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The Process of Food Fermentation and the Health Benefits

Ava Summers

For many centuries, humans relied on food fermentation to preserve their food. Today few societies depend on fermentation for preserving food, but research shows that there are a number of surprising health benefits from consuming properly fermented food. Only food that has been fermented in a way similar to methods used by our ancestors will bring health benefits. In order to appreciate the health benefits of fermented foods, it's good to understand something about the process.

Lacto-fermentation of vegetables and fruits

All living things have natural bacteria species found on their surfaces. Lactic acid (a natural preservative) is produced by a chemical reaction when natural bacteria and starches or sugars interact and form lactic acid. The challenge is discovering the best ways to release the lactic acid-forming bacteria. Timing is important and our ancient ancestors must have gone through a lot of trial and error.

Fermentation and digestion

Digestion of the food we eat is a two-part process. The first is the breaking down of food, and the second is the building up of nutrients to be sent throughout the body. The lactic acids from the fermentation process help with both parts of the digestion process. This lactic acid aids in balancing acids in the stomach, helps break down proteins, assimilates iron, and activates the secretions of the pancreas. A common fermented food, sauerkraut, contains lots of choline and acetylcholine and is effective in lowering blood pressure, preventing fat accumulations in the liver, and promoting relaxation.

The kinds of bacteria in our stomach are both good and bad. The pathogenic bacterium sets us up for disease. Eating fermented foods helps to keep the amount of bad bacteria in check. According to Natasha Campbell, M.D., the beneficial bacterium found in our gut regulates over 500 species of bad bacteria.

How to prepare fermented foods

For best results, quality organic vegetables, sea salt and pure water need to be used. Cut the vegetables or fruit into small pieces, mix in salt, whey, spices, and herbs. Pound the vegetables to release juices. Put mixture in an air tight container and keep at room temperature for a few days. Then put in a cool, dry place for preservation. This is easy to do at home. With time, the vegetables and fruits increase in flavour.

The process of food fermentation evolved over many centuries and became an important method of food preservation. Most cultures in the world have used similar fermentation methods and gained knowledge of how their fermented food helped to maintain good health. With the coming of mass produced food, the practice of fermenting health-producing food at home has become uncommon. Even so-called fermented foods, like sauerkraut or pickled vegetables, lose much of their healthful properties when they are commercially processed. Balancing of the good and bad bacteria to improve our digestion is another important reason to consume fermented food.

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