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Which Fermented Foods are Best for your Gut?

Top view of bowls of different types of fermented foods on a white counter surface.

If you are trying to heal your gut naturally, fermented foods might be the answer. There is a diverse range of fermented foods available out there and you might be wondering which fermented food will be the best for gut health. 

There are many gut-friendly fermented foods out there. But if I were to choose one, it would be milk kefir since it has more probiotics than any other fermented food. Kefit also:

  • helps to heal the gut
  • is rich in vital nutrients
  • improves bone health

There are a lot of fermented foods other than kefir each with unique health benefits. This list of the best-fermented foods for gut health explains the health benefits they provide, so you will know which ones you should incorporate into your regular diet. So, let's begin! 

14 Must-Have Fermented Foods for Good Gut Health

Fermentation is a process where food is broken down with the help of microorganisms like bacteria and yeast. Fermented foods have been popular among people since ancient times for two main reasons:

  1. Fermentation increases food shelf life.
  2. Consuming fermented foods regularly has health benefits such as improved digestive and immune systems.

These facts are scientifically proven which is why more and more people are including fermented foods in their regular diet. 

I've listed the best-fermented foods below to include in your diet that will surely improve your gut health and digestion.

#1: Kimchi

Kimchi is a traditional Korean fermented cuisine. This dish is mainly prepared by fermenting cabbage but can be made with other vegetables like radishes. Like any fermented food, kimchi has excellent health benefits, especially when it comes to reducing insulin resistance.

A group of researchers from the Ajou University School of Medicine, Suwon, Republic of Korea studied the effect of kimchi in reducing insulin resistance. For their study, they chose twenty-one candidates with prediabetes who consumed kimchi for eight weeks. 

At the end of their research, they found that those who consumed kimchi had reduced their body’s resistance to insulin and decreased their body weight and blood pressure. 

Kimchi is also effective for lowering cholesterol. In another independent study, researchers divided 100 volunteers into two groups. One group received a diet with a lower quantity of kimchi (15 grams). The other group received a diet with a higher amount of kimchi (210 grams). 

After seven days, researchers observed that the volunteers who consumed more kimchi had a greater decrease in LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol and blood cholesterol

An open jar of sauerkraut surrounded by cabbage and other ingredients on a natural wood surface.
Sauerkraut is great for gut health

#2: Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is another gut-friendly fermented food made by fermenting shredded cabbage in a saltwater brine with the help of lactic acid bacteria

Sauerkraut is rich in vitamins K and Vitamin C. It is also low in calories and has plenty of fiber. On top of that, sauerkraut contains antioxidants.

Also, sauerkraut is rich in probiotics which is great for gut health. It is truly a superfood with all these:

  • vitamins
  • fiber
  • antioxidants
  • probiotics

Sauerkraut is one of the easiest fermented foods that you can make right in your home!

NOTE: If you choose to buy sauerkraut from supermarkets, make sure that the product is unpasteurized to get all the health benefits it provides. Pasteurization kills all bacteria equally, whether good or bad.

#3: Kefir

This one is the first fermented dairy product on this list. The kefir grain is a combination of a certain type of bacteria and yeast that clump together in a way that makes them look like cooked grains. That is why they are called kefir grains.

This is a fermented food that has been consumed by humans for hundreds of years. Kefir appears to be a bit thick and has a taste that is almost like yogurt, just a bit tangy.

Kefir is a great source of probiotics. In fact, it contains more probiotics than any other fermented food (almost 27 billion colony-forming units per one-cup serving) making it good for gut health

It is also rich in vitamins and minerals like:

  • magnesium
  • calcium
  • biotin
  • vitamin B12
  • vitamin K2
  • folate

The most notable health benefit of kefir is that it improves lactose digestion. Researchers from Ohio State University, Columbus, have shown that kefir improves lactose digestion in lactose-intolerant people. They worked with fifteen volunteers that were lactose intolerant

In their research, the volunteers were fed kefir on a regular basis. After the end of the research, the group of scientists found that consuming kefir improved the lactose digestion and tolerance of the volunteers.

Other studies have shown that people who consume kefir regularly have significantly decreased markers of inflammation, and that kefir helps improve bone health. In other words, the health benefits of kefir are truly amazing.

2 clear bowls of plain yogurt on a light blue cloth with a silver spoon to the side.
Yogurt is a must-have probiotic ingredient

#4: Probiotic Yogurt

Another cultured dairy product, yogurt is produced by fermenting milk with the help of lactic acid bacteria. Yogurt is creamy and it tastes a bit tangy.

Yogurt has been used for hundreds of years by people throughout the world. In today's world, it has become a must-have ingredient in many kitchens. 

Like kefir, yogurt is also rich in vitamins and minerals. These include:

  • vitamin B12
  • calcium
  • potassium
  • riboflavin
  • phosphorus

Scientists have found that yogurt can reduce blood pressure. Like kefir, yogurt can help improve bone health in older adults.

Yogurt has a higher concentration of probiotics in it which is good for gut health, especially after taking antibiotics. Antibiotics destroy all the bacteria in your gut, whether good or bad. This can result in diarrhea or other digestive problems

NOTE: While shopping for yogurt, make sure to avoid any sort of added or artificial ingredients like sugar and coloring, to get the most health benefit out of it.

#5: Kombucha

This fermented tea is typically made with green or black tea. It is a fizzy, tangy tea that is rich in probiotics and is often flavored with fruits.

Kombucha contains all the nutrients and health-promoting properties of the tea it's made from, as well as probiotics from fermenting. Studies have shown that drinking kombucha helps to prevent liver damage and toxicity that are caused by harmful chemicals.

Kombucha is quickly rising in popularity, and now it can be found in any supermarket or grocery store. It's also easy to make at home, learn how long to ferment kombucha in my full guide.

Top view of a veggie and rice bowl with tempeh in a white bowl.
Tempeh is a good meat substitute that is probiotic-rich

#6: Tempeh

Tempeh is a great source of vegetarian protein made from naturally fermented soybeans. It's firm but a bit chewy. Before eating tempeh, it can be:

  • baked
  • fried
  • steamed

It is similar to tofu, which is another high-protein meat substitute.

Tempeh is rich in beneficial yeast and bacteria and is a great source of protein. On top of that, it is rich in nutrients and offers many health benefits.

Studies have found concrete evidence that soy protein can help lower cholesterol. A 2019 literature review has found that eating soy protein regularly for six weeks has resulted in an average of almost 3.2% decrease in LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol and a 2.8% decrease in total cholesterol level.

Tempeh is a great source of soy protein. As a source of animal protein alternative, anybody can enjoy it whether you are a meat-lover or a vegetarian.

#7: Natto

Natto is another fermented food that is made by fermenting soybeans. This is a traditional cultured food in Japanese cuisine. Unlike tempeh, natto has a slippery texture and a very strong flavor.

Natto is rich in probiotics and has plenty of fiber which can help improve your digestive system. On top of that, it is rich in vitamin K, which can improve bone health. 

The fermentation process of natto produces an enzyme called “natto kinase” as a byproduct. This enzyme can help prevent and dissolve blood clots. On top of that, this enzyme can help reduce blood pressure.

#8: Miso

This is another traditional Japanese fermented food. It is made by fermenting soybeans and koji which is a type of mold. Usually, koji is cultivated from one of these:

  • barley
  • soybeans
  • rice

Miso is traditionally served as a digestion-boosting breakfast

Miso soup is famous for its unique umami flavor, and Japanese people have converted the making of miso as a form of art

Other than its unique flavor, miso also offers a lot of health benefits. Studies have found that the consumption of miso improves heart health and boosts the immune system.

Sourdough starter next to flour and other ingredients in wood bowls, on a light surface surrounded with a kitchen cloth.
Sourdough is a fermented food with many benefits

#9: Sourdough

Sourdough is used for making bread, but some might not even know that it is a fermented food. Like any other fermented food, sourdough also provides great health benefits as it:

  • helps with digestion
  • boosts the immune system
  • reduces digestive disorders

One of the most interesting facts is that a sourdough starter can survive more than a hundred years. Making a sourdough starter is easy! All you have to do is to add water to flour and it will eventually start to ferment.

As the fermentation process in the sourdough starts, the probiotics start to convert the gluten into a simpler substance which in this case is an amino acid. Also, the bacteria will predigest the starches in the dough making sourdough bread easier to digest.

#10: Pickles

Pickles are one of the most popular fermented foods around the globe. They are rich in probiotics and help heal your gut and improve your digestive system.

When shopping for pickles, always check what sort of brine they are in. Vinegar brines are acidic so they are not probiotic. On the other hand, saltwater brine is perfect for the growth of good bacteria and probiotics

So, to get all the health benefits that fermented pickles provide, get pickles in saltwater brine.  

#11: Cottage Cheese

This is another cultured dairy product that is good for your gut health. Cottage cheese is rich in probiotics and has several active cultures so eating it regularly can diversify your gut’s microbiome.

Cottage cheese is a great source of protein and calcium and has low-calorie content. Scientists have found a direct link between calcium and weight loss.

HOT TIP: Calcium helps prevent the accumulation of cholesterol and accelerates fat loss.

If you are trying to gain muscle mass, cottage cheese can be a great addition to your diet. The higher amount of casein protein in it can help build muscle mass. This protein is absorbed by your body very slowly, promoting muscle buildup and at the same time preventing muscle breakdown.

Cottage cheese can also help reduce insulin resistance and it is high in selenium, which helps boost antioxidant protection in the blood.

Cottage cheese has a soft texture and mild flavor which makes it easy to incorporate in many recipes. If you are trying to gain some muscle or focusing on losing weight, cottage cheese might be the right fermented food for you.

Apple cider vinegar in a jar with a flip top lid, on its side surrounded by apples, a cut apple, and apple leaves.
Apple cider is less probiotic but has tons of other benefits

#12: Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is also a fermented food, but unlike yogurt or kefir, it doesn't have many probiotics. However, it does still have a lot of health benefits.

In fact, apple cider vinegar is rich in nutrients and minerals like:

  • amino acids
  • manganese
  • antioxidants
  • magnesium
  • phosphorus

Some of the benefits that make apple cider vinegar a superfood are:

  • improves the digestive system
  • increases insulin sensitivity
  • reduces blood sugar level
  • lowers blood pressure

#13: Raw Coconut Yogurt

Yogurt is a great source of probiotics. For people who are lactose intolerant, raw coconut yogurt is a great alternative to dairy yogurt.

Coconut yogurt is:

  • creamy
  • delicious
  • very easy to make

Raw coconut yogurt provides health benefits that are similar to cultured yogurt. First of all, it is rich in probiotics, which is good for your gut health. Eating coconut yogurt regularly can heal your gut and improve your digestive system.

On top of that, it contains antiviral nutrients known as caprylic acid and lauric acid. These nutrients help prevent and kill bad bacteria and yeast that enters the body. Also, consuming coconut yogurt regularly can lower cholesterol levels.

It is recommended to make coconut yogurt at home rather than store bout which contains:

  • artificial ingredients
  • artificial color
  • sugar

#14: Coconut Water Kefir

This is another option for those who are lactose intolerant. As mentioned before, kefir is made by culturing milk using kefir grains.

Coconut water kefir is made by fermenting coconut water using kefir grains. It is rich in probiotics that promote:

  • immunity
  • gut health
  • digestion
  • can improve mood

Coconut water kefir contains antiviral nutrients that kill harmful bacteria in the body. Also, it boosts brain and liver health. Coconut water kefir has no sugar or fat and has lower calories compared to dairy-based kefir which makes it much easier to digest.

Coconut water kefir is an excellent addition to your daily diet, as it:

  • heals the gut
  • helps digestion
  • increases energy
  • kills harmful bacteria and yeast

Why Should You Include Fermented Foods in Your Diet?

Fermentation is an ancient process. At first, the main goal of fermentation was to increase the life of foods and drinks. But in today’s world, preserving food is no longer a problem.

However, that didn't decrease the popularity of fermented foods one bit since they have so many health benefits. In fact, the popularity of fermented foods is increasing day by day as more people are incorporating them into their regular diets. 

Kefir grains in a strainer over a glass container with a spoon lifting some up to show the texture.
Fermented foods like kefir have many health benefits

The Health Benefits Of Fermented Foods   

#1: Improves Digestive Health

First of all, fermented foods can be digested with ease. The fermentation process is mainly converting a substance into a much simpler substance with the help of yeasts and bacteria. As foods undergo the fermentation process and make probiotics, the nutrients can be more easily absorbed.

#2: Boosts Immune System

The human body has a lot of bacteria living in the digestive system. These bacteria not only help with the digestion process but also prevent disease-causing bacteria from making you sick. Consuming fermented foods can give a boost to these bacteria that are in your gut.

Fermented foods provide us with lots of nutrients that are essential for health, and if you do get sick, they can accelerate the recovery process.

#3: Reduces Digestive Disorders

Consuming fermented food can help improve the digestive system and reduce symptoms of many digestive disorders like gas and bloating

#4: Restores Gut Health After Taking Antibiotics

After taking any type of antibiotic, you might have digestive problems like diarrhea. Antibiotics wipe out all of the bacteria in your gut which can cause digestive issues.

Probiotic-rich fermented foods will help restore your gut health to its normal state. 

A bottle with a home label saying kombucha next to chamomile flowers, a lemon, and other whole spices.
Mix and match these fermented foods for optimum gut health!

Conclusion

The microbiome inside the gut varies from person to person so a single fermented food might not be able to fulfill all your expectations. This is why I would recommend you mix and match these fermented foods for gut health in this article to get optimal health benefits. 

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