One key health message has been king on any wellness journey: Taking care of the gut–and the trillions of microorganisms that live in it—is essential for our health. Signs of an imbalanced environment in the gut span bloating, constipation, acid reflux, skin issues, and poor mental health. It’s where health (and disease) starts, so paying attention to it–and eating according to its needs–is wise.
How fermented foods can help your gut
Yes, probiotics can be useful, but incorporating lots of fermented foods (which are teeming with microorganisms) into your diet has been scientifically proven to boost gut microbial diversity, decrease inflammation and improve immune system function (resulting in a reduced likelihood of developing various diseases).
A 2021 study by researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine found that a 10-week diet incorporating certain fermented foods–more on which later–can “remodel the microbiota across a cohort of healthy adults,” per Justin Sonnenburg, an associate professor of microbiology and immunology at the university.
The research suggests that the more fermented foods we eat, the better, but eating six servings each day (as those taking part in the study did) has been scientifically proven to produce these health benefits.
The best fermented foods to eat
“If your gut is feeling really out of balance, start slowly,” advises Rhian Stephenson, nutritionist and founder of Artah. “Add a few tablespoons of wild fermented foods a few times a week, and build up your intake slowly.” She recommends avoiding fermented foods that have added sugar, coloring, or lots of vinegar.
If you haven’t (knowingly) tried any fermented foods, then Greek yogurt–or indeed any “live” yogurt–can be a good entry point, as well as a great source of protein. Yogurt is created by adding bacteria to milk and leaving it to ferment, and depending on which type you get, comes in varying levels of thickness. Avoid yoghurts with flavoring or added sugar, look for “live and active cultures” on the label, and ensure it hasn’t been pasturised for the best wellbeing benefits.
Not dissimilar to yogurt, kefir is made by adding kefir grains into milk, and letting them ferment. A tangy delight, it’s it’s an easy way to boost your gut day to day.
Made from fermented shredded cabbage, sauerkraut has long been popular in German and central European diets–and for good reason. An easy and tasty addition to any meal, it’s also full of fibre and antioxidants.
Yes, you can drink your ferments too. Kombucha is a great–and tasty–way to boost your microbial diversity, plus it’s also packed with antioxidants. Studies suggest that kombucha consumption has a positive effect on inflammation, liver detoxification, and intestinal dysbiosis, plus it’s delicious. Make sure to opt for kombuchas which are raw, unpasteurized and unfiltered.
Hailing from Korea, kimchi is another delicious fermented food that’s made from cabbage, radishes and/or other vegetables. Studies suggest that it is beneficial for many aspects of health, including a reduced BMI, healthy blood pressure, and easing irritable bowel syndrome.
Add miso soup into your diet–not only is it delicious, it is also packed with health benefits. Made from fermented soybeans, salt and the fungus koji, it contains a probiotic (called A. oryzae) which is said to reduce the risk of inflammatory bowel disease. Don’t like soup? You can also use it as a paste, or mix it into dressings for your meals.
Rich in lots of different nutrients, tempeh–made from fermented soybeans–is a favorite amongst vegetarians. As well as being a good source of protein and vitamin B12, it is low in glycemic load, which means it’s great for those trying to manage their blood sugar levels.