Fermented Foods for Gut Health

Fermented foods may be setting trends on The Huffington Post and Mind Body Green, but these nutrient-potent foods have been around for thousands of years in cultures around the world, including Japanese, Chinese, Indian, and German cultures.

For people living without modern medicine and refrigeration, fermentation was a simple means of food preservation and a way to imbue foods with the health-enhancing properties of the live bacteria the gut needs to stay in balance. Fermented foods are a potent source of probiotics, which research has shown are essential to powering up the mucosal immune system in your digestive tract and producing antibodies to pathogens.

Incorporate more of these probiotic powerhouses into your diet is one important way of getting those healthy bacteria back into action in your gut.

Fermented Foods Short List

  • Cultured Dairy: Yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, sour cream, some cheeses
  • Veggies: Beets, radishes, tomatoes, onions, garlic, kimchi, green beans, sauerkraut
  • Condiments fermented at home or commercially: ketchup, relish, salsa, chutney
  • Other: Miso, tempeh, tofu, soy sauce

Fermented Food Facts & Tips

  • All fermented foods must be kept cool to maintain the live cultures.
  • Food labels must be marked “fermented.”
  • Fermented and “pasteurized” do not go together. Pasteurization kills live cultures.
  • Pickled is not the same as fermented (unless indicated on the label). Pickled foods are soaked in vinegar or brine. This is how many traditionally fermented foods are manufactured these days, like pickles and sauerkraut.
  • Choose organic, non-GMO items or locally farmed products. This is especially important in dairy and soy products.
  • Unfortunately, if you’re sensitive or allergic to dairy, fermentation does not always make it safe for you to eat. Luckily there are many non-dairy alternatives like fermented coconut and soy products.
  • Start with small servings of fermented foods, one to two times a day.
  • Toss fermented veggies into salads; enjoy as a snack or as a side dish.
  • Add a spoonful or two to your morning smoothie (e.g., beets, kefir).

Wondering if you still need to take a probiotic? Good question! Check out this blog from archives for my thoughts on that.


  • Chilton, S., J. Burton, and G. Reid. “Inclusion of Fermented Foods in Food Guides Around the World.” Abstract. Nutrients 7, no. 1 (January 2015): 390-404. http://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/7/1/390
  • The Huffington Post. Headlines on fermented food trend. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/fermented-foods/
  • Mercola, J. “Fermented Foods: How to ‘Culture’ Your Way to Good Health.” Accessed February 2015. http://articles.mercola.com/fermented-foods.aspx
  • Rawlings, D. Fermented Foods for Health: Use the Power of Probiotic Foods to Improve Your Digestion, Strengthen Your Immunity, and Prevent Illness. Fair Winds Press: 2013.
  • Schwenk, D. Cultured Food for Life: How to Make and Serve Delicious Probiotic Foods for Better Health and Wellness. Hay House, Inc.: 2013.
  • Williams, D. “Fermented Foods that Boost Digestive Health.” Reviewed February 6, 2014. http://www.drdavidwilliams.com/traditional-fermented-foods-examples/