Speak to your nutritional therapist about how best to replace these in your diet.
Not Just for Hippies Tofu Stir fry Get the recipe>>
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