Want a healthy gut? Don't assume all fermented foods are gut-friendly

Fermented foods should be part of a balanced diet and should be mixed with vegetables, fruits and other nutrients. Photo: iStock/nensuria

A diverse gut microbiome is important for our digestive health. Each of the bacteria, viruses, microbes and fungi that inhabit our gastrointestinal area play a major role in maintaining a healthy gut. Including fermented foods in our diet is a simple way to ensure this and the South Indian diet is rich with such options. The items made of fermented rice and lentil batter, like idli, dosa, uttappam, paniyaram and thalipeeth are a few examples. Kerala-style appam, kanji, pickles and curd are also rich with probiotic content that can replenish the good bacteria in our gut. However, the biggest misconception about gut health is that all fermented foods are good for your gut. If they are high in added sugars, artificial additives, flavours or salts, they won't be automatically healthy, just because they are fermented. Here are a few pointers you should keep in mind:

1) Don't make fermented foods the only diet you have. They should be part of a balanced diet and should be mixed with vegetables, fruits and other nutrients that will give you a wide profile of vitamins and minerals.
2) Fermented foods that suit one person's profile may not suit another. Pay attention to the signals your body gives to understand what food is right for you. If you have allergies to certain food items, do not have them even in fermented form. 
3) Commercially prepared pickles, curds and yoghurt have significantly smaller amounts of probiotics as their preparation method kills off many beneficial bacteria.
4) Certain fermented foods are good only when consumed in extreme moderation. For example, homemade salted mango aka uppu manga, inji puli aka inji curry and murukku snack.
5) When you grab a fermented food item, make sure it is fermented well as per proper food safety guidelines. Sanitation and hygiene are also key factors you should take into consideration, alongside the quality of ingredients. 

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