Are superfoods just a fad? Or do they really have superpowers? There is no need to cross the globe to find food that is good for us. Actually, they are very familiar, we just need to take a closer look at them.
The phrase ‘superfood’ was born from the trend of moving away from drugs and going towards preventative medicine due to the rising incidence of diseases. There is no doubt that many foods from broccoli and kefir to spinach and legumes are not only delicious but have certain powers. The list grows every year. Some of the things discussed in recent years are a question of biology and their names are sometimes difficult to pronounce. Examples of this are quinoa, acai berries, chia seeds and phytoplankton. Some are a bit more familiar: Jerusalem artichoke, ginger and yoghurt.
In recent years, most nutritionists have been advocating the same things. They say that to eat healthily, all we have to do is look at what people who lived in our part of the world have been eating for centuries. Many of the foods that we have known from our mum’s cooking since childhood are in fact ‘superfoods’ that we could learn even more about.
One of the top superfoods discussed in recent years is fermented food. These foods have been consumed all over the world for thousands of years because they are both tasty and healthy, but we are just now starting to learn exactly how they affect our system. Korean kimchi, European sauerkraut, Russian kvass and Japanese miso are attracting more attention than ever. Fermented foods like natural pickles, pickled vegetables, yoghurt, sourdough bread and cheese are all in demand.
But, why fermented?
At the MAD Symposium in Copenhagen five years ago, the topic was “guts”. In English, “guts” has the metaphorical meaning of courage but it also refers to the digestive system. Some of the speakers stuck to the first meaning while others delved into intestinal health. For the first time, a food conference was talking not about food but about how it is digested. One person said that the total area of our intestines is 400-square metres. Another said that our intestines have 500 million nerve cells and are home to 100 trillion bacteria, some good and some bad. The thing that stuck with me, however, was this: Maybe we humans are the host that makes life possible for all of these bacteria!
We now know that some of these bacteria play a critical role in our health. Sixty percent of our immune system is hidden in the intestines. Research has shown that even our mental and emotional health are affected by these bacteria. This is why our intestines, “the second brain”, have received so much attention in recent years. Hundreds of books have been published about how we can boost the probiotic diversity in our intestines. The reason is that the type of nutrition in modern life and antibiotics (the opposite of probiotics) are a grave threat to these bacteria.
Fermented foods are both rich in probiotics and considered to be pre-digested food. They are easy to digest, boost intestinal flora and are rich in vitamins. Kimchi has twice as much vitamins B1, B2, B12 and niacin as normal cabbage. When cabbage is fermented, the amount of vitamin C peaks and stays at high levels for months. We know that the scurvy caused by a vitamin C deficiency on long sea voyages was prevented by eating sauerkraut. This is why food author Michael Pollan recommends that we eat food fermented by bacteria in his book “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual”.