Including some fermented foods in your diet, such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi and pickles made without vinegar, may help improve your digestion. These foods typically contain a type of helpful bacteria called lactobacillus, which helps break down the parts of the foods you eat that your body can't digest on its own.
Starting the Digestive Process
Fermenting foods helps start the digestive process before you even eat them. This makes it easier for your body to digest the foods. For example, fermenting sorghum flour helps make both the starch and the protein in the flour easier to digest, according to a study published in "Food Bioscience" in 2013. This is why fermented flours are often used to make infant foods in developing countries.
If you are lactose intolerant, you may still be able to eat fermented dairy products like kefir, yogurt and some hard cheeses. These foods are lower in lactose than many other dairy products since the bacteria used to ferment them produce lactase, which breaks down some of the lactose during the fermentation process.
Breaking Down Fiber
Your body can't make the enzymes needed to break down fiber, but the healthy bacteria, also called probiotics, found in fermented foods can create these enzymes and turn the fiber into sugars that are easily digestible. Those bacteria that survive the journey through the beginning of the digestive tract colonize your intestines and help break down fiber in the foods you eat as well as helping to minimize the amount of unhealthy types of bacteria in your intestines.
Some otherwise healthy foods contain compounds, often called anti-nutrients, that can make certain vitamins and minerals less available for absorption or that can cause you to get sick. The fermentation process can sometimes break these substances down and remove them. One example is cassava, which can release cyanide into your body if it isn't properly fermented and processed before you eat it. Fermentation can also lower the amount of phytates in foods like whole grains and beans, increasing the amount of minerals, such as calcium and zinc, you can absorb from these foods.
While boiling and soaking beans before you cook them can make them a little less likely to cause gas when you eat them, fermenting beans before you cook them will make it even more likely you'll avoid experiencing their potentially unpleasant gas-producing effects. A study published in "LWT - Food Science and Technology" in 2013 found that fermenting cowpeas before cooking lowered the amount of the substances, such as raffinose and verbascose, that cause gas.
- Food and Agriculture Organization: The Benefits of Fermenting Fruits and Vegetables
- Journal of Applied Microbiology: Probiotics and Their Fermented Food Products Are Beneficial for Health
- MedlinePlus: Lactobacillus
- Food Bioscience: Effect of Natural and Lactobacillus plantarum Fermentation on in-vitro Protein and Starch Digestibilities of Sorghum Flour
- LWT - Food Science and Technology: Enhancing the Digestibility of Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) by Traditional Processing and Fermentation
- Food and Agriculture Organization: Phytate
Based in Massachusetts, Jessica Bruso has been writing since 2008. She holds a master of science degree in food policy and applied nutrition and a bachelor of arts degree in international relations, both from Tufts University.