Fight off the flu with fermented foods

The weather has cooled and with that comes an increase in the sniffles and sneezes. This year, during your efforts to fend off a cold or the flu, you should consider stocking up on fermented foods.

You see, the live bacteria in fermented foods play an important role in supporting your microbiome. What’s your microbiome you ask? Well, it was a popular topic of discussion at the recent Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Annual Food and Nutrition Conference and for good reason. Your microbiome is a community of microorganisms that symbiotically live within us and a growing number of studies suggest our microbiome plays an important role in many of our bodily functions including digestion, metabolism, brain function, immunity and more. You can support your microorganism community in many ways, which include avoiding unnecessary antibiotics, antibacterial cleaners and, yes, avoiding highly-processed, nutrient-lacking foods.

Boost your natural flora by consuming probiotic-rich fermented foods that are often made from prebiotic (food for the microbiome) rich vegetables. Here are five must-try fermented foods to help you fight the flu:

Yogurt and Kefir: Both are fermented milk products. When purchasing yogurt or Kefir, look for products made using the L.acidophilus bacteria cultures and make sure it contains “live cultures” which will be labeled on the product. Pasteurization kills the bacteria so probiotic-rich options are cultured after pasteurization to maintain the integrity of the bacteria. Stick with plain, unflavored products to avoid their sugar-laden counterparts.

Pickles: Cucumbers, beets, carrots and more; pickled foods are rich in probiotics. Again, buy pasteurized, refrigerated pickles (instead of the shelf varieties) or make them yourself. Most probiotic rich pickles use a simple, vinegar-free brine of salt, water and spices.

Fermented Cabbage: Kimchi is a Korean condiment made from fermented cabbage, vegetables, garlic, ginger and lots of spice. It can be found in the refrigerator section of your grocery store or any Asian markets. If you can’t handle the heat of Kimchi, sauerkraut is the solution. Also available in the refrigerator section of your grocer (avoid shelf stable pasteurized versions), sauerkraut is quite simply cabbage that is fermented in brine. Sauerkraut is also a great, inexpensive beginner fermented food you can easily make yourself. All you need is a jar of cabbage and salt. Here is a great recipe to take your through the steps.

Kombucha: A fermented tea with a bounty of health benefits. Bacteria and yeast in the form of a SCOBY are used along with sugar to ferment the tea. Think of it as a sour, vinegar-like fizzy soda. You can flavor the tea to make it more appealing or use it in place of vinegar in a salad dressing. Kombucha is available at most health stores in the refrigerated beverage section. Here is a recipe for DIY kombucha, which is a fun kitchen experiment.

Fermented Soy: Soy is fermented to make it more appropriate for human consumption and the result is a probiotic-rich food. Miso, tempeh, tofu and natto are all types of fermented soy products. Considering soy is a highly genetically modified food, it is good to choose organic products over their conventional counterparts. Avoid cooking fermented soy products at high heat as it will kill the healthy bacteria. For example, whisk miso into warm water instead of cooking it in boiling water.

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