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Pros and Cons of Including Fermented Foods in Your Diet

Meishe village best described as “hidden jewel” is located near the volcanoes of Haikou. The village houses and roads are made of volcanic rock and the people are so untroubled that they never lock their doors. In this village, folk culture has withstood the test of time. The villagers prefer to marry their daughters to young men whose families have more jars to collect rain water.

Similar to our above story fermentation has also withstood the test of time. Prehistoric man made cheese some 7000 years ago and the earliest evidence of wine making dates back to 8000 years ago. So what is meant by fermentation? According to the author of the “Art of Fermentation”, it is best described as the flavorful space between fresh and rotten. The science of fermentation is known as zymology.

The fermented foods offer a variety to our diet. The biological enrichment during the fermenting process produces proteins, essential amino acids, essential fatty acids and vitamins. This boosts our immune function. The fermentation process eliminates anti nutrients which interfere with absorption of essential nutrients. The presence of lactobacilli in fermented foods enhances digestion and promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout our intestines.

Now you are eager to know the list of healthy fermented foods right? They are yogurt, kefir, pickled vegetables, miso, kombucha, sauerkraut, dark chocolate, micro algae and tempeh. Some of the terms may be a little confusing to you. So here let me explain. Kefir is an unique product made out of goat’s milk and fermented kefir grains.

Sauerkraut is made from fermented cabbage. In case of dark chocolate probiotics can be added up to four times than any form of dairy product. The micro algae refer to spirulina, chlorella and blue green algae. Miso is a famous Japanese product made from fermented bean or rice paste. Kombucha is a traditional beverage of Central Asia made from fermented mare’s milk known as koumiss. Tempeh is very similar to veggie burger and is made from fermented soy bean.

But there is also a downside to these fermented foods. The veggies, pickles, olives, yogurt, cheese and sauerkraut that you find in the shops are acidified and pasteurized to extend their shelf life and they miss the beneficial bacteria which are present in traditionally fermented foods. A recent research paper points out that cheese products contain more salt than sea water.

A Japanese study found that fermented soy products increase the risk of stomach cancer. This may be due to the high levels of nitrate and salt present in these products. A Queen’s University research team found foods such as wine, cheese, yogurt and bread contain certain amount of carcinogens. They found that a naturally occurring carcinogen in fermented foods, leads to DNA modification and mutations resulting in abnormal cell growth and lung cancer.

The researchers are quick to point that the naturally occurring carcinogen in less amounts does not cause health problems. You can include fermented foods as part of a balanced diet. There are so many health benefits associated with these fermented foods. It will be prudent if you eat a balanced diet from a variety of food sources to enjoy optimal health.

Take care,

Photo of mozzarella cheese by Grant Cochrane
Photo of yogurt cupcake by John Kasawa
Photos courtesy of


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