Fermented foods contain probiotics that are living microorganisms with several health benefits. These foods contain an abundant supply of these healthy bacteria, making them a very beneficial addition to your everyday diet. Many foods can be fermented, providing a variety of flavors so your meals will never be bland.
According to research, traditional fermented foods can do amazing things for your body. These foods will help you digest better, restore your gut microbiome after taking antibiotics, improve your immunity, and fight the harmful bacteria in your body, among many other benefits. Fermented foods include kimchi, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, and many more.
Like everything else, moderation is key, and heavy consumption of fermented food will not be ideal for your body. Here, I’ve outlined nine fermented dishes that are excellent for your health, along with some precautions to take when you experiment with fermented food.
9 Fermented Foods that Are Excellent for Your Health
In a controlled environment using yeast, bacteria, or similar microorganisms, the food components will convert into fermented ones through an enzymatic reaction. Fermentation has survived for generations and continues to thrive in the current trends of the culinary world.
NOTE: Experts suggest that fermented food can be incredible for your health, and the claim is also backed up by science.
Here is a list of nine fermented foods that are excellent for your health:
For those who love dairy, kefir is more than an ideal nutritious option to include in your meals. It’s rich in vitamins and probiotics, being a cultured dairy item. It’s also very beneficial for your stomach and helps with digestion. Besides, it’s also arguably more useful than yogurt.
Kefir is usually made by fermenting cow’s or goat’s milk and combining kefir grains (read my post here about mixing different kefir grains), which contain bacteria or yeast colonies and look similar to cauliflower. The mixture will be dense, and you'll get a tangy drink that tastes like yogurt.
NOTE: Consuming 200 milliliters of kefir every day will result in a noticeable decline in inflammation, which contributes to heart disease and other chronic diseases.
Research shows that kefir is safe to consume by lactose intolerant people, and it also helped with their digestion. People with lactose intolerance have trouble digesting the sugar in dairy products, which can cause:
Kefir helps to make lactose digestion easier since there is less in kefir than in milk. When you mix kefir grains with milk, the grains can break the lactose down and ferment it.
Additionally, kefir can also improve:
- Bone health
- Sensitive immune systems
You can find kefir grains online (I like these milk kefir grains and these water kefir grains from Amazon) or at most health food stores. If it’s your first time making kefir, my guide to making water kefir should help you get started! Check it out here.
QUICK TIP: You can add kefir to smoothies, milkshakes, or other blended drinks in small amounts or drink it independently.
A staple in Japanese cuisine, natto is made with soybeans. Natto has an unusual consistency and intense flavors that are loved by many! With a sticky, slimy texture and a startling scent, some suggest that natto is an acquired taste. Like other fermented foods, it’s packed with nutrition and fibers that promote good health.
Traditional natto is topped with soy sauce, mustard, and other seasonings, and is typically served with rice. To make traditional natto, soybeans were boiled and wrapped in rice straw which contains bacteria on the surface naturally.
Today, instead of rice straws, natto is made in Styrofoam boxes which contain a different kind of bacteria that helps with the fermentation process. Natto is rich in probiotics and superior to boiled soybeans, with these important nutrients:
The fibers present in natto boost the digestive system and can:
- Relieve constipation.
- Reduce the risks of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women.
- Provide enzymes that help with blood clots and blood pressure reduction
NOTE: Natto is a popular breakfast option served with rice that helps with digestion.
Another popular fermented beverage is kombucha, which is fizzy in nature and deliciously tangy in taste. Green tea or black tea is an active ingredient to make kombucha. Scientists have studied the effects of kombucha on animals, and the findings suggested that consuming kombucha might reduce liver toxicity from poisonous chemicals. (Check out how to make kombucha in my article here).
FUN FACT: Kombucha is also called “mushroom tea” because the strain creates a film resembling a mushroom on the tea surface—acetic acid results from this fermentation procedure with a trace amount of alcohol and other acidic components, although there are actually no mushrooms involved!
Kombucha originates from Japan, and specific bacteria or yeast strains are needed to make it. Since it possesses a large portion of bacteria, kombucha is an excellent source of probiotics.
Probiotics can help with:
- Weight loss
Kombucha also has antioxidant properties that fight against free radicals. When you use green tea to make kombucha, you'll benefit from both the green tea and the probiotics together.
Additionally, kombucha can kill the harmful bacteria in our bodies and fight against infections because it has antibacterial properties. This effect makes undesirable microbial growth without affecting the beneficial bacteria.
Research also suggests that kombucha can possibly:
- Reduce the risk of heart disease
- Block cancer cells from spreading
- Reduce blood sugar
- Reduce LDL cholesterol
- Reduce triglycerides
Kombucha is a trendy drink that can easily be made at home with the necessary precautions, purchased from your local health food store, or even bought online (I really love this brand on Amazon).
South Korean cuisine has become very popular recently, and kimchi is one of the most well-known dishes. It has a delicious sour taste and is usually served as a side dish.
Kimchi is made by fermenting vegetables together like these:
- Brussels sprouts
- Other vegetables
NOTE: Traditionally, Napa cabbage is the most active ingredient for making kimchi.
Additionally, kimchi contains several seasonings, such as:
- Chili peppers
Kimchi is also loaded with these vitamins and nutrients:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin B6
Kimchi contains many green vegetables like celery and cabbage, making it an excellent nutrition source.
Like every other fermented food, kimchi also contains essential probiotics. The Lactobacillus breaks the sugar down into lactic acid, giving kimchi its sour taste. It is known to help prevent certain kinds of cancer, constipation, allergies, and heart disease as well as promote good mental health.
It’s also exceptionally beneficial for diabetic patients as it can decrease insulin resistance. Additionally, it can also lower cholesterol and promote healthy weight loss. Eating kimchi regularly will also boost your immune system and reduce inflammation. The probiotics in kimchi can help to prevent a yeast infection.
Among fermented condiments, sauerkraut tops the list. It consists of shredded cabbage, and lactic acid ferments it. Like every other fermented dish, sauerkraut is rich in fibers and low in calories. It is also full of probiotics and antioxidants.
Sauerkraut originates from China and dates back more than 2,000 years ago. This tasty and healthy historical ferment is typically served as a side dish. Making your own sauerkraut at home is easy. This fermentation starter kit from Amazon includes everything you need.
Sauerkraut is a healthy no fat dish that is rich with:
Our gut is home to a trillion microorganisms that help the digestion process. The probiotics in sauerkraut enhance nutrient absorption, making it better than raw cabbage and coleslaw. It also acts against harmful bacteria and improves your health overall.
Including probiotics in your diet can:
- Promote bacterial balance
- Prevent diarrhea
- Reduce gas
- Reduce constipation
- Reduce allergies
- Reduce bloating
- Help cancer cell reduction
- Help with stress reduction
- Helps to maintain overall brain and heart health
If you consume unpasteurized sauerkraut, you’ll get the most benefits because it eliminates the useful bacteria. A great way to do this is to make your own at home!
Yogurt has been a favorite fermented food for hundreds of years. Made by fermenting milk, consuming yogurt regularly will ensure a boost to your overall health. Yogurt culture is the bacteria used to ferment the milk, which produces lactic acid that makes the milk proteins curdle, giving yogurt its flavor.
Commercially produced yogurt often has sweeteners and sugar in them, which make it less healthy. However, plain yogurt and unsweetened yogurt have many health benefits. Besides being rich in nutrients, yogurt strengthens the immune system and gives protection against osteoporosis.
Yogurt is an excellent source of protein that’s rich in probiotics. It can help maintain bone health through its key nutrients:
Literature from 2015 suggests that yogurt is also linked with lower body weight and a smaller core. As it is high in protein and calcium, it enhances the hormones that reduce appetite keeping your weight in check. Research also suggests that yogurt consumption decreases the risk of obesity.
If you’re thinking about adding yogurt to your daily diet, make sure to get those without artificial colorants, flavoring, and sweeteners. If you’re lactose intolerant, there are many non-dairy yogurt options. Look for brands that contain probiotics as an active ingredient.
Miso is a condiment like sauerkraut, which is especially prevalent in Asia. It’s a fermented dish of soybean paste, salt, and koji starter made into a form of Japanese soup. Miso is very nutritious and offers several health benefits like strengthening the immune system and improving digestion.
Other kinds of beans can also be used to make miso besides soybeans.
Alternative ingredients to soy for making miso include:
- Hemp seeds
Like other fermented foods, consuming miso will improve your digestive system, and decrease bloating and gas.
Additionally, research shows that miso can:
- Decreases the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease
- Reduce breast cancer risk
- Lower stroke risk in women
- Reduce the risk of hypertension
- Help maintain good health overall
In America, you’ll find miso in Asian convenience stores. Darker-colored miso is saltier and has stronger flavors. Miso is also very easy to make at home with only a few ingredients. It's very versatile and adds terrific flavors to any recipe you add it to!
If you keep cucumbers inside a jar of water and salt solution, you’ll get fermented pickles! This dish ferments organically over time and has a delicious sour and tangy flavor. Fermented pickles also have probiotics present in them that are very beneficial. However, if you use vinegar to pickle cucumbers, you won’t get the essential probiotics.
Fermented pickles are also:
- Low in calories
- Rich in vitamin K
- Have probiotic benefits
Since pickles have high levels of sodium, they can help to restore electrolyte balance and reduce muscle cramps. They can also help control blood sugar and contain antioxidants.
Another fermented dish made with soybeans is tempeh. As it is a pressed compact, you can bake, sauteé, or steam it before adding it to a dish. Tempeh is rich in protein and can work as a substitute for meat.
- Tempeh has an impressive composition of probiotics and:
- Helps reduce heart disease risks
- Helps reduce LDL cholesterol
- Has an antioxidants
- Lower oxidative stress
- Promote overall bone health
NOTE: There aren't alternative ways to make tempeh, so if you're avoiding soy it’s best to stay away from this fermented dish.
Tempeh is delicious and textured and can be flavored in many ways.
Ways to use tempeh:
- As a bacon substitute
- In sandwiches
- In a gyro
- In a lettuce wrap
What Are the Health Benefits of Eating Fermented Foods?
You can already tell by now how healthy fermented foods are for you. They have long shelf lives, and the beneficial bacteria in them will undoubtedly help you live a long and healthy life. There are trillions of live bacteria inside your gut that help with digestion and probiotics add to your overall intestinal health.
Smooth Digestion and Absorption
The sugar and starch in foods break down when they ferment, which helps them digest without much difficulty. The lactose in kefir breaks down into simpler sugar molecules, so even lactose intolerant people can safely consume this dairy product.
Fermented foods also contain fibers that are excellent for gut bacteria diversity. The most significant benefit of fermentation is its exquisite composition of probiotics. If the microbiomes in your gut aren’t replenished, the composition and types of gut bacteria change.
This change creates an imbalance between the useful and harmful microbes in the gut, leading to several health issues. Additionally, it may also weaken the intestinal walls.
FACT: Consuming probiotic foods will preserve the bacterial composition, and intestinal wall strength, and improve your digestive health in general.
Bacteria that cause illnesses can enter our bodies from food. You won't necessarily always get sick from it because your immune system will do an excellent job of protecting you.
Researchers claim that if you consume fermented foods from a young age, your immune system will deal with these foreign bodies more efficiently. It also contributes to the growth of a healthy microbiome.
FACT: Fermented food is also very rich in iron, and vitamin C, among other excellent contributors to a strong immune system. Probiotic-rich foods will help you recover faster from most illnesses.
Digestive Health Improvement
The probiotics in fermented food can help maintain a balance between the good and the harmful bacteria in your gut, and help reduce digestive problems. Research evidence implies that fermented foods are excellent for people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome.
Probiotics also promote a healthy outflow of stool and can reduce other symptoms like bloating and constipation. Additionally, you’ll also lower your chances of suffering from diarrhea, excessive gas, and allergic reactions.
NOTE: If you regularly face digestive problems, it's an excellent idea to routinely add fermented foods to your meals.
Healthy Mind, Weight, and Heart
Researchers also claim that fermented food is beneficial for good mental health, healthy body weight, and overall heart health. Probiotic strains like Lactobacillus helviticus and Bifidobacterium longum lower the risk factors of depression and can help with anxiety.
Other studies have proven that fermented foods are also linked with having a smaller waist circumference, reducing and maintaining healthy body weight.
FACT: Foods like tempeh and kombucha reduce blood pressure and decrease the overall “bad” cholesterol.
Increases the Vitamins in the Body and Promotes Gut Restoration
The “good” bacteria in the body are also responsible for synthesizing several other necessary elements for your body and help produce essential vitamins:
It’s not uncommon to see people take antibiotics and face digestive issues like diarrhea and constipation afterward. Antibiotics eliminate both useful and harmful bacteria.
FACT: Probiotic-enriched foods will do an incredible job of restoring your gut microbes to normal.
Precautions to Take while Eating Fermented Foods
Fermented foods are healthy, but they may not be everyone's cup of tea. Here are some precautions to take if you choose to add fermented dishes to your daily diet.
You might face some side effects once you start eating fermented foods, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Follow this short guide to preventing the side effects of fermented foods:
Possible Side Effects
Fermented foods undoubtedly boost your immunity and have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-diabetic, and anti-microbial properties. However, if it's not prepared right, you might have some side effects.
- Headaches: Fermented foods may contain biogenic amines, forming when specific bacteria break the amino acids down. Almost every food item that's rich in probiotics may include these amines.
FACT: Histamine and tyramine are the most common amines in these foods to which some individuals may be sensitive. It might cause them to experience headaches and migraines.
- Foodborne Diseases: If fermented foods aren't prepared correctly, unwanted bacteria may contaminate them and make you sick. It could cause food poisoning and salmonella.
- Infection: This occurrence is rare, but if your immune system is compromised, you might get an infection from probiotics.
- Resistance to Antibiotics: Consuming fermented foods regularly may make you resistant to antibiotics. Probiotic bacteria are carriers of antibiotic-resistant genes. It may pass on to other bacteria in the gut.
- Bloating: Consuming fermented foods may overwhelm your gut and cause you to bloat temporarily. If excess gas builds up after the probiotics have killed the harmful microorganisms, you might feel gassy. This side effect isn’t necessarily detrimental, but you may experience it nonetheless.
You can use airborne cultures to ferment food if you feel unsafe using liquid cultures. Sourdough and other vegetable ferments use airborne cultures. If you’re new, you can start with a small amount of culture.
Additionally, try eating only a tablespoon or a tiny portion of fermented food every day for about a week and gradually increase the amount to get all the benefits of probiotic-enriched foods. Doing so will also let your body adjust to the microbial cultures without producing any side effects.
TIP: If you’re making fermented foods at home, you will want to follow the instructions strictly and consider experts’ help. It’s also better to avoid commercially-produced fermented food if you are sick often or face digestive issues.
Tips to Shop for Fermented Food at the Grocery Store
Grocery stores are a good place to get fermented food if you don't make it at home. The quality of the fermented food is important, some companies surpass others in terms of delivering the best probiotic benefits.
First, you’ll want to look out for words like “live cultures” and “probiotics” on the packaging. It means that the product contains live bacteria or cultures that will guarantee the benefits of probiotic foods.
TIP: Other products that don't have these bacteria may or may not have the live microorganisms. So you’ll need to choose the ones that specify it on the package.
Second, as probiotic bacteria are very delicate, they’ll most likely do their best under refrigerated conditions. Fermented foods that undergo pasteurization and other treatments involving heat lose the live bacteria. These processes are done to make the food safe to eat and prolong the shelf life.
For kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, and other similar foods, you will want to look for packages that mention that they’re raw and unpasteurized. For dairy products, the probiotics are added after, and you should look for pasteurized ones.
Finally, you’ll want to choose fermented foods that have the lowest composition of sugar and salt. It’s okay if the salt composition is high because fermentation typically doesn’t have many salt alternatives. But as sugar consumes the probiotic bacteria, you'll want to check the package label that has the least amount of sugar comparatively.
Fermented dishes are an incredible choice if you want to start consuming probiotic-rich foods instead of supplements. These foods can lower the risk of particular cancers, hypertension, cholesterol, inflammation, digestion, and weight loss. They also add zest and tangy flavors to your diet, making them excellent for a healthy meal every day!
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