by Rachel Stuck, RDN
Step aside, kale; there is a new superfood trend. Hello, fermentation!
Kombucha in beautifully designed glass jars is now common in grocery stores, at gas station mini-marts, and even on tap at your local farmers markets and health food stores. With a variety of flavors, this tangy, sweet beverage continues to grow in popularity, but is kombucha actually as beneficial to our health as we are led to believe? This question is absolutely worth asking about kombucha, considering the lack of research to support the list of benefits on the label, but what about the other trendy, fermented foods making their mark on restaurant menus and grocery store shelves? Yogurt, kefir, kimchi, apple cider vinegar, miso, and even some chocolate companies have made the case for their products’ beneficial bacteria powers, but is it really all it’s chalked up to be?
The answer is not a simple yes or no. Each product would have to be analyzed for live bacterial cultures and then put through a variety of research studies before we could be confident in deeming it a disease-preventative food. That being said, we have good news! There are ways to determine if the health claims are worth buying into or if you’re simply going to enjoy the potentially probiotic-rich foods because you like how it tastes—and believe me that’s OK too!
The first way to determine if a fermented food is truly a source of probiotics is to check the nutrition label, specifically the ingredient list. The most commonly included beneficial bacteria used to ferment foods are listed below:
To ensure your fermented foods are everything they claim to be, take a peek at the nutrition label to see if there are a variety of bacteria strains listed. Then, move to the carbohydrates to make sure the food isn’t loaded with added sugars. We recommend looking for fermented foods that contain 3 grams or less of added sugar per serving. Although more research is needed to verify the health benefits of kombucha and other fermented foods, there is research to support the probiotic qualities of the strains of bacteria most commonly found in these foods and beverages.
Second, take a look at the other ingredients used to make the product. Kombucha can claim to have antioxidant properties, and this is usually related to the tea used as the base of the drink or because it has added ingredients like cranberry, ginger, or spirulina to give it an extra boost. This goes for other fermented foods as well. Review the ingredients list and look for vegetables, fruit, and other nutrient-dense ingredients like turmeric or tart cherry juice to ensure the health claims on the front of the bottle match the back!
As grocery stores continue to stock more fermented foods and drinks, it is important to remember that adding fermented foods to your diet can only help. They are not dangerous and, unless otherwise specified by your doctor, they are safe to consume several times a week.
The video below showcases two fermented ingredients that are less common in the American diet: miso paste and kimchi. Both add dynamic flavors to the meal, but it can take a few tries until you acquire a taste for these varieties of fermented foods. Take it slow the first time around and enjoy this dish with your more adventurous foodie friends.
You could also consider adding additional fermented vegetables or tempeh, or switching up the dressing for an herbed Greek yogurt topping. Either way, we think your taste buds will enjoy this flavorful ride.
To get started, prepare your grain and all other ingredients for easy assembly. Check out the grain pouch used in the video and consider keeping easy-to-prepare, gut-healthy products like this one on hand. If grains are not something you want to include, consider switching the carb in this meal for cauliflower rice or roasted sweet potato.
Next, add the prepped ingredients like shredded carrots, purple cabbage, and steamed edamame. Buying some ingredients pre-chopped or pre-cooked is nothing to be ashamed of. I find that buying prepped vegetables makes it easy to add them to salads, stir-fries, soups, smoothies, and even eggs when you are crunched for time! You can’t go wrong.
Next up, protein! For this video, we decided to keep it plant-based and go with tofu as the protein option. If you do not like tofu or prefer to avoid soy, you can absolutely swap this out for chicken, fish, or your desired protein source.
Finally, we are going to finish the grain bowl off with a miso ginger dressing. Miso paste is the main ingredient in the dressing and I absolutely love it because it brings in that umami flavor. That’s the savory, mushroomy flavor that we all love from caramelized onions, stews, and beef broth.
To make the dressing, we are going to whisk together:
This will make 13–15 servings of miso ginger dressing. Consider using extra dressing with our Apple Slaw, with a stir-fry, or as a marinade for fish or chicken.
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The full Facebook Live video can be found here.
Check out the full recipes for Miso Ginger Dressing and Wild Rice Power Bowl with Kimchi.
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Rachel Stuck has a background in culinary arts and nutrition counseling. Rachel takes a positive approach to nutrition: she avoids recommending restrictive diets and instead focuses on helping people choose foods that promote health and well-being. She is passionate about empowering and assisting Ixcela members as they develop their unique, gut-healthy lifestyles.
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