Naturally fermented foods are getting a lot of attention these days because they may help strengthen your gut microbiome that live in our digestive tract. Researchers are connecting these tiny creatures to all sorts of health conditions from obesity to digestive health.

What Are Fermented Foods?

Fermented foods are preserved using an ancient process that boosts the food’s nutritional value and gives a dose of probiotics, which are live microorganisms crucial to healthy digestion. Probiotics, these healthy strains of bacteria live in your digestive tract and promote everything from digestive health to immune function and beyond (1).

Incorporating a few of the top fermented foods into your weekly meal plan is an effective to get your daily dose of probiotics.

FERMENTED FOODS

From pickled veggies to cultured dairy products, there are tons of different ways to get more fermented foods into your diet. Here are a few of the top fermented foods that you may want to consider adding to your next grocery trip!

Kombucha

Kombucha is a fermented beverage made from either black or green tea. It’s typically fizzy and sharp, with a flavor that can range from sour to sweet depending on the way that it’s produced and the ingredients that are added to it. Or make your own! Starts out as a sugary tea, which is then fermented with the help of a scoby. “SCOBY” is actually an acronym for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.”  The scoby bacteria and yeast eat most of the sugar in the tea, transforming the tea into a refreshingly fizzy, fermented beverage.

However, research is limited in humans, animal and test-tube models show that kombucha could help decrease blood sugar, reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and block the spread of cancer cells in vitro (23,4, 5).

Not only that, but kombucha is also incredibly versatile. It makes a great alternative to soda or other sugary drinks.

Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut fermentation creates conditions that promote the growth of beneficial probiotics (6).

In addition to supplying the same health benefits as other fermented foods, sauerkraut also provides a hearty dose of vitamin C, vitamin K, iron, potassium, and fiber (4). Sauerkraut is easy and can be done from the comfort of your own kitchen.

To make homemade sauerkraut, combine grated cabbage with kosher salt, and your choice of other veggies like beets, carrots, and ginger. Pack into a sterilized jar and set at room temperature for 2-3 weeks to allow fermentation to occur.

Kefir

Kefir is made by adding kefir grains-colonies of yeast and lactic acid bacteria and in approximately 24 hours, the microorganisms in the kefir grains multiply and ferment the sugars in the milk, turning it into kefir-a fermented drink.

Kefir is a great source of several important nutrients, including protein, phosphorus, calcium, and vitamin B12, all of which play a central role in overall health (7). Additionally, kefir is low in lactose, likely to be well-tolerated for those with lactose intolerance (8).

Ample evidence suggests that probiotics and probiotic foods can alleviate many digestive problems (9). These include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcers caused by H. pylori infection and many others (101112)

Aside from kefir milk, there are plenty of other options for enjoying this delicious, gut-friendly drink. Kefir cheese and kefir yogurt, for example, are widely available as an alternative to traditional dairy products. Also plant based options include, coconut milk kefir or water kefir are two popular alternatives.

Tempeh

It is made by a natural culturing and a controlled fermentation process that includes adding a tempeh starter, which is a mix of live mold. When it sits for a day or two, it becomes a cake-like, fermented food, that is high in protein, probiotics, and important micronutrients like iron, calcium, and riboflavin.

Besides being high in disease-fighting antioxidants, tempeh is also loaded with soy isoflavones. These powerful compounds have been shown to decrease cholesterol levels, fight oxidative stress, and boost bone health (13).

Tempeh is also incredibly versatile and makes a great addition to wraps, sandwiches, stir-fries, salads and more.

Kimchi

Serving as a staple in Korean cuisine, vegan kimchi is favored for its delicious flavor and versatility. It’s made from salted and fermented veggies that have been seasoned with herbs and spices like garlic, ginger, and scallions. There are also several different types available, including cucumber, carrot, cabbage, or radish kimchi.

In addition to giving a spicy kick to dishes, kimchi has also been linked to several health benefits. Eating kimchi regularly has been found to lower serum lipid levels (14).—your blood cholesterol levels. Study participants who ate the most amount of kimchi (210 grams per day!) saw a significant reduction in their LDL cholesterol levels as well as in their blood glucose levels.

It boosts your immune systemKimchi has been linked with giving the immune system a boost—and not just because it’s making your gut happy. Scientists have found that it’s also a major antioxidant booster, which in turn keeps the body in top form and can help fight disease. Other research suggests that it could also aid in weight control and help promote insulin sensitivity (15, 16).

Miso

Miso is a type of fermented soybean paste that is used to make popular dishes like miso soup. It’s also sometimes mixed with rice, barley, or seaweed.

Miso boasts an impressive nutrient profile and is brimming with vitamins and minerals like manganese, vitamin K, copper, and zinc (17). Keep in mind that it’s also high in sodium, so keep consumption in moderation and pair with plenty of other fermented foods for best results.

Probiotic Yogurt

Yogurt is a commonly consumed dairy product that is enjoyed around the globe for both its creamy flavor and stellar nutrient profile. Adding probiotic strains to the mix is a quick and convenient way to amp up the health benefits of this tasty ingredient even further, and studies show that probiotic yogurt can boost immune function, enhance heart health, and more. Next time you’re at the grocery store, look for a brand of yogurt that has been cultured with probiotics to ramp up the concentration of probiotics.

Healthy bacteria that are added to yogurt help improve the microflora in the gut, which is responsible for supporting digestion and a healthy digestive tract. The yogurt probiotic content could potentially help certain gastrointestinal conditions, including colon cancer, IBS, constipation, diarrhea and lactose intolerance.

How to Include More Fermented Foods In Your Diet

Need a few ideas for how to add more fermented foods to your daily routine? Here are some simple strategies that make it easier than ever to enjoy these nutritious and delicious ingredients:

  • Swap regular yogurt for probiotic yogurt as a nutrient-rich snack or breakfast option.
  • Trade sweetened tea, soda, or juice for a serving of kombucha instead.
  • Implement a “meatless Monday” by switching animal-based proteins in your meal plan for tempeh or natto.
  • Top off your burgers, wraps, tacos, or rice bowls with kimchi or sauerkraut instead.
  • Enjoy miso soup as a simple side dish to squeeze in an extra serving of probiotics during your day.

COMMENT: How do you incorporate fermented foods into your diet? Leave comment below or show us on Instagram #nutrition_connections

Carol Aguirre MS, RD/LDN