While many fermented foods have incredible benefits, from increasing digestion, nutrient assimilation, and gut rebuilding, not all fermented foods improve your health.
Some are pure deliciousness, but can have harmful side effects.
Now, of course I’m a fan of ferments. Incorporating certain kinds of fermented foods is a big part of what I recommend as one small, yet important step for people looking to rebuild their gut.
That said, I want to make sure people are aware that just because something’s fermented, doesn’t mean it has beneficial probiotics.
Look, I’m definitely a fan of shamelessly enjoying chocolates and cheese. So please know that what I’m sharing is in no way meant to cause guilt. It’s just to point out that not all ferments provide probiotic advantages and that all ferments—yes, even the super healthy ones—should be consumed in the appropriate amounts.
Here is a rundown of some common ferments that don’t have probiotics and their pros and cons.
Alcohol is an obvious example of a ferment that isn’t exactly “good” for you. But before you beer fanatics throw up a middle finger, know that even some alcoholic beverages can have health advantages! We all know that too much alcohol can severely harm the liver, not to mention cause intense remorse and embarrassment if you get drunk….
Many people converted to drinking red wine when they heard about the many health benefits.
The American Gut Project has claimed that:
“Alcohol consumption also affects microbiome diversity. Those who had at least one drink per week had a more diverse microbiome than those who abstained”.
The science behind how alcohol is fermented
Fermentation is the conversion of sugars to ethanol and carbon dioxide, with the implementation of bacteria—in the case of alcohol, yeast. Yeasts are single cell fungi that are necessary in producing ethanol. In a normal fermentation cycle, yeasts use oxygen at the beginning and then continue to thrive once the oxygen no longer remains. It’s during this anaerobic (without oxygen) period that ethanol is produced.
As with most yeast ferments, if Candida is an issue, I don’t recommend it. The byproducts in a yeast ferment support the growth of yeast – feeding the bioterrain for yeasts to grow – not ideal. Alcohol is essential straight ‘sugar’ that feeds yeasts in the body. In fact, when I was studying herbal medicine in school, my mentor told me that most alcoholics are actually consumed by a yeast overgrowth and can make major strides in their alcohol consumption by addressing the Candida first.
So there you have it. Perhaps the foods and drinks that are generally considered “bad” can in some ways be “good.” This is why I hesitate to call foods “good” or “bad” and instead look at food on a person by person basis.
Another example of a questionable-probiotic ferment is cheese. (And of course, cheese goes well with that glass of red wine.) But as we know, dairy consumption can also cause issues. High in fat and difficult-to-digest proteins, too much cheese (or other dairy products) can result in chronic inflammation, digestive issues, and a wide array of other undesirable side effects including weight gain.
I call cheese a ‘questionable-probiotic ferment’ because there at least a thousand different kinds of cheese and depending on whether it is pasteurized, raw, or aged will determine how many kinds of probiotics are in it (or not).
However, even without probiotics, the protein in cheese (if you can digest it) naturally helps to curb hunger. These proteins help break down absorption of carbohydrates, therefore helping balance blood-sugar levels and boost your mood!
Other nutrients in cheese includ zinc and biotin, both helping aid tissue repair, protecting skin, and strengthening nails and hair.
The science behind how cheese is fermented
To ferment cheese, a starter culture is usually used. Milk must be kept at around 90 degrees for 30 minutes in order to ripen. At this time, the bacteria grows and fermentation begins, lowering pH levels and developing the mature cheese flavor. You certainly don’t want to (ok, I do) eat an entire block of cheese, but these dairy products do indeed possess miscellaneous nutrients, mainly proteins and calcium.
For you coffee addicts, guess what? Coffee is usually fermented. A common method of processing raw coffee involves washing and separating the skin from beans before fermenting the beans in cement tanks. Fermentation is what causes this outer layer to break down and disappear, essentially de-pulping the seed and leaving behind the coffee bean. After fermentation takes place, the beans are then rinsed with water and the remaining mucilage is then dried.
We are sometimes in denial of the health concerns related to coffee, but in the back of our minds, I think even regular drinkers are aware that coffee isn’t always the most health-promoting beverage.
That said, while coffee can lead to cardiovascular issues and a myriad of anxiety-related problems, this non-probiotic ferment does have its benefits. Coffee is a rich source of antioxidants; it can protect against diabetes; it aids the liver and combats alcoholic cirrhosis, as well as prevents gallstones and kidney stones; it can prevent and revive any retinal damage; and coffee can potentially lessen your chances of certain cancers and Alzheimer’s. It also helps mental focus and productivity, which is the main reason most people drink it.
Other non-probiotic ferments
Various teas, chocolates, and vinegar. While all of these non-probiotic ferments have pros and cons, so do the “good”, probiotic rich foods.
Even healthy ferments can have negative side effects if consumed too often in too great of quantity. For example, kombucha—though it possesses a myriad of benefits and is high in vitamins and enzymes that help detoxify the body—can also contribute to Candida issues, dysbiosis, heartburn, and inflammation if drank too much too frequently. To read more on the pros and cons of kombucha, read this article.
The important thing to remember for these non-probiotic containing ferments is that they can still bolster the bioterrain, making the gut a happy place for probiotics to live, but they aren’t adding bacteria into the digestive system.
The main thing to keep in mind, even with fermented foods that do have probiotics, is that they work best when implemented into your diet, not when they become your diet. Having even one small servings of fermented food as a side item helps immensely. That’s when they work their magic best to help you digest your meals more fully! Whether it be a non-probiotic ferment, such as wine, or a probiotic-rich food like yogurt or sauerkraut, listen to your body first. Make sure you’re eating what your body is asking for and not overriding your physical needs with your mental knowledge of the health benefits of the foods. I teach more about how to listen to your gut in Gut Rebuilding where you clean it up and rebuild it from scratch.
To check out my favorite 11 probiotic-rich ferments, read here.