Plant-Based Nutrition

Fermentation 101: Benefits of Fermented Foods, Kefir vs Yogurt & More

Fermented foods like kefir and yogurt can provide great benefits to the body, but what is fermentation and how can these foods help you?

I will cover the benefits of kefir, yogurt, fermentation, and then some!

Stick with me because you may want to incorporate fermented food into your diet!

Process of Fermentation

A jar of pickled jalapenos

Fermentation. I’m sure you’ve heard the word! Sauerkraut, yogurt, and wine are just a few fermented foods and drinks.

Fermentation is a metabolic process that consumes sugar in the absence of oxygen. It naturally preserves food when the sugars are used and replaced with lactic acid or alcohols.

Starters that contain grains, yeast, or seeds colonize and start the fermentation process.

The process goes a little like this:

  1. Decide on a base (milk, coconut milk, etc.)
  2. Add heat (optional, not all fermented foods need heat)
  3. Add your culture (starter)
  4. Keep the temperature consistent and let it set, or ferment, for a designated time
  5. Separate or strain the culture from the product  (culture grains)
  6. Be impressed by your hard work, and enjoy the result!

Of course, each fermented food can vary in the process, but overall, most follow this pattern!

Benefits of Fermented food

Some sauerkraut which has been fermented

When I think of fermented food, I think of Sauerkraut. So thank you grandma and our German ancestry! There are other foods that use the fermenting process and, like sauerkraut, are beneficial to your health.

Live cultures, or probiotics, are found in fermented food.

One of the best benefits that fermented food provides is the number of live cultures.

Our bodies have over 500 different probiotic strains. These strains do different things for our bodies.

Fermented food carries several different strains, which is great for us because it can help our bodies in several ways. One may help with your colon health or aid digestion and another may reduce inflammation.

Probiotics from fermented food can support digestive health. Our gut microbiome consists of both good and bad bacteria. 

When the good and bad bacteria are balanced within the body, our digestive tract can fully digest food and extract all the nutrients needed for proper bodily function.

Kefir vs. Yogurt

Some yogurt

Kefir and yogurt. These two can be confused for the other.

Usually, people think kefir is a yogurt but that’s not the case. They do have similarities, but they are ultimately two different products that can be used in your diet.

Both are typically made with dairy products, but they can also be made with alternatives such as goats milk, almond milk, or coconut milk.

Both are also a cultured product, meaning they are fermented with lactic acid bacteria, also known as probiotics!

So how are they different?

Fermentation Process

Yogurt needs heat to undergo the fermentation process while kefir only needs room temperature.

One of the biggest differences between making yogurt and kefir is the time these products need to culture. Yogurt needs 4-8 hours to culture and kefir needs 24 hours or more.

The time it takes to make kefir versus yogurt creates a different outcome in consistency, taste, and even health benefits.

Consistency

Yogurt is a thicker consistency. Greek yogurt is even thicker than plain yogurt but both are not watery or soupy.

Kefir is, however. The consistency of kefir is thin enough that people drink it.

Taste

Plain yogurt is tangy and a little sweet. Kefir is almost sour, so don’t tell yourself it’s like yogurt…because it’s not.

It’s like when you drink water thinking it’s Sprite and it’s not. It’s the worst so don’t do it.

Don’t tell yourself it will taste like yogurt…it won’t. Because Kefir is fermented longer than yogurt, the taste changes.

The longer you ferment it, the sourer it will be.

Health Benefits

Kefir and yogurt both benefit your health. They have vitamins, minerals, and probiotics, but that’s where the similarities end.

Kefir has a more nutrient-dense variety of probiotics than yogurt. These diverse strains are more likely to help the gut and improve your specific needs. Kefir also has more protein, calcium, and potassium.

Pickling

I mentioned this post would talk about kefir, yogurt, fermentation, and then some. Well, pickling is the “then some”!

Let me make one thing clear, pickling is a general term and encompasses the process of fermentation. Be careful when choosing foods at a grocery store that say they are pickled because not all “pickled” foods are fermented.

Pickling can use the process of fermentation or vinegar to preserve food. Using vinegar can lengthen a food’s shelf life but won’t necessarily have health benefits as great as fermented foods.

Let me explain myself.

Vinegar is fermented, but pickling with vinegar is not fermenting. Does that make sense?

The health benefits are not as potent when food is pickled using vinegar. Both are beneficial but fermenting the food directly may provide more health benefits.

Health Benefits of Pickles

A jar of pickles

Whether you eat pickles through the process of pickling or fermenting, you can benefit from consuming them.

A great benefit (and theme to the post) is the consumption of probiotics. These bad boys will support your gut health and allow your body to better absorb nutrients from your food.

As a reminder, fermented pickles will have a higher concentration of probiotics but pickling with the use of vinegar will still help.

Eating pickles or drinking pickle juice is also great because of the sodium and potassium content. People even drink a little pickle juice as a recovery drink after a good sweat.

It can replenish the sodium and potassium lost during vigorous activity. Just be aware that eating too many pickles can cause harm.

The high sodium content can be detrimental to your health if you aren’t watching your intake because too much sodium can cause high blood pressure and that can lead to an array of problems for your body. Problems like heart disease, stroke, and organ damage.

Health Benefits of Pickled Beets

Some beets

If you aren’t a fan of pickles, maybe try pickled beets.

Pickled beets contain probiotics and can aid in digestion and keep the gut happy. Beets are also high in fiber.

Your digestion tract will thank you if you include both fiber and probiotics into your diet because it will not only extract needed nutrients but will also expel excess waste.

Beets are high in potassium and magnesium. Magnesium regulates biochemical reactions in the body and facilitates in protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation.

Potassium triggers your heart to pump blood throughout the body. It also helps muscle movement, nerve function, and to filter blood in the kidneys.

These two vitamins are so important for your body processes. Who knew?

Final Thoughts

Fermented food gives you the probiotics needed to balance the gut which ultimately allows your body to efficiently extract all the nutrients you need from your diet.

So what’s the takeaway?

Try yogurt, try kefir, and try pickled foods!

You may love them or you may hate them, but if you love them and incorporate them into your diet, you may see improved digestion and better overall health!

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