Recently fermented foods touted as potent probiotics are making news, even though they are in fact anything but new! Fermented foods have been around for decades. For people living without refrigeration, fermentation has always been a great means for preserving food. So, now the question is that Foods that have all these bacteria fermenting in them – are these good or bad for you?

Well, to put it simply the whole process of fermentation is like a double-edge sword. It has both sides to it when it can be really good for the body and at times also be detrimental. The good part is the friendly bacteria present in fermented foods and the bad guys are your moulds and yeast. In this article learn all about the good and bad fermented foods – what to like about them, what to dislike and what to avoid.

What is Fermentation

To start off, fermentation is the metabolic process that involves the use of yeast and bacteria to break down sugars to acids, gases and alcohol. Many people advocate fermented foods and beverages as good, but it’s important to understand the effects they have on you.

There can be good fermented foods that have the essential probiotics in them and bad ones that carry a high acid effect or are pasteurized which kills all of the bacteria including the good ones. Also, if it has moulds in them it can irritate the digestive system and even cause progression of cancer in the body.

Fermented Food : The Good

Foods that are naturally fermented by the bacteria are good for health. Your home-made idlis, dosas, dhoklas, organic yogurt made from cow’s milk or goat’s milk, Kefir, Sauerkraut are some examples of bacteria-fermented foods. Here are the reasons why they are healthy:

1. Enables the Absorption of Vitamins and Minerals

Phytic acid present in most of grains and is responsible for most of the bloating and indigestion. During the fermentation process, phytic acid is broken down by the bacteria and that is why you can now easily digest the food. In addition to this, phytic acid also blocks absorption of essential vitamins and minerals. However with fermented foods since the phytic acid is already broken down, it allows for easy absorption of vitamins and minerals into your blood.

Moreover, fermentation produces lactobacilli which is responsible for production of an array of vitamins including Vitamin B12 which may people are deficient in. When you eat fermented food that have lactobacilli, it contains a whole host of vitamins including Vitamin B, K, B12 and others like folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, thymidine.

2. It is Already Pre-Digested

Fermented food is already pre-digested or broken down by the bacteria. This makes it easy on the stomach. During the fermentation process the bacteria release enzymes, lactic acid, malic acid that helps in the breakdown and absorption of amino acids and protein.

3. Promotes Gut Health

Fermentation not only protects the life of the food for a longer period of time, but also develops healthy gut bacteria in your intestines. Your gut flora is responsible for the proper absorption of nutrients in the body and you can strengthen the gut flora with the good ferment food. Assimilation of food, digestion, proper bowel movement, colon health are some benefits of fermented food.

Fermented Food : The Bad and Ugly

Now coming to the bad guys, fermented foods that are produced in the presence of moulds, yeasts and fungi have mycotoxins or fungal poison in them. According to a World Health Organization Report  with a controversial title – “Cell Phones and Pickles May Cause Cancer”, pickled or fermented vegetables contain carcinogens that can lead to cancer. The Study found that certain regions in China that consumed fermented or pickled vegetables when fresh veggies were unavailable, had a startling high rate of oesophageal cancer. Researchers state that the main culprit behind this is the fungi responsible for the fermentation process.

This because the fungal organisms involved in the fermentation process produce harmful acid, alcohol, and mycotoxins that are cariogenic in nature. Therefore avoid foods that are incompletely fermented, preservative-laden, and are fermented using fungus, moulds or yeast. 

Bad Fermented Foods to Avoid

Avoid fermented food grains found in bread and many alcohols. These may be rich in fungal mycotoxins that are carcinogenic in nature. It is best to avoid them. Also store brought fermented foods don’t have the full range of bacteria that you would get with home-made or organic-made products. In addition to this ensure that you cook your fermented foods do not have too much oil or salt and consume them in moderation to reap its full benefits.

There is a good way to have fermented foods and a bad way too. Choose the right fermented foods that are naturally made with the full range of bacteria and stay away from those that have too much yeast, mould or fungus in them.