URBANDALE, Iowa -- It's that time of the year when all sorts of bugs are being passed around. A certain type of food that’s growing in popularity could help you stay healthy.
Urbandale Hy-Vee Registered Dietitian Heather Illg says, "Fermented foods provide beneficial bacteria that do so many important functions for us."
You’ll find fermented foods in many health food sections. Fermented products contain probiotics. The live and active cultures positively impact gastrointestinal health. Illg says, "80 percent of our immune system is in our gastrointestinal tract, and that's where we get the benefits during cold and flu season is if we've got good bugs outnumbering the bad bugs, then we're better able to fight off those cold and flu viruses."
A common fermented food is yogurt that contains live and active cultures. Kefir, a cultured milk, is also becoming popular. Illg says, “So somebody might just drink it straight from the glass, or you might use it as a starter for a smoothie where you get a lot more probiotics in it.”
You'll also find it in fermented vegetables, like sauerkraut and pickles, but make sure you look at the label. Illg says, "If you want good bacteria in your fermented vegetables, it needs to be non-pasteurized, it needs to be refrigerated. They'll say 'live and active cultures' on the label."
You can also get the probiotics from fermented tea called Kombucha. Illg says, "The fermentation process creates beneficial bacteria, so we have bacteria in our gastrointestinal system that helps us digest food and create enzymes."
You can buy kits to make fermented tea at home. It provides several strains of live and active cultures. Illg says, "Different strains do different jobs, so having a variety of those probiotics is helpful."
Fermented products can also help boost your mental health. Illg says, "The gut is sometimes called our second brain because the majority of our serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that affects our mood is produced in our gastrointestinal tract, so eating fermented foods, which produces more serotonin to help better moods."
Shopper Ann McGowan taste tested Kombucha while we were there. She says, “It was better than I thought.” She ended up buying a bottle. “For the health benefits, it’s interesting.”
Illg recommends starting slowly with one serving a day of fermented foods to make sure your digestive track can handle it. Eventually, you could eat fermented products two to three times a day. A good place to start is yogurt, just look for "live and active cultures" listed on the label.