People have fermented their food for thousands of years. Foodstuffs and drinks such as yoghurt, wine, beer, sauerkraut, kimchi and fermented sausages were initially produced because of their improved shelf life. But the microorganisms responsible for fermentation not only allow food and drink to be kept longer. They also make it tastier and even healthier, with the fermentation process increasing the nutritional value. The microbes transform the substrate (food), producing all sorts of important nutrients in the process. Furthermore, fermentation can be understood as a kind of ‘predigestion’ that makes it much easier for the body to absorb nutrients. This week, an international research team including Micropia professor Remco Kort of VU University Amsterdam published an overview of the health benefits of fermented food in the scientific journal Current Opinion in Biotechnology ; the first such overview to be published.
When consuming fermented food, a huge quantity of living microorganisms enters our body: over 10,000 times more than if we were to eat only unfermented food. Many of these microbes have strong similarities to types that are used as probiotics . Having fermented products as part of our diet ensures that these healthy microbes temporarily become part of our microbiome; the totality of microbes on and in the body that are indispensable to our health. What goes for our diet also goes for our microbiome: the greater the diversity, the better. After all, being exposed to microbes is important if we want our immune system to be correctly tuned.
Previous studies had already seen a strong correlation between the consumption of fermented dairy products and maintaining a healthy weight. Other studies discovered that frequently eating yoghurt was correlated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes. There is also increasing evidence that eating kimchi prevents diabetes and obesity. There are even indications that fermented food can improve our mood through the gut-brain axis.
Awareness and additional research
With their overview the researchers hope to spread awareness among the government and the public about the importance of fermented food to our health. In spite of a trend of increasing consumption of fermented foods in the past years, a lot of them have in fact disappeared from our diet. The researchers also hope that the overview will lead to more research into the above-mentioned benefits. Additional research is essential for a better understanding of the specific effects of different products and provides an extra justification to include fermented food in national food guides and recommendations, from which they are largely absent. It is clear enough by now that fermented food is beneficial to our health.