• Madi

How to understand the science of fermented foods and our guts - part #1

Updated: May 21

Research papers can be dull. We know, we've read our fair share of them and boy they can be so damn long! Who has the time to read scientific papers, let alone critically analyse them? As it turns out, we sometimes do and we love sharing the evidence base when it comes to fermented foods.

So we thought we'd take a recent paper 'Fermented Foods: Definitions and Characteristics, Impact on the Gut Microbiota and Effects on Gastrointestinal Health and Disease' and do all the hardwork for you!

In this 3 part blog series we'll be explaining what to look for when you actually find time to read a paper and how to be critical about what they report (that's in part #1). Then we'll be summarising the key findings about veggie ferments and fermented drinks in part #2 and finally looking at other cool ferments such as soya and sourdough as well as the conclusions you can draw from this paper in part #3.

So let's get crackin'

There are a few things to bear in mind when reading scientific papers. We think it’s really important to be critical when reading, well basically anything, but especially research. So we’re gonna break down what to look for using this review paper published last year all about our FAVOURITE thing! But the first thing to think about is - can we trust this paper..?

Who wrote it?

Who are they funded by? This one you see a lot from critics claiming papers are biased BUT you have to realise that funding for science has to come from somewhere! There should always be a disclaimer about any interactions researchers have with funding organisations, in terms of paid gigs etc. When it works well researchers receive funding from companies and then be left to it – presenting the company with whatever findings they get, either good/bad/netural for that company’s broader interests.

What sort of team has conducted the research? In this case I just happen to know that Kings College who led this research do excellent research into the area of gut health and food. I can’t do this for all papers so I don’t expect anyone else to unless you’re a researcher yourself. So just something to bear in mind and maybe research briefly if you can, but it's not essential.

What's the type of research?

In this case the authors have written what’s called a narrative review of the available research into their chosen topic area. Based on the below 'hierarchy of evidence’ for scientific research this would fit somewhere around 6/7. Is that a good thing? Put it this way the gold standard for evidence in nutrition is a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) - number 1 on the hierarchy. These basically take all the findings from several highly controlled trials in humans and see what the overall findings say.

The hierarchy of scientific evidence

Now with the area of fermented foods it’s basically impossible to do a meta-analysis of RCTs as there are so few good quality, large scale studies using these types of foods. It’s just such a new area of research and there aren’t that many companies willing to invest money into research. The exception to this would be yoghurt as there's a shit tonne of research into this, but not all of the tested yoghurts would be classed 'living' foods, if they don't contain live cultures when you eat them.

So until we have more evidence the type of research in this study is great for pulling out the important and interesting findings from the limited evidence base we have for fermented foods.

Keep your peepers peeled for part #2 and part #3 in this series explaining the main and coolest findings from the paper so you don’t have to read all 26 pages, no need to thank us.


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