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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

[1] ESNM: Diet & Gut Microbiota
[2] Science Direct: Trends in Immunology
[3] The Atlantic: When Gut Bacteria Change Brain Function

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Candace Rhodes

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Last Updated on May 21, 2019

13 Bad Habits You Need to Quit Right Away

13 Bad Habits You Need to Quit Right Away

Creating your productivity ritual — a routine that helps you to maintain a peak level of energy can get you the best out of your days.

Part of creating your productivity routine involves removing activities that drain you (what I call “kryptonites”), and that includes your bad habits.

Like it or not, bad habits are bad for you — mentally, physically, emotionally and even socially in some cases. While some bad habits are harder to quit than others, it doesn’t change the fact that you need to get rid of them. Here are 13 bad habits to quit right away:

1. Stress Eating

I used to be a serious stress eater. I would eat whenever I felt unhappy, stressed, disappointed, anxious, or even… happy! My eating had nothing to do with being hungry, and everything to do with using food to fill my emotional voids.

While eating would comfort me, this feeling was momentary and would disappear right after I was done eating. Instead, what I had left would be the same emotional void that triggered me to eat in the first place (be it unhappiness or stress), a 2,000 excess calorie intake over what I should have eaten for the day, and anger at myself for having stress ate.

I’ve since overcome stress eating. I have healthy eating habits and a healthy relationship with food today where I no longer use food as a tool to fill my emotions.

If you are a stress eater, don’t fret — here’s how to manage your stress better:

How to Manage Stress (A Step-by-Step Guide to Turn Stress Into Success)

2. Nail Biting

Not only is nail biting unhygienic, it is also socially repelling, leads to dental problems like malocclusion of the anterior teeth,[1] potentially cause stomach problems,[2] and lead to severely deformed fingernails in the long run.

People who bite their nails tend to have shorter nails than the average person; their nail plates also experience scarring and may eventually become absent.[3]

Understand what triggers your nail biting behavior and replace it with another neutral to positive habit. Make habits to break habits.

For example, if you bite your nails when you are stressed, go for a walk or listen to music instead the next time you feel stressed.

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3. Hanging out with Naysayers

We all know these people — people who play devil’s advocate to every idea you have and every goal you want to pursue. We are already our greatest self-critics, so it doesn’t help when there’s someone beside us, ever ready to pounce on what we say and tear it down.

Hang out less with these naysayers and spend more time with supportive people who share constructive feedback instead. You will be much happier this way.

Learn how to get rid of naysayers with these 10 Ways to Ignore the Naysayers and Achieve Your Dreams.

4. Being with People Who Don’t Appreciate You

Haven’t all of us been in this situation before? Trying to please people who don’t appreciate us? Bending over backwards to be there for people when they are never there for us?

While we give without expectations of return, we need to draw a line with people who don’t value us because these people damage our souls.

Stop spending time with people who don’t appreciate you, and spend more time with people who do instead.

Unsure who you should get rid of? Learn about it here: 5 Kinds of Toxic People That You Need to Get Rid of Now

5. Smoking

Smoking is one of the leading causes of preventable death globally.[4]

In just the United States alone, about 500,000 deaths are attributed to smoking-related diseases annually. A recent study estimated that as much as one-third of China’s male population will have significantly shortened life-spans due to smoking! Gender-wise, male and female smokers lose an average of 13.2 and 14.5 years of life respectively — that’s over a decade of life right there.[5]

Not only that, smoking causes pre-mature skin aging (i.e. wrinkles), yellowing of teeth, bad breath, and worse of all — jeopardy of the health of people around you, including your loved ones. Studies have shown that non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke are at risk to many of the health problems associated with direct smoking.[6]

Smoking risks

    6. Excessive Drinking

    All of us know that drinking too much alcohol is bad for us, but do you know how bad it really is?

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    According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, drinking too much — be it on a single occasion or over time — can seriously damage your health:[7]

    • Brain problems: Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, making it harder to think clearly and move with coordination.
    • Heart diseases: Cardiomyopathy – Stretching and drooping of heart muscle, Arrhythmias – Irregular heart beat, stroke, high blood pressure
    • Liver diseases: Steatosis or fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, cirrhosis
    • Pancreas problems: Pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion.
    • Different types of cancer: Mouth, esophagus, throat, liver, breast

    If you drink a lot, perhaps cutting it out right away will be tough. Cut down the number of glasses you drink each time, followed by the number of times you drink a week.

    If need be, seek help from an AA group — you aren’t alone in this. Change starts from today.

    7. Eating Junk Food (Including Diet Soda)

    Junk food — they are everywhere in our society today. From McDonald’s, to KFC, to Burger King, to 24-hour takeouts, junk food such as fries, highly processed burgers and sodas has become a staple in our society today.

    If you think, “Hey, but junk food is tasty!”, think again:

    A study by Paul Johnson and Paul Kenny suggests that junk food consumption alters brain activity in a way similar to addictive drugs like cocaine and heroin.[8]

    “After many weeks with unlimited access to junk food, the pleasure centers of rat brains became desensitized, requiring more food for pleasure.”

    And you wonder why you seem to crave fast food when you just had some the day before?

    While it may not be possible to remove junk food completely from our diet right away, we can reduce our junk food consumption starting today. Instead of soda, opt for a fruit juice (fresh juice, not the carbonated kind) or mineral water. Instead of fries, switch to mashed potato, a salad, or rice (many food outlets allow for this today). Instead of a fried meat patty, go for a grilled one.

    Where possible, opt for healthy food joints like salad bars and delis as opposed to fast food outlets. Every little step goes a long way.

    Here’re some healthy snacks ideas for you: 15 Healthy Snacks You Should Always Have At Home

    8. Eating Too Much Red Meat

    There has been conclusive evidence that consumption of red meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer; and suggestive evidence that it increases the risk of oesophageal cancer, lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, and endometrial cancer.

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    In addition, some studies have linked consumption of large quantities of red meat with breast cancer, stomach cancer, lymphoma, bladder cancer, lung cancer and prostate cancer![9]

    Personally, I’m a vegetarian so I don’t consume red meat, but for those of you who consume red meat, do watch out and limit your intake — better still, cut it out of your diet. World Cancer Research Fund recommends limiting intake of red meat to less than 300g (11 oz) cooked weight per week, “very little, if any of which to be processed.”

    Of if you’re thinking about becoming a vegetarian, check out this guide: 5 Practical Tips For Starting a Vegetarian Lifestyle

    9. Watching Too Much TV

    I stopped watching TV since eight years ago and I have never regretted it. Every once in a while I will switch on the telly to see what is on, and then I will switch it off because it’s just the same boring shtick over and over again.

    Watching TV, particularly well-written dramas, can be a good way to unwind. However, remember that TV isn’t your life.

    Spending three hours every night watching TV will not change your life for the better. Rather, using that time to reflect on your life, take stock, and take action on your goals will.

    It’s not easy to remove TV from your daily routine right away, but follow these 6 Steps To Remove TV From Your Life.

    10. Being Late

    Not only is being late being rude to others, it also means that you’re always rushing from one place to another, playing catch up in your agenda, and having to apologize to every person you meet.

    Stop being late and not being punctual, but practice being early instead. Target to arrive 15 minutes earlier before any appointment and bring along something to do in those 15 minutes (or longer if the other person turns out to be late). Then you can stop playing catch up and stay ahead in life.

    Learn more tips about how to be more punctual here: How to Be On Time Every Time

    11. Being in Bad Relationships

    Are you always dating the wrong guys/girls? Do you end up with jerks all the time? Well, you may not be able to stop yourself from meeting bad partners but you can certainly stop yourself from furthering contact with them, spending time with them, or even… entering into a relationship with them.

    I used to invest myself in this guy who was nothing but toxic for me. After a good five months of experiencing nothing but getting burned over and over again, I realized that he was a total waste of my time and I deserved better. I decided to cut him off, and it was soon after that I met my soulmate.

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    Learn about why you shouldn’t stay in a bad relationship and how to deal with it if you’re in one: Why Trying Hard to Stay in an Unhappy Relationship Is Not Love, but Fear

    12. Leaving Things to the Last Minute

    Burning the midnight oil isn’t fun — it’s exhausting.

    Those of you who got through college by burning the midnight oil would have learned this the hard way. Not only is it damaging for your body, it is also mentally draining as you’re constantly in a hyper-tense mode, feeling anxious about whether you can finish your work on time.

    Start today on a new note. Rather than react to your deadlines, be proactive about them by planning ahead, identifying what needs to be done for the week, and getting things done in advance.

    By staying ahead of your tasks, you can also use your extra time to plan ahead in your life and get more things done.

    Take a look at this guide and learn how to stop procrastinating: Procrastination – A Step-By-Step Guide to Stop Procrastinating

    13. Focusing on the Negatives

    In every situation, there are two ways you can react: zoom down to the problem areas and crib about how things aren’t the way you want, or celebrate the areas that are going well and work on making everything better.

    Many of us see the importance of doing the latter but in practice, we do the former. Why though? Criticizing and focusing on the negatives is easy but it doesn’t empower nor inspire us to be better.

    Make a change — for every negative encounter you run into, I challenge you to identify three things that are good about it. Practice doing this for one week, and by the end of the week you’ll find that your first instinct is to think positive, not negative.

    And here’re even more ways to help you stay positive: 11 Tips for Maintaining your Positive Attitude

    The Bottom Line

    So here you find the 13 most common bad habits and their consequences on your mind and body. The good news’ you can quit them all.

    Just spot out your own bad habits and take my suggestions to quit them. Then you’ll find your life a lot healthier and happier!

    Need more tips to break your bad habits? Check out these articles:

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

    Reference

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