Fermented foods are having a major cultural moment. Yogurt aisles are more varied than ever, and the kombucha craze alone has made fermentation a buzz word in food and health circles. But despite its current trendiness, eating fermented items has long been regarded for its dynamic healing properties. Ancient civilizations used it medicinally, and understandably so. Fermented products, particularly those rich with probiotics, maximize a diet’s nutritional benefits, create balance in the body, and strengthen the immune system. Current research shows, too, that these foods stop cancer from growing.  

Fermentation and Probiotics

When we talk about fermentation and its health benefits, we’re really talking about probiotics. Probiotics are microroganisms that function as sort of health enhancers, if you will. They help our bodies digest and absorb the best nutrients in our diet and counteract any deficiencies or imbalances. Not all fermented items have probiotics, though (beer, for example, doesn’t really offer much on this front, and bread loses its live organism properties through baking). What’s more, to be a probiotic, a live culture must provide health benefits. So it’s important to understand which foods will most empower your body in your fight for health. Check out our overview of probiotic-packed fermenteds below.

Why Probiotics are Great for Cancer Patients

Fermented foods (and, chiefly, their probiotics) are powerful cancer-deterrents. MD Anderson’s Lead clinical dietition, Stephanie Maxson, said “Probiotics help your immune system function at its best so it can detect and kill cells that can become cancer.” We know, too, that individuals who ingest fewer probiotics are more likely to develop cancer. Because probiotics have so much to do with gut health, researchers have focused largely on their impact on colon cancer. These studies have shown that those who developed this type of illness all had unbalanced gut bacteria before their cancer formed. And the more good bacteria your gut has, the less bad bacteria it grows–and that bad bacteria itself can turn cancerous.

But what if cancer has already developed in your body? Probiotics are still a powerful aid to your immune system. Research shows (particularly in relation to breast cancer) that probiotic foods, because of their anti-inflammatory properties, inhibit cancer cell growth. The International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition designated probiotics as having antitumor properties because they halt genetic mutations and lower the enzymes that fuel cancer growth.

So, Which Foods are Best?

But not all fermented items offer the same probiotic punch. It’s important to choose wisely. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Kombucha – this brewed tea also contains vinegar, B-vitamins, and enzymes, making it especially effective at slowing cancer growth
  • Kefir – a dairy product (think liquid yogurt), kefir is long on enzymes, calcium and magnesium
  • Low-fat, plain yogurt (with active or live cultures) – this most common fermented food is easy to access and incorporate, and it contributes to overall health (lower blood pressure, weight loss, and heightened triglyceride levels)
  • Fermented vegetables – consider involving kimchi for its plethora of antioxidants and sauerkraut for its high fiber and vitamin profile
  • Fermented soybeans – otherwise known as miso, these are especially good at boosting immune health and lowering the risk of cancer

For maximum benefits, experts suggest eating just one serving of probiotic foods each day. And because fermentation maximizes the good stuff you put in your body, it’s ideal to eat them in conjunction with an already healthy diet. Many individuals incorporate probiotic supplements, though you should discuss this with your doctor first.

Brew Your Own Kombucha

Integrating probiotic foods into your diet is as simple as eating a bowl of yogurt for breakfast. But brewing your own kombucha is pretty easy (and cost-effective), too.

Before you begin brewing, you will need to access a brewing kit (often called a SCOBY or mother. You can buy them here, or you can DIY a SCOBY from a store-bought kombucha). You’ll also need a quart-size jar, a stirring utensil, a coffee filter, and a rubber band or canning jar ring.

Ingredients for your kombucha tea can vary, but this is a pretty basic formula, adapted from Cultures for Health:

Ingredients

  1. 2-3 cups of water
  2. 1/1/2 teaspoons loose tea (or 2 teabags)
  3. ½ cup starter tea or distilled white vinegar
  4. ¼ cup sugar

Directions

  1. Pour hot water (not boiling) into the jar
  2. Insert teabags
  3. Cool mixture to 68 – 85 degrees
  4. Remove the teabags
  5. Add the starter (or distilled vinegar)
  6. Add the SCOBY