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Last Updated on May 9, 2018

Fermented Foods for Better Digestive Health and Mental Wellness

Fermented Foods for Better Digestive Health and Mental Wellness

Have you noticed the bottles of Kombucha that line the shelves at your natural food grocery stores, or the recent offerings of a drinkable fermented milk product called Kefir?

They fall into a category of fermented foods which are making a huge breakthrough in American grocery stores.

If you are not familiar with fermented foods, or the powerful health benefits that come from adding them to your diet, then this article is for you.

Read on to learn about the 5 simple foods you can incorporate into your diet for both better digestive health and mental wellness.

Fermented Foods: A Hot [Ancient] Trend

If you are just now noticing fermented foods in your grocery store, it’s good to keep in mind that fermented foods are not a new trend.

They have been around for about eight thousand years and have recently begun to steadily gain popularity in the American diet.

In fact, due to the explosive research done on gut health and the importance of microbiomes, fermented foods are making huge strides in Western societies.

Before electricity and refrigerators existed, controlled fermenting was done as a way to preserve foods to make it safe to eat.

Different cultures celebrated fermented foods, and each culture developed their own spin on them through the introduction of unique flavors and traditions that were part of their culinary heritage.

For example:

• European cultures enjoy sauerkraut and cultured dairy products such as sour cream and cheeses

• Koreans are famous for their kimchi, Japanese people love natto and miso, while the Chinese enjoy blackened preserved eggs

• In India, people drink Lassi before every meal to aid digestion

• Garri, a root vegetable, is prepared and fermented before eating in West Africa

• In Russia and Turkey, people drink a yogurt called Kefir

Bacteria Makes Food Taste Better

Although there are many different ways to preserve and ferment foods, they all contain a specific component that are important to the fermenting preservation process, a bacterial starter culture.

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The most common method of fermentation uses a bacteria strain called Lactobacillius.

During the fermentation process, these good bacteria fight off dangerous strains of bacteria like E. coli that make our food dangerous to eat.

Lactobacillus converts the salts and sugars that were added during the fermentation setup into lactic acid, a natural preservative that inhibits the growth of dangerous bacteria. This production of lactic acid is what gives food that sour, tangy flavor that we associate with fermented vegetables such as pickles and sauerkraut.

You can use the liquid from a previous ferment as a source for your starter bacteria, such as the whey for yogurt, a SCOBY from kombucha, or the brine from pickled vegetables.

If you are just starting out, you can also find healthy strains of bacteria in powder form. Health food stores or shops online will sell starter culture kits that are full of beneficial bacteria to help you kick start the fermentation process.

Ferments are Great for Your Gut

Eating a variety of fermented foods is a great introduction to enriching your gut microbiome to a diverse collection of healthy bacteria.

Not only are you introducing beneficial bacteria to your gut but these bacteria are helping you to increase absorption and digestion of foods.

Fermented foods are similar to probiotics, but there are a few key differences.

Probiotics Versus Ferments: What’s The Difference?

Fermented foods are not equivalent to probiotics.

Based on their classifications there are differences between a probiotic versus a fermented food, even though both have incredible health benefits.

The World Health Organization defines probiotics as “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host”. [1]

All fermented products are created using healthy bacteria, but when they are cooked, they won’t contain live bacteria.

For example, foods such as sour dough bread are fermented because they rely on bacteria like yeast to create them. But by the time you eat the bread the yeast already has already been deactivated by baking.

On the other hand, there are foods such as yogurt, cheeses, non-heated kimchi and sauerkraut that are fermented with bacteria and still contain live beneficial bacteria when you eat it.

These types of fermented foods are also probiotics because they have live microorganisms in them.

A Healthy Gut Is a Diverse Gut

There are ten times more bacteria in your body than you have cells that make up your body; or as scientists estimate, there are about 100 trillion bacteria in your body.

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Millions reside right in the middle of your gut; and, they help you digest your food and absorb nutrients from your food.

Bacteria in your gut help you break down larger food particles (that go undigested in your stomach) into useable forms of fuel that your body can use.

This symbiotic relationship we have with bacteria means that both parties benefit: you get the vitamins and nutrients necessary for your survival and in return the bacteria have food to eat and a place to live.

This population of bacteria is called the human microbiota, and studies have shown that the composition of the bacteria population plays an important role in how well you extract, store, and use the energy from the foods you eat. This relationship is important in helping our digestive development of our intestines, helping us produce vitamins that we cannot obtain from food, and it impacts how we metabolize medications.

Because bacteria plays a role in digestion and absorption of nutrition, early research studies are speculating that different strains of bacteria also play a role in our body compositions. This may determine whether we are predisposed to have a lean body type or an obese body type.

A healthy gut is important to the health and well-being of our bodies.

By eating a variety of healthy foods including fermented ones we can ensure that we are populating our guts with good bacteria.

Nature’s Miracle Cure

The diversity of your gut bacteria also helps to develop your immune system.

Since birth, your immune system has developed by relying on gut bacteria to balance the responses to harmful pathogens while tolerating the harmless bacteria that reside within you.

Research within this area is quite new and we are still learning what a healthy gut microbiome looks like; but, evidence suggests that having a more diversified microbiome leads to better overall health.

An unhealthy diversity of gut bacteria has been linked to many diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome, autoimmune diseases, and a leaky gut which causes unwanted inflammation.

There has been preliminary research that has found that the effectiveness of vaccines is also determined by the diversity of your gut bacteria.

When you have gut inflammation and other gut issues your immune system is busy dealing with that issue instead of responding to vaccines effectively. [2]

You can help ensure you have a healthy gut and a diverse microbiome through eating a healthy, varied diet that includes fermented foods. It’s a quick way to introduce millions of beneficial bacteria in a single bite.

How Your Microbiome Affects Your Mood

In the past 10 years research has been done investigating the link between your microbiome and how it regulates your thinking and your moods.

Researchers have found evidence that these billions of bacteria residing in your gut could play a role by influencing the brain to determine your mood.

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Gut bacteria have been found to produce a variety of neurotransmitters that play a key role in affecting how you feel.

How we metabolize these neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and GABA can be affected depending on what type of organism resides in our gut. This can regulate the amount of neurotransmitters that circulate in our blood and brain. [3]

A healthy mind and body consists of having a wide variety of different species of bacteria residing in your gut. Wanting to feel good is another reason to eat a variety of fermented foods, as each food will have different types of bacteria that will contribute to the health of your gut.

Eat These Five Ferments for Fabulous Health

1. Kombucha

This is probably one of the easiest way to diversify your gut because Kombucha is accessible to almost everyone and it comes in a large variety of flavors.

Kombucha is a non-alcoholic fermented tea drink that is lightly sweetened. It originated in China around 220 BC.

It has become a trendy drink because it contains vitamins, amino acids, and other nutrients that are associated with health benefits. Although there have been exaggerated claims on its health benefits by the media, it’s a great way to introduce beneficial bacteria to help aid digestion.

2. Miso

Originated in Japan, miso is a fermented paste that is made from a combination of soybeans and salt with other ingredients such as rice or barley to create different flavors.

Miso comes in a variety of colors based on how long it’s allowed to ferment. By itself, it tastes very salty and tangy but has a great umami flavor. Because of the huge varieties of miso, different types can be used interchangeably in recipes and result in different flavor combinations.

Although it is commonly used in miso soup, miso can also be used as a base to create salad dressings, sauces, and marinades.

Miso can be found near the tofu section or the vegetarian meat section of your health food store. It will come in a plastic tub or a sealed plastic bag. When refrigerated properly, miso can be kept fresh for up to a year.

3. Kimchi

Another fermented staple is Kimchi, which originates from Korea; it consists of a variety of pickled vegetables that are eaten at every meal.

The most well-known one is of spicy kimchi cabbage, but there are over 100 kimchi varieties, and not all of them are spicy.

Kimchi is fermented with an assortment of spices including chili powder, garlic, ginger, scallions, and type of salted seafood called jeotgal. In addition to the probiotic benefits of kimchi, it is also high in fiber, loaded with antioxidants, rich in amino acids and packed with a range of vitamins.

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4. Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is another version of a fermented cabbage that is created by a variety of lactic acid producing bacteria. It gets its distinct sour flavor from bacteria fermenting the sugar in the cabbage.

Although we associate sauerkraut with a Eastern European and German origin, it was consumed by the Chinese over 2,000 years ago and likely brought over to Europe 1,000 years later.

Today sauerkraut is made by combining finely chopped cabbage with salt and spices. It is an excellent source of Vitamin B and Vitamin C and contains lots of enzymes to help you break down your food during digestion.

5. Kefir

Keifr is a fermented milk drink that can come from a variety sources of milk, such cow, goat, sheep or even rice and soy milk.

What makes this drink fermented is the introduction of starter grains that are composed of yeast and bacteria.

Originating from the Caucasus Mountains, a mountainous region that divides Asia and Europe, it is now being introduced into American supermarkets.

Many consider Kefir to be a super power version of yogurt because it’s full of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and probiotics. Containing about 30 different strains of bacteria, Kefir is a potent probiotic source of diverse microorganisms–even more so than the typical yogurt.

If you’re experiencing digestion issues, drinking kefir can help you restore the friendly gut bacteria to balance out your system for a happier digestive tract.

Fermented Foods For All!

Fermented foods have been around for thousands of years and offer a multitude of health benefits. Whether you are a small child or an older adult, fermented foods are an excellent choice to establish better overall health. Plus, they taste amazing.

When it comes to overall health and general wellbeing don’t forget the importance of having a healthy gut.

Eating a variety of fermented foods, such as the ones listed above, will put you on the fast track to having a healthier digestion.

Featured photo credit: Pixabay via pixabay.com

Reference

More by this author

Candace Rhodes

Candace helps women achieve amazing toned bodies. Her free course is at https://rhodestostrength.lpages.co/free-course/

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Published on November 14, 2018

Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

With our busy, always on lives, it seems that more and more of us are facing constant tiredness and fatigue on a regular basis.

For many people, they just take this in their stride as part of modern life, but for others the impact can be crippling and can have a serious effect on their sense of wellbeing, health and productivity.

In this article, I’ll share some of the most common causes of constant tiredness and fatigue and give you some guidance and action steps you can take to overcome some of the symptoms of fatigue.

Why Am I Feeling Fatigued?

Fatigue is extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.  It is a reduction in the efficiency of a muscle or organ after prolonged activity.[1]

It can affect anyone, and most adults will experience fatigue at some point in their life. 

For many people, fatigue is caused by a combination of lifestyle, social, psychological and general wellbeing issues rather than an underlying medical condition.

Although fatigue is sometimes described as tiredness, it is different to just feeling tired or sleepy. Everyone feels tired at some point, but this is usually resolved with a nap or a few nights of good sleep. Someone who is sleepy may also feel temporarily refreshed after exercising. If you are getting enough sleep, good nutrition and exercising regularly but still find it hard to perform, concentrate or be motivated at your normal levels, you may be experiencing a level of fatigue that needs further investigation. 

Symptoms of Fatigue

Fatigue can cause a vast range of physical, mental and emotional symptoms including:

  • chronic tiredness, exhaustion or sleepiness
  • mental blocks
  • lack of motivation
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • muscle weakness
  • slowed reflexes and responses
  • impaired decision-making and judgement
  • moodiness, such as irritability
  • impaired hand-to-eye coordination
  • reduced immune system function
  • blurry vision
  • short-term memory problems
  • poor concentration
  • reduced ability to pay attention to the situation at hand

Causes of Fatigue

The wide range of causes that can trigger fatigue include:

  • Medical causes: Constant exhaustion, tiredness and fatigue may be a sign of an underlying illness, such as a thyroid disorder, heart disease, anemia or diabetes.
  • Lifestyle-related causes: Being overweight and a lack of regular exercise can lead to feelings of fatigue.  Lack of sleep and overcommitting can also create feelings of excessive tiredness and fatigue.
  • Workplace-related causes: Workplace and financial stress in a variety of forms can lead to feelings of fatigue.
  • Emotional concerns and stress: Fatigue is a common symptom of mental health problems, such as depression and grief, and may be accompanied by other signs and symptoms, including irritability and lack of motivation.

Fatigue can also be caused by a number of factors working in combination.

Medical Causes of Fatigue

If you have made lifestyle changes to increase your energy and still feel exhausted and fatigued, it may be time to seek guidance from your doctor.

Here are a few examples of illnesses that can cause ongoing fatigue. Seek medical advice if you suspect you have a health problem:

Anemia

Anemia is a condition in which you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues. It is a common cause of fatigue in women.

Having anemia may make you feel tired and weak.

There are many forms of anemia, each with its own cause. Anemia can be temporary or long term, and it can range from mild to severe.[2]

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a condition that can cause persistent, unexplained fatigue that interferes with daily activities for more than six months.

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This is a chronic condition with no one-size-fits-all treatment, but lifestyle changes can often help ease some symptoms of fatigue.[3]

Diabetes

Diabetes can cause fatigue with either high or low blood sugars. When your sugars are high, they remain in the bloodstream instead of being used for energy, which makes you feel fatigued. Low blood sugar (glucose) means you may not have enough fuel for energy, also causing fatigue.[4]

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder where sufferers briefly stop breathing for short periods during sleep. Most people are not aware this is happening, but it can cause loud snoring, and daytime fatigue.

Being overweight, smoking, and drinking alcohol can all worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea.[5]

Thyroid disease

An underactive thyroid gland means you have too little thyroid hormone (thyroxine) in your body. This makes you feel tired and you could also put on weight and have aching muscles and dry skin.[6]

Common lifestyle factors that can cause fatigue include:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Too much sleep 
  • Alcohol and drugs 
  • Sleep disturbances 
  • Lack of regular exercise and sedentary behaviour 
  • Poor diet 

Common workplace issues that can cause fatigue include:

  • Shift work: Our body is designed to sleep during the night. A shift worker may confuse their circadian clock by working when their body is programmed to be asleep.
  • Poor workplace practices: This may include long work hours, hard physical labour, irregular working hours (such as rotating shifts), a stressful work environment, boredom or working alone. 
  • Workplace stress – This can be caused by a wide range of factors including job dissatisfaction, heavy workload, conflicts with bosses or colleagues, bullying, or threats to job security.
  • Burnout: This could be striving too hard on one area of your life while neglecting others, which leads to a life that feels out of balance.

Psychological Causes of Fatigue

Psychological factors are present in many cases of extreme tiredness and fatigue.  These may include:

  • Depression: Depression is characterised by severe and prolonged feelings of sadness, dejection and hopelessness. People who are depressed commonly experience chronic fatigue.
  • Anxiety and stress: Someone who is constantly anxious or stressed keeps their body in overdrive. The constant flooding of adrenaline exhausts the body, and fatigue sets in.
  • Grief: Losing a loved one causes a wide range of emotions including shock, guilt, depression, despair and loneliness.

How to Tackle Constant Fatigue

Here are 12 ways you can start tackling the causes of fatigue and start feeling more energetic.

1. Tell The Truth

Some people can numb themselves to the fact that they are overtired or fatigued all the time. In the long run, this won’t help you.

To give you the best chance to overcome or eliminate fatigue, you must diagnose and tell the truth about the things that are draining your energy, making you tired or causing constant fatigue.

Once you’re honest with yourself about the activities you’re doing in your life that you find irritating, energy-draining, and make you tired on a regular basis you can make a commitment to stop doing them.

The help that you need to overcome fatigue is available to you, but not until you tell the truth about it. The first person you have to sell on getting rid of the causes of fatigue is yourself.

One starting point is to diagnose the symptoms. When you start feeling stressed, overtired or just not operating at your normal energy levels make a note of:

  • How you feel
  • What time of day it is
  • What may have contributed to your fatigue
  • How your mind and body reacts

This analysis may help you identify, understand and then eliminate very specific causes.

2. Reduce Your Commitments

When we have too many things on our plate personally and professionally, we can feel overstretched, causing physical and mental fatigue.

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If you have committed to things you really don’t want to do, this causes irritability and low emotional engagement. Stack these up throughout your day and week, then your stress levels will rise.

When these commitments have deadlines associated with them, you may be trying to cram in far too much in a short period of time.  This creates more stress and can affect your decision making ability.

Start being realistic about how much you can get done. Either reduce the commitments you have or give yourself more time to complete them in.

3. Get Clear On Your Priorities

If working on your list of to-do’s or goals becomes too overwhelming, start reducing and prioritizing the things that matter most.

Start with prioritizing just 3 things every day. When you complete those 3 things, you’ll get a rush of energy and your confidence will grow.

If you’re trying to juggle too many things and are multi-tasking, your energy levels will drop and you’ll struggle to maintain focus.

Unfinished projects can make you self-critical and feel guilty which drops energy levels further, creating inaction.

Make a list of your 3 MIT (Most Important Tasks) for the next day before you go to bed. This will stop you overcommitting and get you excited about what the next day can bring.

4. Express More Gratitude

Gratitude and confidence are heavily linked. Just being thankful for what you have and what you’ve achieved increases confidence and makes you feel more optimistic.

It can help you improve your sense of wellbeing, which can bring on feelings of joy and enthusiasm.

Try starting a gratitude journal or just note down 3 things you’re grateful for every day.

5. Focus On Yourself

Exhaustion and fatigue can arrive by focusing solely on other people’s needs all the time, rather than worrying about and focusing on what you need (and want).

There are work commitments, family commitments, social commitments. You may start with the best intentions, to put in your best performance at work, to be an amazing parent and friend, to simply help others.

But sometimes, we extend ourselves too much and go beyond our personal limits to help others. That’s when constant exhaustion can creep up on us.  Which can make us more fatigued.

We all want to help and do our best for others, but there needs to be some balance. We also need to take some time out just for ourselves to recharge and rejuvenate.

6. Set Aside Rest and Recovery Time

Whether it’s a couple of hours, a day off, a mini-break or a proper holiday, time off is essential to help us recover, recharge and refocus.

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Recovery time helps fend off mental fatigue and allows us to simply kick back and relax.

The key here, though, is to remove ourselves from the daily challenges that bring on tiredness and fatigue. Here’s how.

Can you free yourself up completely from work and personal obligations to just rest and recover?

7. Take a Power Nap

When you’re feeling tired or fatigued and you have the ability to take a quick 20-minute nap, it could make a big difference to your performance for the rest of the day.

Napping can improve learning, memory and boost your energy levels quickly.

This article on the benefit of napping is a useful place to start if you want to learn more: How a 20-Minute Nap at Work Makes You Awake and Productive the Whole Day

8. Take More Exercise

The simple act of introducing some form of physical activity into your day can make a huge difference. It can boost energy levels, make you feel much better about yourself and can help you avoid fatigue.

Find something that fits into your life, be that walking, going to the gym, running or swimming. 

The key is to ensure the exercise is regular and that you are emotionally engaged and committed to stick with it.

You could also walk more which will help clear your head and shift your focus away from stressful thoughts.

9. Get More Quality Sleep

To avoid tiredness, exhaustion and fatigue, getting enough quality sleep matters. 

Your body needs sleep to recharge.  Getting the right amount of sleep every night can improve your health, reduce stress levels and help us improve our memory and learning skills.

My previous article on The Benefits of Sleep You Need to Know will give you some action steps to start improving your sleep. 

10. Improve Your Diet

Heavy or fatty meals can make you feel sluggish and tired, whilst some foods or eating strategies do just the opposite.

Our always on lives have us reaching for sweets or other sugary snacks to give us a burst of energy to keep going. Unfortunately, that boost fades quickly which can leave you feeling depleted and wanting more.

On the other hand, whole grains and healthy unsaturated fats supply the reserves you can draw on throughout the day.

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To keep energy up and steady, it’s a good idea to limit refined sugar and starches.

Eating small meals and healthy snacks every few hours throughout the day provides a steady supply of nutrients to body and brain. It’s also important not to skip breakfast.

Eating a balanced diet helps keep your blood sugar in a normal range and prevents that sluggish feeling when your blood sugar drops.

11. Manage Your Stress Levels

Stress is one of the leading causes of exhaustion and fatigue, and can seriously affect your health.

When you have increased levels of stress at work and at home, it’s easy to feel exhausted all the time. 

Identifying the causes of stress and then tackling the problems should be a priority. 

My article on How to Help Anxiety When Life is Stressing You Out shares 16 strategies you can use to overcome stress.

12. Get Hydrated

Sometimes we can be so busy that we forget to keep ourselves fully hydrated.

Water makes up about 60 percent of your body weight and is essential in maintaining our body’s basic functions.

If we don’t have enough water, it can adversely affect our mental and physical performance, which leads to tiredness and fatigue.

The recommended daily amount is around two litres a day, so to stay well hydrated keep a water bottle with you as much as possible.

The Bottom Line

These 12 tips can help you reduce your tiredness and feeling of fatigue.  Some will work better than others as we are all different, whilst others can be incorporated together in your daily life.

If you’ve tried to make positive changes to reduce fatigue and you still feel tired and exhausted, it may be time to consider making an appointment with your doctor to discuss your condition.

Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

Reference

[1]Oxford English Dictionary: Definition of fatigue
[2]NHS Choices: 10 Reasons for feeling tired
[3]Verywellhealth: What is chronic fatigue syndrome
[4]Everyday Health: Why does type 2 diabetes make you feel tired
[5]Mayo Clinic: Sleep apnea
[6]Harvard Health: The lowdown on thyroid slowdown

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