You’ve likely been told to “eat your greens” at some point or another. After all, fruit and vegetables play a critical role in your nutrition and overall health. But is there a way to further enhance the value of farm-fresh, plant-based foods?
There sure is, through fermentation!
By culturing greens with specific strains of bacteria or yeast, the fermentation process helps break down its sugars, starch, indigestible fibre, and proteins. In other words, the difficult-to-digest components are “predigested”.
Fermentation is an ancient practice for preserving food. It enhances the availability and activity of nutrients, increases protein quality, eases digestion, adds gut-friendly microorganisms and enzymes into the food, and in many cases boosts the flavour.
Fermentation increases the bioavailability of vitamins and minerals in plant-based foods. It makes folate, riboflavin, and vitamin B12 more absorbable, while also synthesizing amino acids. For example, the fermented soybean dish called tempeh contains higher levels of B group vitamins than unfermented soybean products. Similarly, people who eat lactic fermented vegetables have been shown to absorb more iron than people who eat fresh vegetables. This is because the fermentation process changes iron into its more absorbable ferric (Fe3+) form.
Fermentation also enhances the antioxidant activity of phenolic compounds and lowers the negative impact of the anti-nutrient phytic acid.1 By supporting a healthy gut microflora, fermented veggies increase the synthesis of vitamin K2 by bacteria internally. In terms of a plant-based diet, natto (fermented soybean) and sauerkraut top the list of which fermented foods have the most vitamin K2.
Better quality protein
Protein, or amino acids, are the building blocks of muscle and play numerous vital roles in the body. There’s no doubt that fermentation enhances the quality of protein-rich plant foods. It does this by removing excess carbohydrates, concentrating amino acids, and making amino acids more available and digestible. This includes fermented protein from peas, brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, and hemp seed.
How do fermented foods improve digestion? For one, they help lower the content of FODMAPS (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, nonosaccharides, and polyols), a group of dietary sugars that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine. This is especially important for people dealing with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Some fermented vegetables contain prebiotic fibre that supports the growth of microflora, while others contain living yeast and bacteria that promote healthy digestion, thus contributing directly to the natural balance of intestinal microflora.
Must-try fermented foods
Fermented foods are a wonderful addition to the diet – both from a nutritional as well as a personal enjoyment perspective. Because the process changes how food tastes, you’ll experience a whole new range of flavours. Delicious options to start with include:
Kefir – a cultured, fermented milk drink with an enjoyable tart flavour.
Tempeh – a fermented soybean cake with a dense texture and intense nutty flavour.
Kombucha – a green or black tea that has been fermented with a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. It tastes slightly sweet and tangy.
Natto – a traditional Japanese dish made by fermenting soybeans with Bacillus subtilis. It has a strong flavour and slippery texture that pairs well with soy sauce.
Kimchi – a spicy fermented cabbage that is similar in texture to sauerkraut.
For a more concentrated approach to fermented foods, Whole Earth & Sea 100% Fermented Organic Protein & Greens is a certified organic formula that contains 21 g of quality plant protein and 8 servings of fruits and vegetables per scoop. It is a non-GMO, vegan-friendly green superfood formula made from over 28 fermented grasses, fruits, vegetables, and micronized medicinal mushrooms to support an active, healthy, and sustainable lifestyle.
How much fermented food to eat?
Fermented foods make great additions to daily meals and snacks. When introducing them into your diet, start with small servings. Gradually work your way up to full portion sizes over time to give your digestive system time to adapt.
Fermented foods are a delicious and simple choice for supporting your nutritional goals and an active lifestyle.
 Patel A, Shah N, Prajapati J. Biosynthesis of vitamins and enzymes in fermented foods by lactic acid bacteria and related genera – A promising approach. Croat J Food Sci Technol. 2013 Dec; 5(2):85-91.
 Scheers N, Rossander-Hulthen L, Torsdottir I & Sandberg A. Increased iron bioavailability from lactic-fermented vegetables is likely an effect of promoting the formation of ferric iron (FE3+). Eur J Nutr. 2016; 55:373-82.
 Walther B, Karl, JP, Booth SL, Boyaval P. Menaquinones, bacteria, and the food supply: The relevance of dairy and fermented food products to vitamins K requirements. Adv Nutr. 2013 Jul; 4(4):463-73.
 Llowefah M, Bakar J, Ghazali H, Mediani A, Muhammad K. Physicochemical and functional properties of yeast fermented brown rice flour. J Food Sci Technol. 2015 Sep; 52(9):5534-45. Bujang, A and Taib, NA. Changes in amino acids content in soybean, garbanzo bean and groundnut during pre-treatments and tempeh making. Sains Malaysiana. 2014; 43(4):551-7.