Health Benefits of Fermented Foods

March 8, 2017
By: Beth Golden


Fermented foods seem to be having a moment right now. Through a surge in the number of products available and increased media attention, they seem to be expanding from the natural food aisle and hitting the mainstream. This begs the question...

Are fermented foods worth the hype?

Consumption of these foods provide several health benefits to the consumer. Fermented foods are a source of probiotics, which help to populated the ‘good’ bacteria in our GI tract. Broadly, fermented foods contain high amounts of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium which help promote a healthy balance within the gut bacterial populations. Additionally, there is evidence that the fermentation process can improve bioavailability of various minerals and macronutrients. The act of fermentation through bacterial processing can improve the bioavailability of zinc, iron, and calcium in some foods, and can improve protein quality in some plant protein sources.

Finally, prospective studies looking at traditional dietary patterns that include regular consumption of fermented foods (in particular, fermented soy products) indicate there may be improved mental health overall, including a decrease in depressive symptoms.  Taken together, the evidence points to the benefits of fermented foods reaching beyond the immediate nutritional benefit.

Foods that contain these beneficial bacteria include fermented dairy (kefir, yogurt, and some cheeses), fermented vegetables (sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles), and fermented bean and soy products (miso and tempeh).

Not all fermented foods are created equally. Make sure you choose the most effective sources to ensure you’re getting the gut benefits of these products.

3 tips for choosing and preparing fermented foods:

  1. Choose fermented foods that are in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. Shelf-stable versions of these foods have been heat treated to kill all bacteria within the foods, including the beneficial bacteria.
  2. Similarly, eat the fermented foods in their raw state. Applying heat to these foods will also kill the beneficial bacteria and decrease these health benefits.
  3. When choosing a product, look on the label for a description on the bacterial strains present. This will let you or your client know that those good bacterial strains are present.

7 Dietitian-approved recipes to get you started: