Bacteria can cause various harmful diseases, like pneumonia, tuberculosis, plague, tetanus, and typhoid, which can even wash away a large proportion of the population. Sounds scary- right? But let’s think again- If nature wanted us killed, it wouldn’t have created us in the first place! Guys – stop overanalyzing and then over-fearing the unknowns! Unknown need not be scary. In fact, this “unknown” may be the reason we are alive! Let’s dig deeper.
Do you know that our body contains billions of bacteria, known as good friendly bacteria, and most of them do not cause any harm? Yes, you read that right! Just like a good cop and a bad cop, there are many good bacteria and some bad bacteria. The good bacteria in our gut help in digestion and keep us healthy by performing multiple functions.
How do we increase the number of good bacteria in our bodies? One of the answers lies in fermentation and fermented food consumption, which is what we will discuss today.
What is fermentation?
In simpler words, fermentation is a process in which complex organic materials are broken down into simpler substances with the help of microorganisms. If we eat the food as is, we get probiotics in the form of healthy bacteria as well as benefit from the pre-digestion that this bacteria has done for us during fermentation. On the other hand, if we heat this food during the cooking process, we don’t get probiotics as bacteria are killed by heat, but we benefit from the pre-digestion done during fermentation.
Fermented food has been a significant part of our Indian cuisine for centuries. It can be said that food fermentation is a process of creating or changing the properties of food to enhance its flavour and digestibility and preserve it. For centuries, we have been using this process to improve food quality. With curd being the most common one, here are some other examples of fermented food:
- Dhokla: Most famous food of Gujarat. Remember the dialogue of Kareena Kapoor in the movie 3 Idiots “Tum Gujarati log itne cute hote ho par tum logon ka khana itna khatrnaak kyun hota hai, Dhokla, fafda?” She was talking about the fermented food of Gujarat. For the unversed, rice and pulses are fermented to make this delicious traditional food.
- Sel roti: One of the famous food of Sikkim and Darjeeling. This ring-shaped delicacy is prepared with local rice soaked in water overnight.
- Idli and Dosa: Traditional food of South India. Perhaps one of the most famous Indian food worldwide. It is made from the fermentation of rice and pulses.
- Hawaijar: This dish of Manipur is prepared by the fermentation of soya beans in banana leaves. It contains a high amount of protein.
- Gundruk: This is one of the famous dishes of the North-East region of India, prepared by the fermentation of green leafy vegetables.
- Kadi: One of the famous dishes of North India, prepared by dahi or lassi, i.e. a product of fermentation of milk.
- Kanji: Fermented drink of carrots and beetroots
Well, the list doesn’t end here. Not only in India but across the globe, fermented food is available and is widely consumed.
Some examples of fermented food which is popular worldwide are:
- Fermented Cheese
Preservation of food using fermentation
We can also preserve fruits and vegetables using fermentation. As a matter of fact, before the invention of the refrigerator, people used to maintain their fruits and vegetables with the help of fermentation. To ferment fruits and vegetables at home, follow the following steps:
- Take a jar to contain the veggies, fruits or grains.
- Fill the pot with water and put some salt in it. Salt benefits the good bacteria, kills the harmful bacteria and enhances the taste of the food.
- Now all you need are microorganisms or bacteria. Generally, our fruits and vegetables already have bacteria, so you don’t have to add any additional bacteria to the jar.
- However, ensure that your fruits and vegetables are fully immersed in water; otherwise, there is a danger of the formation of fungus. You can add some weight on top to achieve this.
- And you are all set to ferment your veggies! Easy-peasy!
However, hygiene and a safe environment need to be kept in mind. For fermentation to occur appropriately, we should ensure that the conditions are favourable and that our food is not in contact with any disease-causing microorganisms. Moreover, we must check the time limit, i.e. the number of days for which we have to store the food for it to get fermented. Thus, we can have healthy and organic fermented food in our homes.
Why is food fermentation needed?
The probiotics present in fermented food regulate the friendly bacteria in our gut, which helps in alleviating many digestive problems. Fermented food also prevents the severity of conditions like diarrhoea, gas, constipation and bloating. Apart from gut health, probiotics also help to boost our immune system; thus, eating fermented food when you’re sick can help you recover faster. Fermented food also destroys anti-nutrients and increases the absorption of nutrients in our bodies. Studies have also shown that fermented food promotes mental health, weight loss and heart health. In addition to that, fermented food is needed for other purposes such as:
- Extraction of Vitamins and minerals
- Extraction of flavour
- Makes food easy to digest
Fermentation and gut health
Fermentation doesn’t only enhance food quality; it is also very beneficial for gut health. It so happens that grains are hard to digest and when we consume them, it causes bloating. Bloating causes irritation and restlessness in our stomach and upsets our mood. However, if we ferment our grains, the good bacteria break them down into digestible form. As a result, due to their easy to digest quality, fermented grains don’t cause any trouble in our gut. Therefore, all kinds of fermented food promote gut health.
Gut health also boosts our nervous system. The neurons present in our brain tell the body how to behave in different situations. Interestingly, our gut also contains hundreds of millions of neurons, which send signals to our brain through the nerves. Our gut and brain are also connected through chemicals known as neurotransmitters, which control feelings and emotions. So, if your gut bacteria are not happy, you might face bloating, constipation, and inflammation, which in turn will cause stress and anxiety.
How fermented food boosts our gut health
In a healthy human body, 85% of the bacteria are friendly, which break down food for energy; the rest, 15%, are harmful bacteria that can cause various diseases when they get out of hand. Thus, we should try to increase the ratio of friendly bacteria by eating lots of colourful fruits and vegetables, and of course, fermented food. Furthermore, gut bacteria regulate what we pass in our bodies and what we excrete. So, you can imagine how much fermented food is beneficial for us. As they say, “Pet safa to har rog dafa”, which means if your digestion is proper, diseases won’t even approach you. Furthermore, Ayurveda says that taking care of our gut can prevent thousands of diseases. Besides that, there are a lot of other advantages of fermented food.
- Improves immune system
- Lowers pH level
- Keeps constipation at bay
- Relieves diarrhoea
- Maintains cholesterol level
- Cures lactose intolerance
Wrap it up!
Our body is built up in a manner that it will continue to work until it dies. However, the effectiveness of our body depends upon the quality of food we eat. Thus, it can be said that in order to keep our body healthy, we have to keep the good bacteria in our body happy. With that said, good bacteria are present in a large quantity in our bodies. Out of every ten cells in our body, 9 are bacteria cells, and 1 are human cells. Food for thought – “tum bacteria ho ya insaan?” Please tell us what you think in the comments!