Fermentation is a process in foods and beverages used to convert carbohydrates into alcohol, organic acids or carbon dioxide. It is used to create alcoholic beverages and to preserve certain foods. According to natural health expert, Andrew Weil, M.D., fermentation can make food more digestible and nutrients more attainable. For people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a lower-digestive tract disorder, fermented foods could provide numerous benefits. For best results, doctor's guidance is suggested.
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Fermented milk, also called cultured milk, is milk fermented with lactic acid. Due to the fermentation process, fermented milk contains probiotics--healthy bacteria known to improve digestive function and reduce harmful bacteria in the body. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), probiotic intake may help reduce abdominal pain, constipation and gas associated with IBS.
People may digest more easily fermented milk products compared to unfermented dairy products, which can trigger IBS flare-ups in some people. In the United States, fermented milk is available in numerous varieties, including buttermilk, acidophilus milk and kefir, which is a yogurt-like beverage.
Yogurt derives from fermented milk products and may provide similar probiotic benefits. According to a "New York Times" article published in Sept., 2008, probiotic strains in yogurt can improve symptoms of IBS, such as diarrhea; however, not all yogurt contains helpful probiotics. For this reason, inspecting food packaging for specific probiotic content and supportive evidence is recommended.
Yogurt containing "live, active cultures" tend to contain probiotics with digestive benefits. As with fermented milk, yogurt may provide a digestible dairy-product option and a calcium source for people with IBS.
Sauerkraut is shredded cabbage that has been fermented by lactic acid bacteria. According to Weil, canned sauerkraut is a far cry from homemade sauerkraut, which is made by placing cabbage and salt in a sealed ceramic crock. Over the course of 3 days at room temperature, the salt draws moisture from the cabbage and causes fermentation.
Weil considers sauerkraut a low-calorie, easily digestible, affordable and simple-to-prepare food. It is also rich in vitamin C--a nutrient that can support immune system strength in people with IBS. Sauerkraut also provides valuable amounts of dietary fiber. The UMMC suggests fiber-rich foods as a means of reducing gas, bloating and constipation in IBS-sufferers.