Nutritionists and health professionals recommend we eat a balanced diet. But how is this defined? And can adding fermented food maximise the health benefits?
We often hear that a healthy, balanced diet is the way to good physical and mental health. Indeed, it’s the advice you will get if you go to an accredited nutritionist or dietician. They will usually base their advice on official Australian health guidelines to eat the recommended amounts of the five food groups every day for good health.
According to the Australian Government Department of Health website:
“Foods from the basic food groups provide the nutrients essential for life and growth. These foods are also known as ‘everyday foods’. Each of the food groups provides a range of nutrients, and all have a role in helping the body function.”
We’ll look at the definition of an Australian balanced diet, but also how fermented foods can augment this approach. We at Gutsy are strong advocates of a balanced diet for good health and wellness and always encourage you to follow official health guidelines.
The five food groups are the essence of a balanced diet.
You need these foods in adequate amounts to provide the correct balance in your diet.
Fruit — Try to eat as wide a range of fruit and berries as you can. Loaded with fibre, vitamins and minerals and protective antioxidants, the range of fruit and berries is important to allow you to consume a variety of nutrients. The recommended guidelines suggest eating around five servings per day, though this may vary depending on the individual. Always try to consume fruit that is in season.
Vegetables and legumes — Again, try to eat a range of vegetables and legumes. Essential in any balanced diet, vegetables and legumes contain fibre and essential vitamins and minerals for health and wellbeing.
Grains — It is recommended that you eat mostly wholegrain where possible, this group also contains high fibre cereal foods, rice, bread, couscous and pasta.
Meat/fish — The official guidelines say lean meats, fish and seafood should be consumed, though this shouldn’t necessarily be the may part of the meal.
Dairy products — Includes milk, yoghurt and cheese as well as alternatives such as cottage cheese and feta.
See this excellent graphic for a full look at the proportion of each group the Australian Government recommends, as well as suggestions.
Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and yoghurt all have their part to play in a balanced diet. However, the act of fermenting raises these foods to a new level in nutrition, above and beyond that of the original ingredients.
The vegetables used in the making of sauerkraut and kimchi for example (typically cabbage, but also carrot, radish and turnip) are already high in fibre and essential vitamins and minerals. On their own, they will form part of the vegetable recommendations called for in a balanced diet calls.
Gut health has become one of the most important areas of study by nutrition scientists in recent years. A balanced gut microbiome has been linked (in early research) to positive outcomes in many areas of physical and mental health.
Fermenting vegetables for weeks at a time retains their nutrients while also adding valuable probiotic bacteria to aid gut health. It is this beneficial bacteria that add the extra benefits to a balanced diet, which may help take it “to the next level”.
By providing the body with beneficial bacteria from the fermenting process, they may help the microorganisms return to balance. The gut bacteria may be thrown out of balance through a poor diet (high in processed food) or after a bout of sickness. This gives the opportunity for harmful bacteria to proliferate, which may cause poor health.
There are many studies which now link excellent gut health to a better immune system and may, through the vagus nerve, which connects the gut to the brain, influence mental health.
Clearly, adding fermented foods to a balanced diet rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals will pay dividends for health and wellbeing. However, consulting a dietician or nutritionist is highly recommended to find out the possible extra benefits of adding fermented food to a balanced diet. They may be able to discuss the best way to incorporate fermented foods into a balanced diet. But they may also advise if fermented foods should be avoided.
For most people though, fermented foods are an excellent addition to a balanced diet, foods that will not only provide nourishment but also add probiotics and act as prebiotics to feed beneficial gut bacteria.
We at Gutsy Ferments recommend you follow official dietary guidelines for maximum health. However, please note this article is not recommended as dietary advice. Please always consult your health professional before making changes to your diet and consult respected and medically reviewed sites online for advice.