Fermented foods can assist with digestion

Fermented foods are a group of foods that have gone through a fermentation process that creates a deliciously pickled or strongly flavored condiment, food or drink.

Obviously wine, cheese, and pickles fall into this category of foods, but there are many other foods that use veggies, nuts, seeds, grains, beans, vegan milks and teas as a base. These cultured foods, such as sauerkraut, kefir, yogurt, Kombucha, Kimchi, tempeh and miso contain friendly bacteria or yeasts that are very beneficial to the digestive tract and many contain digestive enzymes that help break down whole foods into usable nutrients such as amino acids.

Fermented foods are usually alive and unpasteurized (unheated) so that they are still active in producing the yeasts, bacteria and enzymes that are beneficial to the digestive tract. These foods usually will keep well and last for weeks or even longer in the fridge because of the natural preserving qualities of fermentation.

Nutritional experts claim that achieving a healthy ratio of bacteria and yeasts within the body helps to improve the metabolism, enhance hormonal production, and increase the synthesis of B vitamins as well as aiding in the removal of wastes and toxins from the colon. Another benefit to culturing foods is that fermentation makes them easier to digest because the nutritional components are more bio-available due to the pre-digestion effect of the process.

Kombucha is a tangy, slightly fizzy drink made from sweetened black or green tea fermented with a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. As the fermentation process progresses, the sugar in the tea is consumed so that the end product tastes tart rather than sweet. Kombucha is an energizing, non-caffeinated drink that contains amino acids, polyphenols and vitamin C and B vitamins and a very small amount of alcohol, so negligible that it is not considered an alcoholic beverage.

Many people claim that Kombucha is a helpful detoxification aid because it contains glucuronic acid — a compound which binds to toxins and helps remove them. Kombucha has about 80 other names from around the world and has been consumed at least as early as the 1900s. Because Kombucha is not pasteurized, it is not recommended for those with compromised immune systems, pregnant or nursing women, the elderly, or children under the age of 4. This warning appears on any unpasteurized product such as cold pressed vegetable or fruit juice

Kimchi is a traditional fermented Korean side dish made of veggies with a variety of seasonings. There are hundreds of varieties of Kimchi (also spelled Kimchee) usually made from Napa cabbage, radish, scallion or cucumber as the main ingredient. Red chili pepper flakes are also now used as a main ingredient for spice and heat in many varieties of Kimchi. Kimchee contains a high amount of fiber, while being low in calories. It also is high in vitamin C and carotene, vitamin A, B1, B2, calcium and iron in varying amounts depending on the veggies used in its preparation.

I spoke with Kristal of Kauai Juice Co. in Old Town Kapaa just behind Paradise Beauty Salon. She told me that her 6-year-old company started with preparing Kombucha and now also produces Kimchi and another fermented product — hot sauce.

Kristal notes that all her fermented products are made with local and organic products, as well as cold pressed to preserve the nutrients and maximize the fermentation process. The fruit and vegetable juices and nut milks that her company produces are also organic and cold pressed.

Kristal has her products in over 35 locations throughout the island and is planning on opening another full Kauai Juice Co. outlet within the next few months. Clearly, the foods and drinks that she is producing are having a healthy impact on well-being of the people of Kauai.

If you are thinking of introducing fermented foods into your diet, do so slowly in order for your body to adapt. You may find that some of your digestive issues resolve with the introduction of some fermented foods.

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Jane Riley is a certified personal trainer, nutritional adviser and behavior change specialist. She can be reached at janerileyfitness@gmail.com, (808) 212-8119, www.janerileyfitness.com.

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