The Benefits of Fermenting Food

jars of fermenting sauerkraut

Culturing, Fermenting, Pickling – What are the health benefits?

By Dr. Pamela Frank, BSc(Hons), ND

Almost every culture cultures food – kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, sourdough bread, kimchi, kvass, cheese and even wine. Why? Practically speaking it was a way of preserving food, but it turns out that fermenting foods makes nutrients in the foods more accessible and has positive effects on our digestive tracts due to their probiotic properties.

Kefir consistently shows increased levels of folic acid, B vitamins and biotin depending on the strains of bacteria used.

Vegetables, fruits, legumes and grains subjected to fermentation also see increases in their nutrient profiles. For example the bioavailability of amino acids like lysine and methionine increases with fermentation.

For grains, sprouting prior to souring can also increase the availability of protein. Fermented vegetables as in the case of sauerkraut and kimchi, often see an increase in the activity of vitamin C and vitamin A.

Sauerkraut is considered particularly healing to the gut due to the presence of l-glutamine and the probiotics used in the fermentation process.  Provided your sauerkraut isn’t pasteurized.  Here’s a recipe to make your own, healthy homemade sauerkraut:

Fermentation decreases the activity of phytates (or phytic acid) naturally present in grains. Phytates are anti-nutrients that bind to minerals preventing their proper absorption in the gut. People suffering from iron deficiency often do better if they decrease their intake of grains and therefore phytates. Since souring grains reduces the phytic acid content, fermentation enables your body to absorb more minerals than you would be able to otherwise. Research has also shown that fermentation reduces the gluten content of grains like wheat and the people with a gluten intolerance can sometimes tolerate sourdough bread.

Fermented extracts from both wheat bran and soy milk have been found to possess anti-cancer activity.


Anti-cancer effects of fermented wheat germ extract: Zhang JY, Xiao X, Dong Y, Wu J, Yao F, Zhou XH. Effect of fermented wheat germ extract with lactobacillus plantarum dy-1 on HT-29 cell proliferation and apoptosis. J Agric Food Chem. 2015 Mar 11;63(9):2449-57. doi: 10.1021/acs.jafc.5b00041. Epub 2015 Mar 2.

Anti-cancer effects of lactic acid fermented soy milk: Lai LR, Hsieh SC, Huang HY, Chou CC. Effect of lactic fermentation on the total phenolic, saponin and phytic acid contents as well as anti-colon cancer cell proliferation activity of soymilk. J Biosci Bioeng. 2013 May;115(5):552-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jbiosc.2012.11.022. Epub 2013 Jan 4.


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