We all know that it’s important to maintain a healthy, balanced diet. But there’s one food group that we don’t typically talk about – Fermented Foods baby!
Fermented foods play an important role in a healthy diet and are key players in maintaining a healthy digestive tract. But it’s not something you’ll find mentioned on the food pyramid (at least, not explicitly).
So what’s the deal with fermented foods? Why are they good for you? Let’s discuss and discover 7 powerful fermented foods that you can easily add to your diet.
Fermented Foods – The Forgotten Food Group
I like to think of fermented foods as the forgotten food group. There’s so much goodness in there and a ton of variety. And yet when you hear the word “fermented” you might think that it’s something gross. It certainly conjured up an image of smelly food that tasted even worse in my head.
But it turns out that we may eat and love fermented foods more than we think.
Yes, that’s right! You probably adore a few fermented foodie items without even realizing that you’re eating something that was fermented. Like chocolate! Who doesn’t love chocolate? Cacao beans have to be fermented before they can be made into cacao nibs or powder and ultimately chocolate and yet most of us have no idea!
Related: These Healthy Gluten Free Vegan Brownies Taste Like Magic
We can also add regular every day foods (here in the west anyway) like pickles, yogurt, cheese, soy sauce and vinegar to the fermented list.
And yet I had never actually heard much about fermented foods pre-Graves Disease. It was a food group no one had really discussed with me. I didn’t even realize that I had a few fermented options in my regular foodie rotation.
Once I found out how amazing fermented foods were for our health I decided to dive in and discover as many as possible. Today they’re something I try to consume on the daily.
Why Is It Good to Eat Fermented Foods?
Before we can really understand what makes fermented foods so awesome, we need to take a look at what’s happening inside of our beautiful bodies!
This may sound a little creepy, but you, my sweet friend, are full of bacteria! It’s called your microbiome (which is the name for the bacterial communities that live in and on our bodies.) The bacteria making up your incredible microbiome outnumbers your human cells 10 to 1! Bonkers, right?
Even more fascinating – we love to think of our genes as the dictators of who we are… but bacteria may play a larger role. You have approximately 20 000 human genes in that awesome body of yours, but you also have 2-20 million microbial genes! Freaking million! That’s a heck of a lot of bacteria hanging out in there, isn’t it? (source)
And when we zoom in and just peek at our digestive tracts, we find approximately 100 trillion bacteria and microorganisms hanging out. That’s a heck of a lot of bacteria! (source)
Bacteria help us to digest our food, play a role in our immune function, help to stave off disease and may even affect our mental health and behaviour. It’s so important that we work to protect our microbiome. (source)
So What is the Benefit of Eating Fermented foods?
The fermentation process encourages gut healthy bacteria to flourish. And even boosts a food’s shelf life and nutritional value. Total win! (source)
By eating fermented foods, we’re providing our digestive system with more of that bacteria, supporting our microbiome and thus supporting our digestion, immune health, mental health and so much more!
And don’t worry, there are so many different options that anyone can easily find fermented foods they love!
Fermented foods are an easy (and delicious) way to get probiotics directly from your diet. And the best part – it introduces us to a more diverse group of gut healthy bacteria than probiotic supplements ever could. A diverse microbiome is a happy microbiome. So it’s all win!
Are Probiotics Good for You Too?
Getting your probiotics from your food is the best way to add some diversity to your microbiome, since each type of fermented food has something different to offer. Variety is the spice of life after all!
But that doesn’t mean that taking probiotics is always a bad idea.
While I don’t typically take probiotic supplements and instead rely on fermented foods (I’ll share which ones in a minute), there is one key time that I do reach for them.
I take probiotics when I’m on antibiotics…
Antibiotics destroy bacteria. Which is fantastic and often life saving! But they don’t discriminate. While they work hard to heal us, they can also have a negative affect on the health of our microbiome, temporarily effecting it’s integrity. And we already know that that can be bad news bears for the health of multiple body systems.
But fear not, there’s a simple way to work around this!
Probiotics are a great way to introduce more bacteria into your gut. And it can be a fantastic idea to take these when you’re on antibiotics (talk to your doctor or pharmacist first.)
Now, you may be thinking:
“If I’m on antibiotics, aren’t probiotics kind of pointless? Won’t the antibiotics simply destroy them before they can do anything?”
And I hear ya! But the good news is that these probiotics don’t actually need to colonize your gut in order to help you out during a course of antibiotics.
Taking probiotics concurrently with antibiotics can actually help to reduce undesirable side effects, like diarrhea (source 1, source 2, source 3, source 4).
One study even showed that using probiotic supplements during and after antibiotic treatment actually helped to reduce the long term affects of antibiotics on the health of gut bacteria. Isn’t that awesome? (source)
And while there’s no need to panic and overdo it, it’s still ok to enjoy coconut milk yogurt bowls and other fermented foods in moderation too. Talk to your doctor or health care provider if you have any questions or concerns.
7 Fermented Foods You Can Easily Add to Your Diet
Not all fermented foods are created equal. If you want to give your gorgeous body the benefits of probiotics, you need to be choosy. Foods that are fermented naturally are the ones that have the most to offer.
According to Dr. David S. Ludwig, a professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health:
“The jars of pickles you can buy off the shelf at the supermarket are sometimes pickled using vinegar and not the natural fermentation process using live organisms, which means they don’t contain probiotics.” (source)
Look for the words like “naturally fermented” or “live cultures” on the label of the fermented foods you buy to make sure you’re getting those sweet, sweet probiotics.
We can also look for telltale bubbles in the liquid (if there is any) when we open a jar of fermented goodness. That’s a sign that bacterial organisms are alive and well in your fermented foodie goodness. (source)
Getting a ton of healthy probiotics might not be as simple as picking up any jar of pickles, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have options.
Here are a few of my favourite naturally fermented products:
1. Coconut Milk Kefir
Think of kefir as a drinkable, watered down yogurt that’s filled to the brim with healthy bacteria. Look for a simple, organic brand that isn’t loaded with sugars.
I personally adore the Cultured Coconut’s coconut milk kefir. This kefir is the most powerful probiotic on the market! You only need one tablespoon to get over 4 trillion Colony Forming Units (CFU) of probiotic bacteria and over 40 different active strains. That’s a heck of a lot of healthy bacteria, am I right?! (source)
This is my go-to probiotic supplement and has so much more to provide than a pill ever could. I take a tablespoon every morning as part of my regular self-care routine. But you can also add it to things like nice cream, cereal, smoothies, juices, salad dressings and yogurt parfaits. A healthy foodie must have, in my opinion!
Who doesn’t love yogurt? It can be a fantastic way to add more probiotics to your diet. But, unfortunately, many yogurt options are full of sugar and artificial flavour, which makes them more like a dessert than a healthy treat.
I prefer to avoid dairy and encourage others to do that same (both for your health and animal welfare). Thankfully there are some amazing, dairy free alternatives out there that taste heavenly!
Look for a product that is free of sugars, flavours and additives. You can easily sweeten it naturally with maple syrup. I adore to double the goodness by adding a tablespoon of coconut milk kefir to my yogurt bowls. Win win! Here’s my go to coconut milk yogurt if you’re looking for options.
Yogurt makes for an awesome snack, can be used to create filling breakfast bowls, added to smoothies and sauces and so much more. So easy to work into your regular diet (if you haven’t already.)
Related: Are Superfoods Really That Super? Maybe Not…
Add kefir or yogurt to your smoothies, like this yummy Orange Creamsicle smoothie from my Recipe E-Book Smoothie Love
An Asian delight, kimchi is made up of fermented cabbage and other veggies. There are different types available, providing a delicious range of flavours.
Kimchi typically has a bit of a spicy kick to it. You can enjoy Kimchi solo or added to many dishes, including stir fries, soups, spring rolls, wraps and rice. Wildbrine Kimchi is a personal favourite.
Miso is a delectable, fermented soybean paste, although you can find some that are soy free. Tradition Miso makes an amazing soy free Chickpea Miso that’s to die for, among their other mouthwatering options!
The flavour varies. It can be sweet or salty, mild or pungent. This depends greatly on how long it was fermented. Try out a few different kinds and find your favourite!
Add miso to soups, sauces, dips, gravy and more for awesome flavour as well as tons of gut health support. Look for miso that’s unpasteurized and aged (preferably 3 to 4 years) for the best possible probiotic quality.
Related: Hearty and Delicious Miso Vegetable Soup Recipe
Fermented tea!?! Say what! Kombucha is the closest thing to pop that you will find in the healthy foodie world. It’s naturally carbonated thanks to a wonderful side effect of the fermentation process.
Kombucha can be found in some delightful flavours (I’m a sucker for Rise Kombucha’s Blueberry and Maple, Hibiscus and Rose Hips and Mint and Chlorophyll.) Avoid artificial flavourings, colours, and additives and your gut will thank you!
A wonderful Indonesian creation, tempeh is kind of like a fermented soy cake. It has a slightly nutty flavour and makes for a great meat replacement in many recipes.
Noble Bean creates marvelous Tempeh. Marinate it, add it to stir fries, wraps, sandwiches, salads, chili, etc. Vegans and non-vegans alike will truly adore tempehs adaptability!
More fermented cabbage yo! This delicious fermented food has a distinctive sour taste but isn’t typically hot and spicy like kimchi. It can be found in different flavours too.
This girl loves some Dill and Garlic Sauerkraut by Wildbrine. Add it to salads, potato salads, sandwiches, wraps, pasta and more. Total yum town!
There you have it! 7 powerful fermented foods for better gut health.
I hope that this info inspires you to take extra special care of your incredible microbiome and feed it with kindness. It’s a pretty cool, oft forgotten part of your amazing body. Don’t you think so too?
Your turn! Are you excited to add fermented foods to your diet? Have you tried fermented foods before? Are there any favourites that you’d add to the list? Let me know in the comments below.
Health and love,
Thought of the day: My body is more fascinating that I imagined possible. I am grateful that it works so hard to keep me healthy and alive.
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testing another comment for the screen grab 🙂
Joy at https://www.thejoyousliving.com
THE JOYOUS LIVING
LOL 😛 I think my first few post attempts were saying how packed full of great info your post is. Thanks for taking the time to write it up!!
Joy at The Joyous Living
Thank you so much for bringing the issue to my attention Joy and for helping me see if it was fixed! I’m so grateful!
And I also really appreciate your kind words. Thanks a ton. Sending so much love your way <3
Wow, I never knew how important fermented foods are to your health! Nor did I realize there were so many great options. I’m excited about the coconut keifer, I have been looking for a dairy free option for my littlest. Thanks for the great information and tips!
Isn’t is amazing Nicole? The microbiome blows my mind. And I really love feeding it with kindness (and tons of fermented foods haha). The Cultured Coconut really is amazing. I hope that you can get some. I’m extremely lactose intolerant so dairy free options are always a godsend! Plus, it’s so potent. I love it!
Let me know what you and your little one think. I’d love to hear! Sending tons of love your way 🙂
Sharon McCaskill | The Helpful GF
I’ve never had coconut milk kefir–I’ll have to look for the one you suggested! Thanks!
That’s so exciting! I hope you can get some and adore it Sharon! Let me know. It’s been a game changer for me for sure ^^
Love the collection. Always on lookout for natural fermented food to supplement with probiotic supplements. I will surely try these delicious options ! Great Share.
Prajakta @ ProfusionCurry
I’m so glad you’re excited to give some of these a go Prajakta! I hope that you have a blast trying them out ^^. Let me know what you think! 🙂
Gut health is so important. Thanks for sharing!
It really is! Such an important and oft forgotten about part of our body. We really do need to feed it with kindness. I’m glad you agree Dr. N! Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us <3
These look so good and I think I’m going to be adding a few to my routine 🙂
Oh yay! I’m so excited to hear that. I’d love to hear which ones you try and adore. Hope you have a blast discovering new food ^^.
Thats a great list and some of the foods are so readily available for us to meet our goals of eating fermented food
Heck yea! I find they’re easy to find at most health food stores and I’ve even noticed fermented foods popping up at regular grocery stores too. I hope you have fun taste testing a few you haven’t tried yet. I’d love to hear what you think! Have fun 🙂
A Self Guru
Wow, this article was so insightful because I had no idea about the health benefits of these foods. Thanks for putting it together nicely – I don’t like Kombucha but I do love Miso, yogurt and coconut milk so I’m glad to see those on your list!
Thanks for the awesome tips,
Amira at ASelfGuru
I’m so happy to hear that you enjoyed it and learned a ton Amira! That’s wonderful!
And there are so many options, we can easily tell kombucha to take a hike and still reap the rewards! Miso, yogurt and coconut milk kefir are all fantastic options. I hope you enjoy your next fermented foodie meal! Wishing you well <3.
I love the post! So many great products
I’m so happy you enjoyed it Marie! Thank you! I hope that you have fun discovering new fermented foodie options. Taste testing new food is always the best, right? 🙂 Happy cooking!
With winter coming I really want to include more fermented foods in my diet – thank you!
I’m so happy to hear that Caro! Your microbiome will thank you. I hope you have fun discovering and trying out new ones and create fun, delicious recipes you adore. I’d love to hear about your experiences. Let me know what you think! Wishing you a happy winter 🙂
Another well written, and super informative post! Thanks for sharing. I’m also super excited to try the gluten free/ vegan brownies you have linked.
Those brownies are heaven Sarah! I hope you love them too. I actually made them this weekend as a birthday gift to myself haha. Chocolate is a not so secret way to my heart!
Thank you so much for sharing your kind thoughts. I’m really happy you enjoyed it! Wishing you the best. Happy brownie baking 😀
You had me at “fermented”! But seriously, it is good to hear about these foods and their health benefits. There is so much to get educated on, in the world of nutrition/health.
Yay! I’m so happy you enjoyed it. The fermentation process is absolutely incredibly, eh? And our microbiomes are brilliant too. I’ll always be fascinated. I’m happy you enjoyed it too Bryan! Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us 🙂