A new international study reveals that the consumption of fermented foods can offer modest health improvements across a range of outcomes. The research, which utilized data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001-2018, found that the consumption of fermented foods is associated with lower blood pressure, body mass indexes (BMI), waist circumference, and blood plasma glucose levels. In this article, we will delve into the implications of this research from the perspective of a nutritional biochemist and nutritionist.
The Role of Microbes in Health Dr. Colin Hill, a researcher at APC Microbiome Ireland at University College Cork and lead author of the study, points out that nutritional advice usually focuses on eating fresh, fermented, and unprocessed foods such as the Mediterranean diet. He also notes that the benefits of such food types have always been associated with their nutritional content and more recently, their impact on the gut microbiome. However, this new research suggests that the diversity of microbes in fermented foods could also play an important role in shaping nutritional advice in the future.
Dr. Joanne L. Slavin, co-author of the study and a professor at the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Minnesota, US, agrees. She notes that the study reveals several health associations with the intake of live microbes, which can serve as a basis for the planning of additional studies. She explains that live microbe intake is associated with other “healthy” aspects of food such as dietary fiber, plant foods, and fermented dairy. Therefore, the authors believe that intake of live microbes has health benefits.
Fermented Fortification: Microbes and Health
The study classified over 9,000 foods and sorted them into three categories based on live microbe content. The results showed that people who ate foods with a higher abundance of microbes had better overall health across several different measures. Those who consumed more fermented foods had lower BMIs and lower blood pressures. Additionally, they had lower inflammation and lower triglyceride levels, along with higher lipoprotein density (HDL) cholesterol levels – commonly known as “good” cholesterol.
It is important to note that not all fermented foods have the same microbial content, and many of these foods contain other nutrients that could also confer health benefits. Fermented dairy products, for example, are one of the top categories of “live microbes” in the US diet. Dairy products are also rich sources of protein, calcium, and vitamin D. Therefore, Slavin notes that the study did not include all fermented foods and live microbe sources. However, the study’s results suggest that increasing the consumption of fermented foods or adding probiotic supplements to one’s diet could increase the intake of live dietary microbes.
The Importance of Food Safety
The authors of the study warn that there is a difference between fermented foods and “dirty” foods, or foods that are not properly prepared for consumption. Hill emphasizes that it is important that this research is not seen as advising people to eat “dirty” food, as food poisoning can be a serious problem. He encourages people to properly cook meats and seafood, drink pasteurized milk, and only consume properly fermented foods.
Slavin notes that the expectation is that this study will “move the field forward” past merely studying microbes’ effects on the microbiome to showing all of the health benefits of live microbe consumption. She concludes that follow-up studies should include a diverse team of food scientists, nutritionists, microbiologists, and public health experts in big data and experimental design. As consumers get excited about fermented foods and health benefits, knowledge of safe food handling procedures must also be stressed.
The consumption of fermented foods offers a wide range of health benefits that are supported by scientific evidence. The study’s findings have important implications for dietary guidelines and nutrition recommendations. As a nutritional biochemist and nutritionist, I strongly recommend the inclusion of fermented foods in your diet to help maintain good health and support overall well-being.
But before you start loading up on fermented foods, it is essential to understand the difference between properly prepared fermented foods and those that can pose a risk to your health. The authors of the study warned against the consumption of foods that are not properly prepared, such as unpasteurized milk or improperly fermented foods.
It is crucial to maintain good cooking practices and consume only properly fermented foods to avoid the risk of microbial food poisoning. Another important consideration is the potential allergenicity of certain fermented foods. For example, fermented soy products such as miso, tempeh, and natto contain high levels of histamine, which can trigger an allergic reaction in some individuals. If you have a history of allergies or are unsure about consuming fermented soy products, it is best to consult with your healthcare provider before including them in your diet.
Incorporating fermented foods into your diet
If you are looking to add more fermented foods to your diet, there are many options to choose from. Fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickles are excellent sources of live dietary microbes and offer a range of health benefits. Fermented dairy products such as yogurt, kefir, and cheese are also rich sources of live dietary microbes.
If you are lactose intolerant, you can try non-dairy fermented foods like kombucha, water kefir, and fermented vegetables. Additionally, you can also take probiotic supplements to increase your intake of live dietary microbes.
It is important to note that fermented foods should not be seen as a cure-all for health problems, and their consumption should be part of a balanced diet. Consuming a diverse range of foods, with a focus on fresh, fermented, and unprocessed foods, can help maintain optimal health.
The consumption of fermented foods has numerous health benefits that are supported by scientific evidence. The study’s findings indicate that eating foods with higher microbial concentrations can contribute to modest health improvements across a range of outcomes. The consumption of fermented foods is associated with lower blood pressure, BMI, waist circumference, and blood plasma glucose levels, along with lower inflammation and triglyceride levels and higher HDL cholesterol levels.
As a nutritional biochemist and nutritionist, I recommend the inclusion of fermented foods in your diet to help maintain good health and support overall well-being. However, it is essential to understand the difference between properly prepared fermented foods and those that can pose a risk to your health. It is also important to consume fermented foods as part of a balanced diet, and their consumption should not be seen as a cure-all for health problems.
Ready To Go?
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Incorporating fermented foods into your diet can have a myriad of benefits, including improved gut health, increased immunity, and better digestion. Plus, they’re delicious and can add an exciting twist to your meals! But The Flow Lab isn’t just about nutrition. We also provide tailored movement practices, meditation, and stress management techniques to help you achieve optimal health and wellbeing.
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Article refenced: Forsyth, C. B., Voigt, R. M., Keshavarzian, A., & Preuss, H. G. (2013). Positive health outcomes associated with live microbe intake from foods, including fermented foods, assessed using the NHANES database. Journal of Functional Foods, 5(1), 213-218. doi: 10.1016/j.jff.2012.10.012