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Why Is It Important To Have Sour Foods In Our Diet?

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Sour foods
Sour foods
When I say sour foods, I can imagine the picture of a lemon or the meme of baby tasting lemon for the first time. These variety of sour foods are not just adding tanginess and taste to our food but also are capable of imparting innumerable health benefits.

Table of Contents


The utilization of sour foods is basically for adding and enhancing the flavor of foods and beverages or for preservation and curing of vegetable, fruits or meat products respectively. But this sourness, characteristic taste of acidic foods, is more than flavor addition, stretching to health and therapeutic benefits.

Sour Taste in Ayurveda

According to Ayurveda principles of Nutrition, sour taste comprises of Earth and fire with characteristic elements of hot, light and moist by nature.

The sour taste is attributed to acidic nature which is present naturally as

  • Citric acid (Citrus fruits)
  • Tartaric acid (Tamarind)
  • Oxalic acid (Green leafy vegetables)
  • Acetic acid (in vinegar)
  • Lactic acid (dairy products)

This taste is detected by the combination of hydrogen ion, present in acid in foods, and receptors in taste buds on the tapered curve and sides of the tongue.

Tongue taste region
Tongue taste region

As per the Ayurveda Science, the characteristic features of sour taste can be explained as given in Table 1.

Table 1: characteristic features of sour taste

Feature

Meaning

DantaharshaTingling sensation in teeth
Mukh sravaSalivation
SvedanaSweating
Mukh bodhanaClarity of mouth
VidahaBurning sensation in mouth and throat

 

Health benefits of Sour foods

Stimulates digestion– Sour foods are Secretagogues– which stimulate the secretion from various mucous and secretory linings and hence, moisten up and freshen up the dry palate by stimulating the secretions from GIT.

This process aids in digestion as well as smooth peristaltic and bowel movement.

Also, as per Ayurveda, sourness triggers the salivary glands that stimulate appetite and digestion with enzymes in the saliva.

 Nutrient absorption– Organic acids present in sour foods improves the efficiency of nutrient absorption from foods and therefore, increases the bioavailability of these nutrients to the body.

Example- Ascorbic acid in citrus fruits- facilitates Iron absorption

Lactic acid- improves the calcium absorption.

Liver health– The sour foods, naturally or with the procedure of fermentation, possess bioactive compounds that help in removal of toxins and thus, detoxification.

Also, the sour taste of foods stimulates the efficient secretion of digestive enzymes and bile juice, that ensures healthy digestion of fats specifically, preventing the condition of Non-alcoholic fatty liver diseases.

Antioxidant Property- The sour foods possess the characteristic of free radical scavenging from the body attributed to its antioxidant content.

Example- Citric fruits, fermented dairy products

Sour foods keep you hydrated– Citrus fruits like lemon, orange or the fermented dairy product like yogurt, have a high water content that helps in preventing dehydration.

Also, the acidic nature of the food stimulates the secretion from mucous and salivary glands, that keep the digestive tract moist.

Anti-inflammatory- Due to the presence of antioxidants like phenols and flavonoids, specifically in fruits and vegetables, helps in reducing the incidence of inflammation in the body.

This, in turn, prevents hazardous consequences of inflammation-related damage like arthritis, hypertension, heart strokes, etc.

Sour foods in our diet

The sour foods are characterized by its acidic content that imparts the characteristic sour taste.

It can be present in many food products naturally or after treatment with the procedure of fermentation.

In both cases, the compounds present as well the characteristic feature of acid imparts health benefits and therefore, should be encouraged more for consumption.

Fermented foods

Fermentation is the process of treating the food products with the culture of lactic acid bacteria, that helps in

  • Increasing shelf life
  • Taste
  • Variety
  • Digestibility
  • Availability of nutrients and bioactive compounds

It is employed for dairy products, fruits, and vegetables, grains as well as legumes, where sugar is converted into alcohol and acid.

Some of the fermented foods, sour in taste, include

  • Dairy products- yogurt, cheese, kefir
  • Vegetables and Fruits- Sauerkraut, Kimchi, Wine, vinegar
  • Grains- Sourdough bread

Depending upon the type of starter culture (with different varieties of bacteria), different end products are obtained imparting characteristic flavor, aroma and taste.

Health benefits

The presence of culture bacteria as well as bioactive compounds, impart the respective food product various health benefits.

Aids in digestion– As complex sugars are broken down into simpler forms, it is easy to digest. For example, with fermentation of lactose sugar, it is broken down into lactic acid, which is easy to digest by people suffering from lactose intolerants.

Similarly, as these fermented products are a rich source of probiotics, they improve the health of gut microflora which in turn, helps in better digestion and absorption of nutrients, preventing flatulence and strengthening immunity.

Improve immunity– It has been seen that the Lactic acid bacteria- has an immunomodulatory activity that stimulates the systemic and secretory immune response.

Fermented dairy products contain bioactive peptide- that induce proliferation of lymphocytes, functioning of natural killer cells and synthesis of antibodies.

Heart protective role– Studies have suggested that probiotics are a potential agent for reduction of LDL cholesterol levels.

Bioactive compounds produced during fermentation also helps in lowering cholesterol from the body.

They also help in elevating the level of HDL- cholesterol along with a reduction in weight and improved digestion ability.

Increased availability of nutrients– As fermentation involves the breakdown of complex nutrients into simpler one, it results in a better bioavailability of nutrients like minerals, vitamins and also bioactive compounds.

Also, the culture of bacteria produces some of the micronutrients that enrich the content and quality of the fermented food.

Table 2: Different bioactive components produced during fermentation

Bioactive components

Functions

Calcium and PhosphorusBone and heart health
Vitamins like B, D and CMetabolism regulation, bone health, antioxidant
Proteins- whey, lactoferrin, lactoperoxidase, bioactive peptidesImmune boosters, Anticancer, stress busters, muscle tone, nerve impulse transmission
Conjugated linoleic acid, alpha linoleic acid, unsaturated fatsAnti-inflammatory, anticancer, heart-protective
Lactose, lactic acid, GOS (Galactooligosaccharide)Gut health, antimutagenic, the source of soluble dietary fiber

 

Antioxidant activity– The microorganisms present in probiotics are potential free radical scavengers that trap reactive oxygen species (ROS).

A study has shown that yogurt bacteria inhibit peroxidation of lipids, through scavenging free radicals and ROS.

Similar antioxidant powers are also exhibited by compounds present in fermented vegetables and fruits as pickles.

Bone health– Due to increased availability of minerals and vitamins, fermented foods have a high amount of calcium, potassium and also, vitamin K2 (as in kefir and sauerkraut), that helps in intact bone health.

Other than fermented foods, there are other food products as well, possessing natural sour taste as well as health benefits.

Tamarind (Tamarindus indica)

With edible pod and sweet-sour pulp, tamarind is commonly used in cuisines in Asian, South America, and Arab nations.

It belongs to Fabaceae family and included for various preparations like sauces, gravies, jams, and deserts.

Health benefits-

Improves digestion– The pulp of tamarind is high in fiber with 5.1 grams per 100 gram of pulp. This fiber helps in keeping the health of the digestive tract intact as

  • Acting as a bulking agent- adding bulk to stool leading to its defecation.
  • Stimulating peristaltic and bowel movement
  • Stimulates the activity and secretion of bile juice.

Heart protective and blood pressure regulatory activity– The fiber content in tamarind helps in lowering the elevated level of cholesterol by its absorption in the intestinal area and further, facilitating its excretion.

Also, the potassium content in tamarind is on the higher side- 628 mg per 100 gram. This potassium content helps in regulating the blood pressure.

This potassium mineral also acts as a vasodilator, relaxing the blood arteries and therefore, reducing the stress on the Cardiovascular system.

Blood circulation– The Iron content in tamarind pulp is 2.8 mg/100 gram, that completes nearly 10 percent of your daily requirement.

Proper Iron helps in smooth blood circulation with healthy RBC count. This ensures proper oxygen availability and supply to all the organs.

Manage diabetes- Due to phytonutrient content, tamarind extract also inhibits the action of enzyme alpha-amylase that regulates the breakdown of carbohydrates into simple glucose, therefore, reducing the level of blood glucose in diabetics.

Assist in weight loss– Tamarind extract is specifically rich in a bioactive compound called- Hydroxycitric acid (HCA). This compound inhibits the enzyme activity that works in the reactions involving fat storage in the body.

Healthy category of sour foods
Healthy category of sour foods

Citrus fruits

Belonging to the Rutaceae family, possess the characteristic sour-sweet and acidic taste attributed to citric acid content.

It includes various fruits like lime, lemon, oranges, grapefruit, etc. Providing with a sour and tangy taste, it also imparts health benefits.

Health Benefits-

Good source of Vitamin C– This vitamin is the featured vitamin that helps in

  • Removal of free radicals and preventing oxidative stress from the body
  • Keeping gums health intact
  • Collagen synthesis- that assist in wound healing and healthy skin
  • Strengthening immunity

Good source of fiber– It comprises of

  • Soluble fiber– that absorbs and reduce the cholesterol level
  • Insoluble fiber– act as a bulking agent, aids in proper defecation and preventing constipation

Also, provides satiety value that prevents overheating and therefore, an integral part of the diet during weight loss.

Increase bioavailability– Vitamin C is known for its property of increased absorption of nutrients from the intestinal lining and making it available to the body, more readily.

Example- Vitamin C increases the viability of catechins from green tea and also, increases the iron absorption from the diet.

Good for heart health– Citrus fruits are a rich source of bioactive compounds like flavonoids that reduce the LDL- cholesterol level.

Olives (Olea europaea)

Small fruits, green in color and might turn black or remain green when ripened. They grow in groups and called as Drupes.

They are used in many forms in cuisines like- in raw form, pickled form or as olive oil.

Their utility and popularity are increasing, in the present scenario, with increased awareness.

Health benefits-

Good source of essential fats– Olive naturally contains 10-15 percent fat, out of which-

  • Saturated fats- 1.42 gram
  • MUFA- 7.89 gram
  • PUFA- 0.91 gram
  • Omega 3 fats- 0.06 gram
  • Omega 6 fats- 0.85 gram

Out of the available MUFA, 74 percent is constituted by oleic acid.

This content of unsaturated fats helps in lowering the LDL cholesterol, reducing inflammation and risk of heart diseases.

Rich in antioxidants– contain bioactive compounds like oleuropein, Hydroxytyrosol, oleanolic acid, and quercetin.

These compounds play an excellent role in reducing inflammation and toxicity from the body by eradicating the elevated levels of free radicals as well as reactive oxygen species.

Gastrointestinal Tract health- Studies have shown the beneficial effect of olive oil against ulcers and gastritis.

Also, it activates the secretion of bile and pancreatic hormones digestion, that stimulates the efficient digestion process.

Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum)

This fruit, belonging to Solanaceae family is technically a fruit but categorized under the vegetable category.

It is rich in its characteristic bioactive compound- lycopene and is red in color when matured or ripened.

Used in various cuisines across the world in various forms like juice, soups, ketchup and even gravy.

Health benefits-

Heart health- As tomato is a rich source of antioxidants like lycopene and beta-carotene, studies have shown its advantageous effect in lowering the level of bad cholesterol.

Cancer prevention- Due to the rich content of antioxidants, consumption of tomatoes have proven to be beneficial for reducing the complications of cancer specifically prostate, lung and stomach cancer.

Eye health-Due to the rich content of beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene, tomatoes are considered good for eye health. It prevents the complications like cataract as well as Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD).

Regulation of blood pressure- Tomatoes are a good source of Potassium as well as chlorogenic acid. These compounds are established as regulating agents for fluctuating blood pressure. Thus preventing the risk of hypertension.

Also, as a vasodilator in action, the consumption of tomato relaxes the tension in blood vessels and arteries by increasing the width of the vessels. Hence, ensuring smooth blood flow as well as reducing stress in the heart.

Try to include as many sour foods in your diet as possible. It not only provides variety or tase but also, have a beneficial effect on your health. The power of few drops of lemon or spoonful of yogurt can bring a lot of healthy changes to your body. Include, inculcate in varieties and be fit.

 

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