What are they? What benefits do they bring to health? How to incorporate them into your diet? Are all fermented foods probiotics?
Here, the answers.
The idea of consuming live micro-organisms to promote health is not new. The consumption of fermented foods has been associated with longevity and a healthy life for a long time. In recent years, even locum tenens companies recruiting doctors have reported an increase in interest from many employers looking for locum doctors able to give clear guidance on this aspect of diet and nutrition.
Beyond this association, it is important not to confuse the terms and to understand the differences between fermented foods and probiotics.
- What are probiotics?
The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics defines them as live micro-organisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a benefit to the health of the host. We could understand them as “friendly bacteria” that help promote health.
To consider these micro-organisms as probiotics, they must meet certain conditions that, although they seem technical, we must understand so as not to get confused:
- Be correctly identified, that is, we must know what the genus, species, and strain of micro-organisms are. In this case, if you buy food with probiotics in the list of ingredients, this information must be detailed.
- They must be safe for consumption. There must be at least one human clinical study that has demonstrated its efficacy.
- Be alive in the product and in sufficient quantities to create health benefits.
- What benefits do they have for health?
We know a lot about the benefits of probiotics for health but we also have a lot to continue investigating. Among them:
- They help maintain a balanced and diverse gut microbiota
- They reduce the risk of gastrointestinal infections
- They strengthen our immune system
- They are anti-inflammatory
Consumption is associated with a healthy state, but it is important to bear in mind that they are not miraculous and that there are a huge number of aspects to consider beyond their consumption such as eating habits, quality, and variety of diet, lifestyle, sleep, rest, physical exercise, among many more.
- How to incorporate them into your diet?
For example, there are yogurts with added probiotics on the market. To identify them, carefully read the list of ingredients on the labels, there you will find mentioned “probiotic cultures”, “ferments or lactic cultures” and the list of micro-organisms that they contribute. Examples of probiotic micro-organisms can be Bifidobacterium Lactis, Lactobacillus Casei, Bifidobacterium.
Common yogurt is the product of the fermentation of milk with specific bacteria called Lactobacillus Bulgaricus and Streptococcus Thermophilus and other bacteria with probiotic action can be added. These probiotic strains have greater resistance to adverse gastrointestinal conditions than yogurt yeast bacteria.
Yogurt is a food that has a defined composition, is safe, easy to incorporate into the daily diet, and can be adapted to savory preparations if you choose a natural flavor. It is easy to consume yogurt as a snack, as part of breakfast, as a dessert, or in various sweet or savory preparations.
- Are all fermented foods probiotics?
The answer is no. Similarly, the fact that fermented foods do not provide probiotics or do not have the scientific evidence necessary to be considered probiotics does not mean that they can not provide health benefits.
Fermented foods are a diverse and broad family. They are the old new foods and are closely related to the culinary and conservation culture of each region of the world. There are artisanal and industrial, naturally fermented (kimchi, sauerkraut, fermented cereals) or those that depend on the addition of starter cultures such as yogurt or kefir.
Within the enormous family of fermented foods, there are different levels of scientific evidence in humans regarding the impact of these products on intestinal health. The most studied are fermented milk such as yogurt and milk kefir. Evidence in humans has been shown to suggest beneficial effects for yogurt on lactose malabsorption and functional constipation, and milk kefir on lactose malabsorption and higher Helicobacter Pylori eradication rates. On the other hand, there is limited evidence for kimchi, sauerkraut, and miso and no evidence for kombucha, tempeh, and natto.
It should also be considered that in home-made fermented foods such as kefir or sauerkraut, their efficacy depends on the fermentation conditions, ambient temperature, hygiene conditions, among other aspects. As they are foods made in a home-made way and so dependent on the chosen ingredients and the fermentation conditions, it is challenging to guarantee their composition or demonstrate their efficacy and safety.