What are fermented foods?
Fermentation has been a popular way of preserving perishable foods for thousands of years, from the miso used in soups in Japan to the sauerkraut found in European countries such as Germany and Poland. The process usually involves soaking vegetables in their own juices or salt water which then results in the growth of gut-friendly bacteria.
These gut friendly bacteria then feed off the naturally occurring sugar in the vegetables and produce a substance called lactic acid, which gives fermented foods their tell-tale tart taste. As the levels of lactic acid increase, the unfriendly bacteria find it difficult to survive and so the food tends to last longer.
While fermented foods are nothing new, in recent years they’ve sky-rocketed in popularity as more and more research emerges concerning their numerous health benefits. Kombucha, a fermented black tea native to China, was a relatively unheard of a couple of decades ago but now it’s so popular you might even find it in your local supermarket!
So, what are the benefits associated with fermented foods and how do these impact the health of your skin? Well, in order to answer that question first we have to examine the connection between your gut any your skin!
The gut-skin connection
You may not realise it but your gut and your skin are both intricately connected to one another. If something goes wrong with your gut, the symptoms will inevitably make themselves known on your skin, which is why some skin conditions like acne are often known as ‘skin diabetes.’ There are a number of reasons for this close relationship, which I shall go into in a little more depth below.
1 – Your gut is home to 70% of your immune cells – Did you know that over 70% of your immune cells reside in your gut? This means that if something goes wrong in your digestive tract, your immune system will often suffer too, making you more vulnerable to infections and viruses like colds and flu. When it comes to your skin, a low immune system can be disastrous, making you more vulnerable to pathogens attempting to penetrate your epidermis. If you’ve got a skin condition like eczema, this weakened resistance can often make you more susceptible to flare-ups!
2 – Your gut contains trillions of friendly gut bacteria! – It’s estimated that the average human is 90% microbial and only 10% human1 - this might sound a little bit scary but trust me, it’s actually a good thing. Your gut is home to trillions upon trillion of strains of bacteria and ideally there should exist a balance of friendly bacteria and unfriendly bacteria. Your friendly bacteria helps to support your digestion system, ensuring the healthy absorption of vitamins, minerals and other skin-boosting nutrients whilst breaking down certain foods that the small intestine might struggle with. These friendly bacteria cells also act as a protective barrier for the immune system too!
3 – Your digestive system gets rid of waste products – Your digestive system plays a vital role in flushing out waste products and toxins which is extremely important when it comes to supporting the liver. If these toxins linger, your liver may become fatigued trying to continuously break them down and when this happens, other elimination organs, such as your skin, will have to pick up the slack. As a result, toxins are excreted through the epidermal layer – not ideal!
I’m sure that by now most of you get the general picture and are starting to connect the dots. If your gut health falters, your skin won’t get the nutrients it needs to thrive, may become more vulnerable to pathogens and more sensitive to irritation and inflammation. Don’t just take my word for it though – there’s plenty of research out there supporting this connection, with studies often finding that those prone to skin conditions also suffer from digestive problems. One study, for example, found that SIBO (small intestine bacteria overgrowth) was 10 times more prevalent in acne rosacea sufferers!2
How do fermented foods help?
Okay, so visibly a healthy gut is essential for healthy skin but how do fermented foods help? Well, one of the main health benefits attributed to fermented foods is the positive effect they can have on your digestive system. They have innate probiotic qualities, helping to increase your population of friendly bacteria, preventing what is known as gut dysbiosis.
Our Digestion Advisor Ali discusses the impact of gut dysbiosis in more detail in her blog ‘The whole-body effects of gut bacteria’ but to put it in simpler terms, gut dysbiosis occurs when the balance between friendly and unfriendly bacteria is shaken, resulting in the unfriendly bacteria outnumbering the friendly bacteria.
This can cause a whole host of unpleasant symptoms ranging from constipation to bloating to increasing the permeability of your gut. As I mentioned earlier, if waste products aren’t getting removed from your body or nutrients aren’t getting absorbed properly, your skin will definitely suffer.
However, fermented foods can also take things a bit further, even increasing the availability of vitamins and minerals and promoting the production of crucial B vitamins. They can also help to encourage the breakdown of tricky substances such as phytic acid3, which can block the absorption of iron! They also help to prevent inflammation and some studies have found that fermented foods can be especially useful if you’ve recently taken a course of antibiotics.4
The best fermented foods for your gut
Okay, so fermented foods have more than a few benefits when it comes to the health of our skin but, with so many out there we’re more than spoiled for choice. That’s why below I’ve listed four of my personal favourite fermented foods, discussing their unique skin-boosting properties and how you can effortlessly incorporate them into your diet!
1 – Kombucha
Gone are the days when kombucha was an obscure drink found exclusively in selected health food shops. Nowadays this fermented tea is everywhere and for good reason! Kombucha is made using a special type of tree fungus known as SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Acetic Acid Bacteria and Yeast), which gives it a quirky, tart flavour.
According to some sources this tree fungus also imbues kombucha with its skin boosting properties, with some claiming that the tea not only helps to detoxify the skin but can improve skin elasticity and hydration too!5 However, no studies have yet confirmed these assertions so at the moment the jury’s still out. Nevertheless, a glass of kombucha a day might not be a bad idea and you can easily find it in wholefood shops, cafes or even your local supermarket!
2 – Kefir
According to the experts over at ‘Trust me…I’m a doctor!’ kefir, a type of fermented milk, possibly offers the most benefits when it comes to boosting your gut health. The team at ‘Trust me… I’m a doctor!’ conducted an experiment, splitting participants into three distinct groups. Each group was asked to try different methods for four weeks with the aim of boosting their friendly gut bacteria.6
After four weeks, the group that saw the biggest change to their friendly gut bacteria was the one that had been drinking kefir. This group saw a noticeable rise in their levels of friendly lactobacillales bacteria, which are sometimes associated with easing digestive problems such as lactose intolerance and diarrhoea! Given what I’ve been talking about, it goes without saying that if kefir is this good for your gut, you can bet it is doing wonders for your skin too!
The good news is that if you want to try kefir, it’s never been easier! Plenty of shops now stock this drink and it makes for a convenient mid-afternoon snack, picking you up from that dreaded three o’clock slump!
3 – Sauerkraut
Fermented tea and fermented milk probably don’t sound too bad but fermented cabbage? Many of us struggle to eat this cruciferous vegetable in its raw form, never mind after it’s been fermented! However, sauerkraut actually has quite a pleasant, slightly tangy taste and it can be easily incorporated into a wide range of dishes, from salads to stews!
As well as helping to boost your gut health, sauerkraut is also incredibly rich in another substance – vitamin C! In fact, fermented cabbage is thought to contain up to 20 times more vitamin C than raw cabbage, with estimates putting it at around 700mg per cup in some cases!7 If you’ve read any of my other blogs, you’ll know that vitamin C is essential for a healthy complexion, bolstering your production of collagen and protecting your skin from free radical damage!
4 – Miso
Miso is a popular fermented paste usually derived from soybeans and it’s been used for centuries in Japan to flavour soups and salads. It does have quite a high sodium content so you do have to be careful, however it does also contain other nutrients such as iron, magnesium and zinc as well as plenty of antioxidants!8
The antioxidant properties of miso are of particular benefit to your skin, as free radical damage is a major cause of premature ageing! Miso even contains amino acids, and fatty acids, which are extremely important considering protein is an essential component of your skin’s overall structure!
So there you have it, fermented foods should be a staple part of your diet if you’re looking to support and maintain the health of your skin! Here at A.Vogel, we’re always happy to recommend increasing your intake, from providing helpful recipes such as our Nutritionist Emma’s tasty recipe for Fermented Tomato Ketchup. We also offer a range of lacto-fermented Biotta Juices - I'd particularly recommend our Carrot Juice which is loaded with antioxidants and beta-carotene to help support your skin! Finally, you could also try investing in a fantastic prebiotic such as Molkosan.
Why is a prebiotic so important? It’s all very well and good if fermented foods help to increase your population of friendly bacteria but, if your overall gut environment is hostile, these friendly bacteria will die off very quickly. That’s why you need a prebiotic to help create the ideal environment for your friendly bacteria to thrive in. Molkosan excels here as it contains plenty of L+ lactic acid, which helps to support the growth of friendly bacteria!