The 5 fermented foods your microbiome is missing - and how to add them into your diet

Fermented foods are common to many of the world's healthiest diets. They're one of the original super foods, famous for their dose of healthy bacteria that is the cornerstone of new and emerging research about fostering a healthy gut microbiome.

Even with a degree in nutrition, I find it confusing to first know which foods are actually fermented and then to figure out exactly how to incorporate those into my usual diet. Luckily, I've done the research and I've got you covered.

The fermented foods with probiotics that will help create a healthy gut micobiome.

Read on for the 5 fermented foods you can add to your menu today and HOW you can make that happen.

Pickled veggies (beets, carrots, even okra!)

What to buy

  • Look for a jar in the refrigerated section (I love these and these)
  • Go a step further and check the label for live cultures

How to eat

  • As an anytime snack
  • Alongside cheese and a drink pre-dinner or even as dinner
  • Incorporated into your usual salad

Sauerkraut

What to buy

  • Look for a jar in the refrigerated section (I'm into these and these)
  • Go a step further and check the label for live cultures

How to eat

  • Add to sandwiches, burgers, and of course, sausages and hot dogs
  • Use the liquid in homemade salad dressing
  • Cook with potatoes for a breakfast hash and pair with eggs
  • Sub for cabbage in soups
  • With a fork, straight out of the jar
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Kefir

What to buy

  • Ideally no added sugar, but they do make flavored and if that's your thing, go for it
  • Heads up that kefir is tart, some more so than others, so shop around if you’re not thrilled on the first try

How to eat

  • Sip straight up
  • Sprinkle with chia or cinnamon when you’re feeling fancy and then sip
  • In a creamy salad dressing or to dress potato salad
  • Added to a smoothie for a probiotic twang (I think it’d be great with mango)
  • Thinned to  replace milk in a baking recipe (I’m sure my banana bread would welcome some)

Kombucha

What to buy

  • Look for the lowest sugar content you can find (but heads up it’s hard to find below 6g per serving)

How to eat

Miso

What to buy

  • There are so many options and you can’t go wrong
  • White or yellow miso tend to be more versatile and mild than red

How to eat

  • Whisked into salad dressings (it’s pairs well with tahini)
  • With salmon, like in one of my favorite recipes by a fellow RD that I love for weeknights
  • As basic miso soup enhanced with veggies, seaweed, tofu, and edamame
  • Or not so basic soup: carrot soup topped with sesame seeds, scallions, and a sesame swirl a la Smitten Kitchen 
  • Mash into potatoes, sweet or regular

Am I missing anything? Share with me here.

The one practice that can reduce stress, improve health, and even make you smarter

A last minute trip to Utah the other week came at an unexpectedly good time. At home I was counting down the days (which wouldn’t move fast enough) to start a new project at work and the whole sweating on my morning commute thing was starting to get old.

I was excited to suspend real life, to trade in Philly’s steamy sidewalks for Park City’s mountain air. I knew the change in scenery, fresh air, and the hikes we had hastily planned would do a body good. Intuitively I had a sense - as I’m sure most of us do - that these things are good for us on a fundamental level. How good for us - and why - I really didn’t know.

Why hiking and exercise are just as important as nutrition in your wellness.

Just as I was leaving, I was bombarded with news about the perks of “forest bathing,” the newest Japanese practice to hit the States. Forest bathing is pretty much what it sounds like: immersing oneself in the forest atmosphere. Forest bathers believe there are numerous benefits to being among the trees, from reducing stress to enhancing creativity.

Forest bathing speaks strictly to being among dense greenery, but for years, study after study has shown that something about being - and specifically moving - outdoors is not only good for us, but may actually affect how the brain works (!). Researchers have yet to pin down what specifically what is responsible for the positive impact, but the rewards are undeniable: it’s good to move and it’s good to be outside, but moving among nature is by far the best thing we can do.

Being in nature:

  • Is calming
  • Sparks creativity
  • Lowers the incidence of psychological issues
  • Improves attention
  • Boosts mood
  • Decreases anxiety
  • Enhances memory
  • Might decrease blood pressure
  • Can lower stress
  • Reduces cortisol levels
  • Improves energy
Being physically active outdoors, such as hiking or walking, can make you healthier and happier. Here's why.

Our environment and how we spend time in it has a big impact on how we feel and operate. The practice of moving in nature couldn’t be more simple. Yet it’s one that I think is often neglected when we’re focusing on all of the many things that can make us well. We tend focus on the result, but not often the process. We miss the forest through the trees.

I am a city dweller and worker, but with this research in mind, and the beautiful mountainscapes of Utah still fresh in it as well, I’m wondering: is anyone up for a walk in the park?

Arguably the best banana bread recipe

It's not all veggies and no fun around here. 

Though not an official family motto, I was basically raised to believe that a house is not a home if there's not a banana bread in the fridge. Seriously. My siblings and I are all moved out of our original home and - unless my brother has finished his before I've had a chance to replenish his supply - I can guarantee there's a banana bread in each of the four family fridges. 

A good find in an old temple community cookbook, this recipe has been in the family for decades now. We've tried others, but always come back to this one. I usually play the book because it's always better that way, but I was an egg short this time around, and I'm happy to report from the other side that this guy is pretty forgiving. It's not meant to be a "healthy" banana bread. It's just a really good sugary, gluteny banana bread. That being said, there is room for tweaking to fit whatever you're going for.

Best healthy banana bread recipe from a dietitian nutritionist.

A few notes

  • I historically use canola oil, but turns out coconut oil works just fine if you don't mind the flavor
  • I was short an egg this time and subbed 1 TBSP ground flax dissolved in 3 TBSP water
  • I have used all whole wheat and half whole wheat flour; I prefer only using 1 cup - it's hardly detectable
  • This works just fine if you cut the sugar to 1 cup (even less is probably ok too) especially if you're adding in chocolate chips or dried fruit
  • Golden raisins and unsweetened coconut flakes - or whatever add-ins you like - are also welcome

Ingredients

  • 3 ripe bananas
  • 3/4 cup oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups of sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups of flour 
  • optional chopped walnuts (~3/4 cup) and dark chocolate chunks to taste (~1/3 cup) 
  • 1-3 TBSP demerara sugar for dusting the crust (regular OK too)

The How-To

  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Grease 9x5 loaf pan (I usually let my oil measuring cup drain directly in the pan to help this process)
  3. Mash ripe bananas until smoothish
  4. Add in three eggs, 3/4 cup oil and mix to combine
  5. Mix in sugar to combine
  6. In a separate bowl (or just carefully in the same bowl), mix dry flour, salt, and baking soda; then combine with wet ingredients
  7. Try hard not to eat the entire batter because it's that good
  8. Mix in add-ins (chocolate, nuts, etc of your choice)
  9. Pour into prepared pan
  10. Dust top with demerara sugar 
  11. Bake 50-60 minutes
  12. Let cool
  13. Eat with abandon or store wrapped in foil in the fridge forever (I've really never had one go bad)

The truth about cholesterol and your favorite foods

Cholesterol – food taboo, right?

I grew up hearing this, and judging by the look I get when I recommend eating eggs or shellfish, many of us are still convinced that cholesterol isn’t welcome in our diets.

It’s true that high serum cholesterol (the cholesterol found in the body) is associated with increased risk of heart disease and stroke. What’s actually not true is that cholesterol in our food has any relationship with that number.

What the science says

Research shows that our bodies are actually responsible for creating most of the cholesterol they house. Dietary intake has minimal impact. Eating foods like shellfish, eggs, and cheese does not increase risk of heart disease or stroke.

To put it simply, when we’re talking food, cholesterol content doesn’t need to be high on the list of concern.

The truth about food and your cholesterol, including is shellfish really unhealthy?

So we can eat whatever we want?

Almost. There are some foods that are known to raise blood cholesterol levels:  fried foods, saturated and trans fats, and sugar. Surprised? It's hardly news that these are not meant to be staples of our diets. 

But what might be news is that many of the foods commonly shunned for their cholesterol content actually offer a lot of nutritional perks. Eggs and shellfish are wonderful sources of lean protein and both are a cinch to cook. Squid is also low-calorie, high protein, and pretty tasty. Cheese is infinitely more fun than a calcium pill, and, luckily, it's just as effective. 

The Takeaway

When thinking of our diets, it’s important to see the whole picture. Let's not vilify food for the nutrients it does or does not contain. Nutrients do matter, but at the end of the day, we eat food, not nutrients. A food’s entire profile – taste, ease, expense, availability, and, yes, health – is an important consideration. The ultimate takeaway is not a new one. Eat mostly whole foods: lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans. Stick to leaner meats. Don't OD on sugar. It's just as fun as it sounds.