If you like aged cheese, sauerkraut, kimchi, sourdough bread, yogurt, beer or wine, then you're familiar with fermented foods. Fermentation is a way to preserve food that has been practiced by most cultures for thousands of years. In addition, the process helps retain nutrients and prevents spoilage. Foods that are fermented typically have strong, pungent flavors. While fermented foods offer certain health perks, they also create some concerns.
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Fermented foods help restore the proper bacteria balance in your intestines. Most probiotics are part of a group of lactic acid-producing bacteria, which are found in yogurt, fermented milk and other fermented foods. An article published in the "Journal of Applied Microbiology" in June 2006 noted that eating foods that contain lactic acid bacteria improves intestinal tract health, improves the bioavailability of nutrients, reduces symptoms of lactose intolerance and decreases the prevalence of allergy in susceptible people.
Although most people associate dairy consumption with the risk of coronary heart disease, some fermented-milk products may actually contain heart-healthy properties. An article published in "Current Opinion in Lipidology" in February 2006 noted that there is evidence that fermented milk products have a mildly decreasing effect on abnormally high blood pressure, known as hypertension. The article urged further examination of the effects of cheese on coronary heart disease risk factors.
Enhanced Immune System
Eating fermented foods makes your intestines less vulnerable to intestinal illnesses and boosts your immune system. For example, kefir -- a thick, acidic beverage made by fermenting milk with certain grains -- is not only easily digested but also helps colonize your intestines with beneficial microorganisms that help maintain healthy immune response. According to the United Nations University, kefir has been used in the treatment of tuberculosis, cancer and pulmonary tuberculosis.
Gastric Cancer Downside
While studies show the many benefits of fermented foods, some concerns exist. An article published in "Cancer Science" in January 2011 offered a meta-analysis of reports on the effect of eating fermented and nonfermented soy foods on the risk of developing gastric cancer. The study revealed that a high intake of fermented soy foods was significantly associated with an increased risk of gastric cancer, while a diet high in nonfermented soy foods is important in reducing gastric cancer risk.