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The Most Important Foods You Aren’t Eating: Fermented Foods

August 12, 2013
Fermented foods are one of the healthiest things you can eat: They contain probiotics, "pre-digest" your food, and contain loads of B vitamins. Just make sure your getting "live food" not ones that have been heated or pasteurized.

It “cooks” on your shelf, not on your stove. It gets better as it ages. And to health experts, it’s some of the best food you can eat. It’s fermented food!

We’re not suggesting you eat that mold experiment in the back of the fridge. Fermentation is done under controlled conditions, and the “bugs” (probiotics) it grows are not only safe, but health powerhouses. Plus, probiotics aren’t the only reasons fermented foods are great for you.

For starters, they “predigest” foods by breaking down compound nutrients, explains Sandor Ellix Katz, author of The Art of Fermentation. “Soybeans, for instance, are a protein, but our bodies can’t access that protein from a soybean that’s just cooked. They need fermentation to break it down.” (Try tempeh, miso or natto.) Also, “For foods that contain some sort of toxic compounds [such as oxalic acid in certain vegetables], the fermentation breaks down those compounds into benign forms.” Bonus: “Fermentation contributes higher loads of B vitamins than the foods had to begin with.” Just remember, you won’t get these “live food” benefits from many store brands, which have been pasteurized or otherwise heated. Check out our favorites.

1. Sauerkraut. Homemade kraut may surprise you with its champagne-like fizz and complex flavor.

2. Pickles. No need to limit yourself to cucumbers: green beans, okra and even tomatoes make great pickles.

3. Beet kvass. This Eastern European health elixir is the deep purple “water” made from pickled beets. Tastes too strong to drink? It also makes excellent salad dressing.

4. Raw apple cider vinegar. Filled with good digestive enzymes, this vinegar makes a great dressing, and some even say it helps with weight loss and soothes acid reflux.

5. Kimchi. This Korean favorite can be made with cabbage or other vegetables, plus red pepper, garlic, ginger, a bit of sugar and often fish sauce. Though it was fermented in underground crocks in ancient times, kimchi today is usually fermented above ground for just a few days.

6. Kefir. Consider this fermented milk drink super-powered yogurt: the fizzy, smoothie-like beverage contains a larger range of bacteria than yogurt, plus beneficial yeasts to benefit your belly.

Go on, get in a pickle.

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