A few years ago, I was at a health food expo in North Carolina where I was scheduled to speak on weight loss and healthy living. As I toured the exhibitor’s booths, I struck up a conversation with a woman who advocated eating fermented foods every day as part of a healthy diet. I was curious about fermented foods because I had never really thought about what they were and what role they played in health.
After I returned home, I did some research on fermentation and realized that fermented foods were not only good for me from a health perspective but also had the potential to be an ally for people who want to lose weight. My family kind of rolled their eyes when I told them what I had learned; they are sometimes skeptical about trying new healthy foods I discover. Think chia seeds and spirulina and you can probably guess what kind of reaction I got.
What is fermentation anyway?
You probably consume fermented foods on a regular basis and don’t even realize it. I know I did. The fermentation process has been used for centuries as a way to preserve food. It generally does not require extreme heat or refrigeration, although you can refrigerate vegetables after fermenting them to help them last longer.
Why does fermentation help with weight loss?
The jury is still out on how beneficial fermentation is for weight loss, but the theory is that fermentation of food preserves the enzymes and probiotics that are in the food. These enzymes and probiotics can increase your energy levels and keep your digestive system balanced. Eating food that is fermented can also decrease your desire for sugary foods that are high in carbohydrates. And everyone knows that eating less sugar is a great way to reduce the number of calories you consume. A 2011 study in the academic journal Nutrition Research reported that people who regularly ate kimchi (a Korean fermented food) weighed less and had lower blood pressure than people who did not eat kimchi regularly.
What foods are fermented?
There are many foods that are fermented. Some are good for weight loss and others…well, not so much. Fermented foods that are good for weight loss include yogurt, some cheeses, yeast breads made with whole grains, kefir, sauerkraut, and wine (in moderation). If you are trying to lose weight you probably should skip loading up on fermented foods such as beer, miso, pickles, and tempeh.
Do store-bought fermented foods work?
Unfortunately not all fermented foods are created equal.
Many commercially fermented foods, like pickles, are pasteurized during the manufacturing process, which kills beneficial enzymes and probiotics. Bummer, I know. Like many people, I am too busy to ferment a lot of foods myself, so I take advantage of store-bought foods that are fermented naturally, such as organic yogurt and cheeses, natural sauerkraut, and organic kefir.
If you’re like me you may need to rely primarily on store-bought fermented foods. Maybe someday I will ferment some vegetables in a mason jar and see how it goes. But in the meantime, adding fermented foods into your daily eating plan is easy to do. If you already eat yogurt, you are doing a good thing. Just make sure it is organic and has live active yogurt cultures in it. You can find kefir in health food stores, and some specialty stores sell freshly fermented vegetables.