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Fermentation is an old “cooking” method used to preserve foods and drinks long before the days of refrigeration. These foods are really delicious and beneficial for health as well.

Common Indian fermented foods include dosa and idli (made with fermented rice and pulses batter), gundruk, sinki, iniziangsang, iromba, fermented rai, kanjika and handua, dhokla, and jalebi among others.

Cheese, yoghurt, bread, kimchi, kefir milk, kombucha tea and wine are also fermented foods. Indeed, fermentation is a crucial step for making all alcohol meant for human consumption, including Indian toddy and alcoholic mahua drinks.

You might have had probiotic milk; this is typically fermented milk to improve gut health. An easy test to know what is fermented: almost anything that is slightly sour and fizzy (bubbly) is likely to be fermented.

In this article, we will discuss the process of fermentation, why we should eat fermented foods, the health benefits of fermented foods, and potential side effects of fermented foods.

  1. What are fermented foods?
  2. Indian fermented foods
  3. Benefits of fermented foods
  4. Fermented food side effect
Doctors for Fermented foods benefits and side effects

In the process of fermentation, microorganisms such as bacteria, yeast, or fungi convert organic compounds such as sugars and starch in food into alcohol or acids. These alcohol and acids work like a preservative.

To ferment a food item, it is kept at room temperature for some time (the duration depends on the purpose)—if you have seen large stoneware barnis or big glass jars with airtight lids stowed away in the kitchen or left out in the sun for several days, with foods like purple carrots (kanji) and liquids in them, then you’ve probably had some traditional Indian fermented foods at home.

Once fermented, the foods develop a strong and slightly sour flavour. After this stage, you can cook and enjoy your food.

Indian fermented foods

We have an old history of fermented foods across India, with a few popular dishes and drinks in every state. Popular fermented foods in India include:

  • Idli
  • Dosa
  • Dhokla
  • Jalebi
  • Bhatura
  • Fermented rice
  • Curd, buttermilk and lassi
  • Kanji
  • Ambali
  • Axoni
  • Miso
  • Hawaijar
  • Enduri pitha

Internationally, kimchi, kefir and tempeh are prepared with the same method.

Fermented foods are rich in probiotics. So by consuming fermented foods, you are adding healthy bacteria and enzymes to your overall intestinal flora, improving your gut microbiome and digestive system and strengthening your immune system. Along with this, fermented foods are a good source of vitamin B12. The process of fermentation also increases magnesiumironcalcium, and zinc content in some foods.

There are a lot of health benefits of fermented food, such as:

Fermented food good for gut health

As there is a good amount of probiotics in fermented food, which will support the gut lining as a natural barrier, keep your gut bacteria in balance and create a healthy environment for them. This improved gut microbiome will give you a good digestive system.

If you are suffering from constipationstomach gasbloating, fermented foods can be a great help for you. Try to take fermented curd rice twice a week or buttermilk on a daily basis for better results.

Fermented food for weight loss

Fermented foods boost your metabolism and help in weight loss.

These foods contain gut-friendly bacteria and these bacteria help in keeping the digestive system and immunity healthier. When you have a good digestive system and strong immunity, you will be able to lose weight and maintain a healthy body weight.

Fermented food for PCOS

Studies that have shown that women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) have fewer healthy gut bacteria as compared to women without the condition. Gut bacteria maintain a good metabolic rate and keep your gut healthy.

Eating fermented foods and foods high in probiotics helps increase the good bacteria in your gut, and a good metabolic rate helps to lose extra weight, manage a healthy weight, and keep your hormones in balance. So try to take one fermented food in a day.

Fermented food for immunity

There is a direct relationship between your gut and immunity. By consuming probiotic-rich foods, you are supporting the gut lining as a natural barrier and making your immune system stronger. Lack of good bacteria allows disease-causing microbes to grow, causing inflammation and infection in the gut wall. If you are suffering from any infection, you can try these foods to improve your situation.

Fermented food for good mood

Research shows that there is a relationship between your mood and your gut. The gut has been called a “second brain” because it produces many of the same neurotransmitters as the brain. In fact, it is estimated that 90% of serotonin (the happiness hormone) in the body is made in the digestive tract. Research further suggests that as good bacteria contribute to a healthy gut, they are also linked to a healthy mind. So try to add this food to your regular diet and improve your mood.

Fermented food for vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 deficiency is extremely common in India. Plant-based and vegetarian foods have very little vitamin B12, so people who follow a vegetarian diet or vegan diet need to pay special attention, to make sure they get enough each day to avoid a deficiency. Fermented food can help to fulfil the requirement of vitamin B12. Try to include fermented foods in one or two meals per day; for example, you can have Idli and sambar for breakfast and dhokla for your evening snack.

Other fermented food health benefits

Fermented barley specifically may help in conditions like high uric acid in blood and gout. A study with 111 people with high uric acid levels in the blood (6-7.9 mg/dL) found that giving two grams per day of fermented barley extracts for 12 weeks reduced uric acid levels by 0.21-0.56 mg/dL in the test group.

Research also shows that fermentation produces active peptides like conjugated linoleic acid in food. These help to lower high blood pressure.

Research shows that consumption of kefir milk may help to reduce blood cholesterol (hypocholesterolemic), improve blood pressure, reduce allergies and help to tolerate lactose (milk sugar). (Read more: What is lactose intolerance?)

As with most things in life, fermented foods too can have some side effects:

  • Though these foods are extremely nutritious for everyone, some people may be allergic to them. If you feel any discomfort after consuming these foods, please consult a doctor and avoid fermented foods.
  • Some people cannot tolerate fermented foods in larger quantities or frequently, and experience bloating and gas on eating fermented foods. They should take these foods occasionally to avoid such problems.
  • Stale fermented food can give you food poisoning and infection. So be careful.
Dt. Sonal jain

Dt. Sonal jain

Dietician
5 Years of Experience

Dt. Rajni Sharma

Dt. Rajni Sharma

Dietician
7 Years of Experience

Dt. Ayushi Shah

Dt. Ayushi Shah

Dietician
2 Years of Experience

Dr. Yogita Johar

Dr. Yogita Johar

Dietician
1 Years of Experience

References

  1. Satish Kumar R., Kanmani P., Yuvaraj N., Paari K.A., Pattukumar V. and Arul V. Traditional Indian fermented foods: a rich source of lactic acid bacteria. International Journal of Food Sciences & Nutrition, June 2013; 64(4): 415-28. doi: 10.3109/09637486.2012.746288. Epub 2012 Nov 27. PMID: 23181843.
  2. Hokazono H., Omori T., Yamamoto T., Akaoka I. and Ono K. Effects of a fermented barley extract on subjects with slightly high serum uric acid or mild hyperuricemia. Bioscience, Biotechnology, Biochemistry, 2010; 74(4): 828-34. doi: 10.1271/bbb.90936. Epub 7 April 2010. PMID: 20378966.
  3. Şanlier N., Gökcen B.B., Sezgin A.C. Health benefits of fermented foods. Critical Reviews in Food Science & Nutrition, 2019; 59(3): 506-527. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2017.1383355. Epub 20 October 2017. PMID: 28945458.
  4. Rosa D.D., Dias M.M.S., Grześkowiak Ł.M., Reis S.A., Conceição L.L. and Peluzio M.D.C.G. Milk kefir: nutritional, microbiological and health benefits. Nutrition Research Reviews, June 2017; 30(1): 82-96. doi: 10.1017/S0954422416000275. Epub 2017 Feb 22. PMID: 28222814.
  5. Khorshidian N., Yousefi M. and Mortazavian A.M. Fermented milk: The most popular probiotic food carrier. Advances in Food and Nutrition Research, 2020; 94: 91-114. Published in "Probiotic and Prebiotics in Foods: Challenges, Innovations and Advances", edited by Adriano Gomes da Cruz, Elane Schwinden Pru
  6. Sankaran R. Fermented foods of the Indian subcontinent. In "Microbiology of fermented foods" edited by B.J.B. Wood. Springer, Boston, US. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4613-0309-1_24
  7. Insenser M., Murri M., Del Campo R., Martínez-García M.Á., Fernández-Durán E., Escobar-Morreale H.F. Gut microbiota and the polycystic ovary syndrome: Influence of sex, sex hormones, and obesity. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 1 July 2018; 103(7): 2552-2562. doi: 10.1210/jc.2017-02799. PMID: 29897462.
  8. Nkhata S.G., Ayua E., Kamau E.H. and Shingiro J.B. Fermentation and germination improve nutritional value of cereals and legumes through activation of endogenous enzymes. Food Science & Nutrition, 16 October 2018; 6(8): 2446-2458. doi: 10.1002/fsn3.846. PMID: 30510746; PMCID: PMC6261201.
  9. Nkhata S.G., Ayua E., Kamau E.H. and Shingiro J.B. Fermentation and germination improve nutritional value of cereals and legumes through activation of endogenous enzymes. Food Science & Nutrition, 16 October 2018; 6(8): 2446-2458. doi: 10.1002/fsn3.846. PMID: 30510746; PMCID: PMC6261201.
  10. Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School [Internet]. Probiotics may help boost mood and cognitive function, June 2019.
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