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Fermented Foods and Gut Microbiota
Fermented foods and beverages are generally defined as products made by microbial organisms and enzymatic conversions of major and minor food components. Further to the commonly-recognized effects of nutrition on the digestive health and well-being, there is now strong evidence for the impact of fermented foods and beverages, produced or preserved by the action of microorganisms, on general health, namely their significance on the gut microbiota balance and brain functionality.
1. Microbiota and General Health
Having an active and natural variety of microorganisms in the gut may improve general health . The good, healthy bacteria make food more digestible through their enzymes, increased vitamin synthesis, and the preservation of nutrients, and also help to reduce sweet cravings, maintain the immune system, and benefit overall gut wellness . The microbiome, consisting of microorganisms and their collective genomes, modulates the host metabolic phenotype, and influences the host immune system. It is now well established that gut bacteria are closely tied to immune health . The gut microbiota regulates l-tryptophan metabolism and identifies the underlying molecular mechanisms of these interactions . A large majority of the immune system resides in the tonsils and gut, so when gut health is imbalanced, it is hard for the body’s immune system to function properly . There are also a number of common factors in modern life that can throw human gut bacteria off, such as processed foods and antibiotics. The use of antibiotics does have several short and long-term implications in the ecology of the normal microbiota and gut motility .
The interactions (Figure 1) between ingested fermented food and intestinal microbiota, and their correlations to metabolomics profiles and health, represent an important perspective, and independent research on health benefits is still emerging . Microbiota is specific to each individual, despite the existence of several bacterial species shared by the majority of adults. A diverse and propitious microbial ecosystem (e.g., Bacteroides fragilis, Bifidobacterium spp. and Faecalibacterium spp.) favors homeostasis, particularly at the level of the disease–immune dialogue .
Figure 1. Interactions between dynamics of microbiota in humans, animals, and the associated environment with disease occurrence, salubrity, and well-being.
2. Fermented Foods, Probiotics and Body
The use of fermentation in conserving food and beverage as a means to provide better taste, improve nutrition and food safety, organically preserve foodstuffs, and promote health properties, is a well-known ancient practice. The reasons for fermenting foods and beverages include improvements of a product’s storage time, safety, functionality, organoleptic quality, and nutritional quality properties . Not only is this process beneficial for extending shelf-life, but also, fermentation can enhance nutritional properties in a safe and effective manner .
Substantial confusion exists between fermented foods and beverages and the probiotic concept. It is important to address the common misconception that fermented foods are the same thing as probiotics . They are not probiotics, although they may contain them, as their live microbial content is undefined. The term “probiotic” was first coined  in 1974, and many authors have described the history and the progress of probiotics and their different applications. Ilya Ilyich Metchnikoff, the Nobel Prize winner in Medicine in 1908, was the first who observed the effect of what is called now “probiotic” . FAO/WHO redefined the term “probiotics”, which is now widely accepted as constituting “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host” . Different types of bacteria (e.g., Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Streptococcus, Bacillus) and yeast or mold (e.g., Saccharomyces, Aspergillus, Candida) are used as probiotics. Probably, the first real use of food containing probiotics was fermented milk, but today we have to differentiate between probiotics and probiotic-containing foods (e.g., fermented foods) . The scope and appropriate use of the term “probiotic” has been well clarified (Figure 2) .
This entry is adapted from 10.3390/foods7120195
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