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Is eating fermented foods at night healthy?

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From improving digestion to boosting immunity, the benefits of fermented foods are known worldwide. They can even help with stress management. A 2022 study by members of APC Microbiome Ireland showed that eating more fermented foods and fiber every day for just four weeks had a major effect on lowering stress levels. But it may not be wise to eat fermented foods at any time of the day! Let’s find out what experts have to say about having fermented foods before going to bed.

Dr Dimple Jangda, gut health and an Ayurvedic expert, recently took to Instagram to explain all about fermented foods. Health Shots also did some digging and consulted Anju Mohan, Senior Dietitian, Department of Clinical Nutrition, Amrita Hospital, Kochi.

fermented food in jars
Fermented foods are generally healthy. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

What is fermented food?

Sometimes our meals are incomplete without fermented foods. Imagine eating paratha with no curd! People in northeast India would also feel something missing in their meals if they don’t have fermented fish. Even dishes like dosa and idly have a strong link with fermentation. First, you need to soak rice and lentils to prepare the South Indian delicacies. You need to grind them into a batter, and then allow the mixture to ferment overnight before you can start cooking.

Fermentation is a natural process where microorganisms like yeast, molds, and bacteria break down sugars and starches in food, explains Mohan. These microorganisms eat up sugars and starches and produce various by-products such as acids or gases. These by-products cause a good amount of changes in the composition of the food, altering its taste, texture and nutritional content. Fermented foods are generally considered healthy as they contain probiotics, which are beneficial live bacteria that support a balanced gut microbiome.

Eating fermented foods at night

Dr Jangda says in her Instagram post that the best time to have fermented food is in the morning or in the afternoon. Avoid having it late in the night because it can lead to dehydration symptoms. Also, when the bacteria in fermented food it comes into contact with the stomach, heat keeps multiplying. That is something you don’t want to happen at night. She says that it’s going to affect your sleep cycles.

Mohan shares that there isn’t strong evidence, but some people might even experience bloating and gut discomfort after consuming fermented foods. To prevent potential discomfort during sleep, it would be better to avoid consuming large quantities of fermented foods before bedtime. Ultimately, it is all about paying attention to your body and noticing how you feel after eating fermented foods at different times of the day.

Who should avoid having fermented foods?

While fermented foods are generally safe and beneficial for most people, there are specific situations where people might need to avoid or limit their consumption. Here are some of them –

1. People with food allergies or intolerances

Some fermented foods might contain allergens that can trigger allergic reactions in susceptible individuals, says Mohan. If you have known allergies or intolerances to certain fermented foods, it’s best to avoid them.

2. Histamine intolerance

Some fermented foods can contain high levels of histamine. People experiencing symptoms of histamine intolerance such as headaches, hives, or digestive issues after consuming foods high in histamine, should be cautious when consuming fermented foods.

3. Excessive sodium intake

Certain fermented foods like pickles can be high in sodium. If you are on a low-sodium diet or have hypertension or other health conditions that require restricting sodium intake, it is advisable to consume these foods in moderation, says Mohan.

4. Gastrointestinal disorders

People with specific gastrointestinal conditions, such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, might experience discomfort or worsened symptoms when consuming fermented foods.

stomach ache
People with gastrointestinal conditions should avoid eating fermented food. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

5. Pregnant and nursing women

Pregnant women should head caution though you can have miso, kefir, sauerkraut, pickles and yogurt to some extent, says Dr Jangda. Nursing mothers should also avoid fermented foods because it can lead to tummy aches for the child.

And if you are fit with no specific health conditions, you can enjoy fermented foods as part of a healthy diet.

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