Should You Eat Fermented Foods?

By Kristie Reilly @YourCareE
November 02, 2023
Should You Eat Fermented Foods?

Beneficial bacteria found in fermented foods have been linked to immune health and prevention of some health conditions. Should you eat more fermented foods.

Fermenting food has fallen out of favor in recent decades, replaced by pasteurization and refrigeration. Yet, researchers believe, this age-old technique for preserving foods provides healthy, beneficial bacteria our modern diets increasingly lack.

The types of beneficial bacteria found in fermented foods have been linked to immune health and preventing conditions like obesity and Alzheimer's disease. They may even help regulate mood and day-to-day health: in one study, college students who ate the most fermented foods were less socially anxious than those who ate the least, and the effect was most pronounced in those who were already prone to anxiety

If you’re interested in optimum health, you may want to get more beneficial microbes — called probiotics — in your diet. One easy way is to eat more fermented foods. 


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Fermented beverages

Kefir (a fermented dairy product made from cow, goat, or sheep milk) and kombucha (a sweet, fermented tea) are both good options.

What about alcoholic drinks, like beer, wine, or liquor? Since alcohol is a well-known product of fermentation, you might think all would contain probiotics. Yet most won’t provide the good bugs your gut bacteria need to thrive because the production process for most alcoholic drinks filters out or destroys them.

There is one loophole. Microbrewed beers often retain the yeast and other beneficial bacteria used in processing. Low-sulfite wine, if you can find it, may provide similar benefits.

Complementary foods

You’ll find the product of fermentation in traditional complements of some cultures, like German sauerkraut and Korean kimchi. Other options also contain probiotics, such as:

  • Cultured butter
  • Buttermilk
  • Honey
  • Salami and pepperoni
  • Miso
  • Tempeh
  • Fermented soy products

Other fermented foods

Cheese often contains beneficial bacteria. Try blue, Gouda, and cottage cheese. Olives, vanilla, and even chocolate also reach their final form via the chemical process of fermentation.

If you’d like to incorporate probiotic-rich chocolate into your diet, look for brands made with the least-processed dark chocolate and highest cocoa percentage;70 percent is best. If that’s too bitter for you, start lower and work your way up.

Even a cup of hot chocolate made with minimally processed pure cocoa will work. You can add a bit of low-glycemic sweetener to counter the bitterness without ramping up your blood sugar. Just be sure not to over-imbibe; no more than an ounce or two of chocolate a day is best to avoid weight gain.

Yogurt is a classic way to get more good bacteria in your diet. Look for the phrase “live and active cultures” on packages. Choose plain yogurt, then combine it with fiber-rich granola, a dash of honey, or fresh fruit for the most health benefits. You can consider high-protein Greek yogurt for a double wallop of nutrition.

How much bacteria you’re getting depends on the product. Although cultured yogurt must meet certain requirements for beneficial bacteria counts, storage and handling practices can affect how many bacteria you ingest after bringing a product home. Try to buy only reputable brands and retailers.

Make fermented foods

You might start with sauerkraut, which is made from fermented cabbage. It’s not always sour, but often pleasantly sweet.

Since heating kills virtually all bacteria in food, commercially prepared, pasteurized sauerkraut — while still a good source of vitamins and nutrients — won’t retain the probiotics thought to be essential to gut health, so it’s a good food to make at home.

Salt-preserved vegetables also provide probiotics, but only if they’re the kind your grandparents might have made, such as pickles; the pasteurized, vinegar-preserved pickles typically found at your grocery store won’t.

If you’re sensitive to sodium, you may want to avoid salt preservation altogether. It requires ample salt to work safely. If you’re preserving vegetables at home, don’t be tempted to cut down on the salt called for in recipes.

Other cautions apply

The fermenting process to preserve food and kill pathogens is thousands of years old, and it’s still used in many cultures around the world today. Although it is very safe, unsanitary practices can create the toxin that causes botulism, which can be fatal.

Buy from retailers who practice careful, proven storage and handling. In 2012, two people in New York City were treated for botulism after buying tofu from a grocery store that sold the product in unrefrigerated bulk bins.

Educate yourself about home fermentation before you start. Follow recommended safety practices, and use recipes crafted by experts. Books by the fermentation advocate Sandor Ellix Katz are a good place to start.


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November 02, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN