Why Fermented Beverages Are Good For You
In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into fermented beverages and examine all the reasons these powerhouse drinks are good for you.
What Are Fermented Beverages?
Before we get to the health benefits, let’s answer the question: what are fermented beverages? Fermented beverages are any drink made from a liquid that has been allowed to culture or ferment for a certain period of time. Usually, fermented beverages are made from fruit pieces or juices, soaked grains, or green and black tea.
What Is Fermentation?
At this point, you might be wondering, what exactly is fermentation? Fermentation is a naturally occurring process and is one of the oldest food preservation methods. During fermentation, microorganisms such as bacteria or yeast convert carbs like starch and sugar into alcohol or acids. Both alcohol and acids are natural preservatives which is why fermenting foods greatly extends their shelf-life. Fermentation also promotes the growth of probiotic bacteria, which we’ll dive into later.
Examples of Fermented Beverages
In the past few years, fermented beverages have become wildly popular in the health food world. Arguably the most well-known fermented beverage in the US is kombucha. Other fermented beverages include tepache, Keifer, beet kvass, and whey sodas. Usually, fermented beverages taste slightly sour or tart and are carbonated.
Are Fermented Beverages Alcoholic?
Although some beverages are fermented specifically for their alcohol content, such as wine and beer, those listed above contain negligible amounts of alcohol. It’s better to think of drinks like kombucha and tepache as substitutions for soda rather than alcoholic beverages.
Can Foods Be Fermented Too?
While this article focuses specifically on fermented beverages, there are several fermented foods available that can provide similar health benefits to fermented beverages. Fermented foods that are easy to find include miso, sauerkraut, yogurt, and tempeh.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of fermentation and fermented beverages, let’s dive into all the health benefits of these delicious drinks.
Give Your Digestive System a Boost
Arguably the most well-known benefit of probiotic drinks is that they can give your digestive system a boost. During fermentation, probiotic bacteria are produced. Oftentimes we talk about bacteria as something harmful to the body’s functioning (think about buying “antibacterial” soap or taking antibiotics). While it’s true that some bacteria can make you ill or cause infection, there’s actually a lot of good bacteria that live in your body and helps you stay healthy.
Some of these good bacteria live in your gut and help you digest food. When the amount of good bacteria in your gut decreases, you can experience uncomfortable digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and gas.
In order to boost the level of good bacteria in your gut, you can drink fermented beverages that naturally contain this helpful bacteria. When you drink beverages such as tepache and kombucha, you’re introducing healthy bacteria into your system that can help the good bacteria in your gut. An increased level of good bacteria in your digestive system will improve its overall function and alleviate the painful symptoms of improper digestion.
If you do drink fermented beverages for their probiotic qualities, make sure that you’re incorporating prebiotics into your diet as well. Prebiotics are essentially food for probiotic bacteria. Prebiotic foods are high in dietary fiber that your body cannot break down on its own. Given that your body cannot break down these foods, they move to the gut without being digested. Once in the gut, they become food for the probiotic bacteria.
Luckily, some fermented beverages such as tepache naturally contain both probiotics and prebiotics. For this reason, if you drink tepache, you can reap all the benefits of probiotics without having to worry about incorporating prebiotics into your diet as well. Foods that contain both probiotics and prebiotics are known as synbiotic.
Help Your Immune System Combat Illness
Another impressive benefit of fermented beverages is that they can help your immune system combat illness. Although it might sound crazy, there’s actually a strong relationship between the bacteria in your gut and your immune response. The bacteria in your gut help your body regulate immune homeostasis. Basically, when your gut is balanced and healthy, so is your immune system.
For this reason, it’s easy to see how the probiotics found in fermented beverages can help maintain the health of your immune system. Incorporating fermented beverages into your daily diet can help reduce your risk of infections such as the common cold. They can also help you recover faster when you’re sick.
However, the relationship between fermented beverages and a healthy immune system doesn’t just stop at probiotics. Many fermented beverages also contain vitamins and nutrients that help strengthen the immune system. For example, tepache contains lots of vitamin C, a vitamin that can help boost your immune system.
Although you might have heard of nutrients, especially in reference to healthy foods and a well-balanced diet, you might be less familiar with the term “anti-nutrients.” Anti-nutrients are plant compounds that reduce the number of essential nutrients absorbed by the digestive system. They are often found in grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
We know the most about the following anti-nutrients: phytate (phytic acid), tannins, lectins, protease inhibitors, and calcium oxalate. So, where do fermented beverages come in? During fermentation, anti-nutrients are broken down and destroyed. Therefore, any fermented beverage made from foods that initially contain anti-nutrients will not contain them after fermentation occurs.
Make Food Easier to Digest
Alongside breaking down anti-nutrients, fermentation, in general, makes the nutrients in beverages easier to digest. One example of this is with lactose, the sugar found in milk. During fermentation, lactose is broken down into simpler sugars like glucose and galactose. Due to this breakdown, people who are lactose intolerant can still enjoy fermented dairy beverages like Keifer.
Just as there is a strong link between gut health and your immune system, there is a link between the gut and the brain through the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (also known as the HPA axis). Essentially, the gut is lined with neurons that can affect our emotions and feelings. For example, serotonin, the key hormone that stabilizes our mood and overall feelings of happiness, is made in the gut.
There is research to suggest that the healthier your gut is, the healthier your mind will be. For this reason, incorporating probiotic-rich beverages such as fermented beverages into your diet is crucial because they can help you maintain a healthy, happy gut.
Is There Anything Fermented Beverages Don’t Do?
Although the health benefits of fermented beverages seem to be endless, it’s important to remember that some reported benefits of fermented beverages have not been well-researched yet. For example, the correlation between fermented beverages and oral health has not been studied enough to say with confidence that fermented beverages can help prevent or treat oral diseases. For this reason, it’s good to make sure that when you incorporate fermented beverages into your diet, you’re doing so for health benefits that have been studied and scientifically proven.
There are so many reasons why fermented beverages are good for you, from the boost they give your digestive system to the way they make the nutrients in drinks easier to digest. In order to incorporate these beverages into your diet, you just need to find the one that’s tastiest to you and start brewing (or buying, if you’re short on time)!