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Go with your Gut

by Laura Storey


As someone who has never tried as much as a pickle before writing this article, I roped in Dr Sarah Schenker, consultant dietitian and nutritionist at Vadasz (the fermented food company that makes even sceptics relish the relish), to explain why we should all be reaching for the pickle jar.

We started with the basics, the very basics! It’s a good job Sarah has the patience of a saint! What actually is fermentation? I feel like I should know this… it’s like canning, right? 

“Not really,” Sarah laughs. “It’s similar in that it was once a really common way of preserving foods.” 

The increase of the good bacteria in our gut is proven to benefit your immune system

Unlike canning, fermentation does not destroy the bacteria, it creates it. The food is broken down by microorganisms such as yeast, giving fermented foods their typical zesty flavour. This flavour is a key indicator that you are eating fermented food and if you are a picky eater it may indeed put you off. I’m not sure the tartness is for me… 

“Try Kombucha or Kefir, there’s loads to try in supermarkets.” Kefir is even given to babies in parts of Eastern Europe, so it can’t be too hard on our taste buds. “Things like natto might be a little much for some people though,” Sarah warns. 

Eaten for breakfast in Japan, I always expected natto to taste more or less like tofu, both are made of soybeans, but tofu is not fermented like natto. Feeling brave, I sought some out. The smell was evident as soon as I opened the packet – pungently cheesy, and strings stuck to the lid when I opened it. The first taste was surprisingly okay, then, as my tastebuds seemed to recover from shock, I took in the wide-ranging putridness. I piled on the soy sauce and added some rice, and… it wasn’t bad. It wouldn’t be enough to convince me to eat more though, so why should we incorporate more fermented foods into our diets?

“A boost to immunity is a big reason,” Sarah explains. “The increase of the good bacteria in our gut is proven to benefit your immune system, it also helps digestion as well, as the food is already broken down, so if you have IBS it can really help. At the moment studies are also looking at whether fermented foods can help improve mental health.” 

If you’re looking to lose weight this spring, you might want to give fermented foods a try too. “Obviously the weight of a person is down to so many different factors, but there are faecal matter studies in which they take, well… poo basically, from a thin person and transfer it into a fat person. These studies have been promising in terms of weight loss and they put it down to the bacteria in a person’s gut.” 

It’s all rather scientific for me, but the increase in good bacteria in a person’s gut seems to lead to weight loss in overweight individuals. “Of course”, Sarah explains, “it also depends on the type of food you’re eating. Sauerkraut is good for you, but if you intend to lose weight by increasing your intake of beer and enjoying a glass of wine for breakfast it probably won’t improve your health or help keep the pounds off.” 

If you want to try fermented foods, pay attention to sugar content, especially in yoghurts with live cultures.

It’s no surprise that fermented food is becoming a health trend. “There’s so many studies at the moment looking into the benefits, but as more products are released I’m worried they’ll become more processed, the same happened with vegan foods.” 

If you want to try fermented foods, pay attention to sugar content, especially in yoghurts with live cultures. With any change in diet, especially if you eat fermented foods everyday as recommended, you may get some bloating, but this will normally be short-term and will improve as your body gets used to the change. 

Turns out I’ve been drinking fermented items without even knowing it, beer is likely the most well-known fermented drink, but after learning more from Dr Sarah Schenker I’m tempted to branch out with my fermented food choices, kombucha is a firm favourite in the Northern Life office and with all the benefits, my gut instinct is to give it a go… 

Northern Life Mar/Apr 22