9 Naturally Fermented Foods for Better Gut Health

June 04, 2021 8 min read

Can the food you eat make a difference in your immune and gut health? Fermented foods might just be the way to go. 

Fermented Foods For Digestive Health: kimchi and pickled vegetables


Did you know that approximately 70% of your immune system's cells reside in your gut? In other words, your immune function and your gut are closely interconnected. But don't take our word for it, more and more studies have been suggesting that there is actually a pretty close link between the two.

When it comes to maintaining your health, your gut and immune function almost always go hand in hand, and you simply can’t ignore one without also impacting the other. 

In reality, gut health plays a much larger role in our overall health than most of us ever imagined, potentially even influencing major systems in our body. Your immune function, metabolism, heart health, energy levels, and even mental health can all be affected by the state of your gut.

 

SO WHAT CAN YOU DO TO GET YOUR MICROFLORA IN CHECK AND BOOST YOUR HEALTH? 

A daily probiotic supplement (like our Primal Gut Restore), in combination with healthy lifestyle choices and a diet containing some fermented foods, is generally considered to be an effective way to support a healthy gut naturally.

Taking a probiotic supplement may be especially useful for those who lead busy lifestyles and find it difficult to stay on track with their diet and nutrition. Read more about the other potential benefits of adding a daily probiotic supplement to your routine here.

That being said, there are many delicious high-fiber and fermented foods available that contain a big probiotic punch!

These foods can help boost your gut's health and create a positive environment for "good" gut bacteria to grow and thrive.

So if you’ve been struggling with gut-related issues, have taken prescription medications or antibiotics recently, or simply want to boost your immune health, fermented foods are definitely worth a spot in your fridge!

 

But first, what are fermented foods?

Historically, fermentation was used as a natural method of preservation to keep foods edible for longer periods of time without spoilage. In fact, food preservation was used for centuries before the use of refrigeration to preserve fresh produce or dairy.

The age-old process of fermentation actually helps to give our food a healthy kick. It does this by introducing live microorganisms, essential for optimum digestion, to our gut.

Microorganisms including bacteria, yeast, or fungi convert the natural sugars found in foods, such as glucose, fructose, and sucrose, into lactic acid. This process, also known as Lacto-fermentation, helps to preserve the food and enhances its micronutrient profile at the same time.

These microorganisms are excellent for digestive health and come with a whole host of potential health benefits that go far beyond your gut. Eating foods rich in these microorganisms helps to introduce more probiotics, or "beneficial bacteria", into your gut which can help to keep your gut in balance.

What do we mean by "beneficial", or "good", bacteria?

We talk a lot about our gut health and how important it is for our general wellness. That means that a lot of terms might get tossed around that are often used interchangeably. These include:

"Good" bacteria

We often think of bacteria as being harmful in some way. However, this isn't always the case. The body can actually benefit from some types of bacteria, especially the gut. Some types of gut bacteria are responsible for digestion and can help support the immune system and weight management. These are what we often refer to as "good" or "beneficial" bacteria or microbes.

"Bad" bacteria

Not all bacteria are created equal. While some bacteria can have a positive impact on the body, some types of microbes can actually have the opposite effect. These are often known as "bad" bacteria. Researchers suggest that the key to a healthier gut microbiome is keeping both types of bacteria balanced.

Probiotics

In the simplest terms, probiotics are live bacteria or yeast. These guys can help keep our microbiome happy and balanced by introducing beneficial bacteria into the gut.

 

HERE ARE 9 OF THE TASTIEST SOURCES OF PROBIOTICS FOUND IN OUR DIETS THAT YOU CAN START ADDING INTO YOUR ROUTINE TODAY. 

 

Fermented foods: Probiotic yogurt


YOGURT

Essentially fermented milk, yogurt provides excellent sources of many essential nutrients including calcium, protein, and vitamin B12. Like with other fermented foods, eating yogurt can also be a great way to include more gut-boosting probiotics in your diet. However, not all yogurts are created equally and many are not as healthy as you may think.

Be sure to choose yogurt options that are most natural, fermented, and non-flavored whenever possible. These types of probiotic yogurts are typically made by adding lactic acid bacteria to milk so that it can ferment. They often contain live, or bacterial, cultures like Lactobacillus acidophilus.

This probiotic has been shown to help boost a healthy gut by keeping beneficial bacteria in check and supporting various digestive issues.

If you find yourself overwhelmed by options in the yogurt aisle, it might be helpful to have a look at the label before you make your choice. Keep an eye out for products that contain the least amount of added ingredients (but don't count the active cultures).

Try to avoid "diet" or low-fat yogurt since low-fat variations can often be high in sugar and artificial chemicals. They tend to be more processed and therefore also low in probiotic strains, which means you probably won't get all the health benefits of probiotic yogurt.

And remember: Too much sugar can actually wreak havoc on your intestinal microflora and result in a counterproductive effect.

Best fermented foods: miso paste and miso soup


MISO

Miso is a traditional Japanese ingredient, typically found mixed with dashi (fish broth) to make the very popular miso soup. It’s also commonly used in many sauces and spreads. Miso is a salty paste that is typically made from fermented soybeans, barley or rice, salt, and koji, a type of edible mold.

This delicious fermented paste adds a lovely savory, umami taste to a meal. Be sure to consume in proper portions and watch out for your sodium intake when consuming large amounts of miso products.

There are lots of great recipes available out there if you're looking for imaginative ways to use miso paste. For example, why not try adding a little miso the next time you make salad dressing or BBQ marinade?

Fermented foods: kefir drink


KEFIR

Similar to yogurt, kefir is essentially fermented milk, although there are also non-milk alternatives like coconut and rice milk kefir as well. 

Kefir typically contains more fat, more protein, and more probiotics than its generic yogurt counterpart. It tastes very much like a yogurt drink and can even be used as a buttermilk substitute in some cases.

This fermented dairy drink is made by adding kefir grains to dairy (or plant-based) milk. These grains are made up of a combination of bacteria and yeast and are what produce the tangy yogurt-like flavor of kefir. Drinking kefir can help to introduce more beneficial bacteria and gut-friendly probiotics to the digestive system.

Not only is this probiotic drink super tasty, but kefir may also be beneficial in digesting lactose, the main carbohydrate found in dairy products.  

Fermented foods: sauerkraut

 
SAUERKRAUT

Typically made from just cabbage and salt, natural sauerkraut (not tinned or jarred) contains a healthy dose of daily probiotics. In addition to being rich in "good" bacteria, sauerkraut is also a good source of fiber and vitamin C. Thanks to its vitamin C content, this fermented cabbage is also a fantastic way to add an antioxidant boost to your lunch or dinner.

Be sure to go for the unpasteurized kind, however, as pasteurizing sauerkraut kills the beneficial bacteria. Use it as a topping for your hotdogs or as a tasty side dish for an extra sour kick to your meal! 

Kimchi for better digestive health


KIMCHI

Kimchi is a traditional Korean side dish that is made of fermented vegetables. It is typically found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store near other Asian ingredients, or pickles and sauerkraut.

The most well-known version is made from salted napa cabbage and a mix of spices and vegetables such as radish, onion, and garlic, but there are in fact hundreds of varieties of kimchi.

Not only does it contain probiotics, but kimchi is also a great source of antioxidants by way of vitamins A, C, and K. Some studies suggest that kimchi may have a beneficial impact on insulin resistance while others have looked at its effect on blood cholesterol.

This spicy fermented vegetable dish has become very popular among trendy youth over the past few years. It can be served sour or spicy and is a wonderful addition to savory dishes, with barbecue, or other grilled flavors.

Fermented food and drink: fermented kombucha


KOMBUCHA

Rooted in ancient China, kombucha is a refreshing, bubbly fermented black or green tea beverage that’s gained popularity amongst many health enthusiasts over the last few decades. You can find kombucha in natural foods stores, farmers' markets, and even your regular grocery store.

It’s a rich source of probiotics and antioxidants. The antioxidant content of the tea increases with fermentation, helping to give immune health a boost.

Kombucha is also known for its many probiotic benefits and is the perfect beverage to enjoy on a hot summer's day!

You should note that a tiny amount of alcohol is sometimes produced during fermentation. Although this is usually less than 0.5 percent alcohol by volume, some have been found to have closer to 2-3 percent. If you are avoiding alcohol entirely you may want to double-check the alcohol content of the kombucha before consumption.

Fermented foods and probiotics: natto


NATTO

Natto is another fermented food that is rich in probiotics. Like miso, it's also made from fermented soybeans and is high in vitamin K and fiber. It has quite a strong, unique flavor and texture which is why some call it an "acquired taste."

Natto is made by adding a bacteria called Bacillus subtilis during the fermentation process. In traditional Japanese cuisine, it is often served with rice as a nutritious breakfast dish thanks to its high nutritional value. In fact, natto is packed with protein, vitamins, and minerals.

Fermented foods to add to your diet: tempeh


TEMPEH

No longer just for vegetarians and vegans, tempeh is a delicious meat-free alternative for stir fry meals, veggie burgers, salads, wraps, and more! Just like tofu, it’s a plant-based protein made of soy, but unlike tofu, tempeh is made from fermented soybeans.

This gives it the additional probiotic benefits we all are looking for! Tempeh is also firmer and slightly nuttier than tofu, and contains all of the probiotics, amino acids, and protein you need to fuel your body.

Tempeh can easily be added to almost any recipe, from sandwiches to stirfries. It can be cooked in a variety of different ways depending on your own preference - you can choose if you want to eat it steamed, baked, or sauteed!

Fermented foods and probiotics: pickles and pickled vegetables


PICKLES

Foods like fermented pickles are another great way to add more probiotics and fermented foods to your diet. Sometimes referred to as gherkins, pickled cucumbers are probably the most popular type of pickled vegetable.

They are made by leaving cucumbers to ferment in a solution of salt and water. As they ferment, they produce lactic acid bacteria which is where all those gut-loving probiotics come from.

However, pickles are also often made with vinegar, which means that they don't contain live probiotics. Like miso paste, pickles also tend to have a high sodium content and may also contain high levels of sugar.

 

Are there any foods that are "bad" for your gut?

There are some types of food that are less beneficial for your immune, gut, and overall health. Not only do they provide your body with less nutrition, but they may also cause an imbalance in your gut microbiota. If you have digestive issues, you may want to consider avoiding or limiting these in your diet:

  • Added sugars and artificial sweeteners
  • Alcohol
  • Processed and refined foods

 

Fermented Foods: The Bottom Line

  • Fermentation is a process that involves bacteria and yeast breaking down sugars.
  • Eating fermented foods can help boost the number of probiotics found in your gut.
  • Probiotics have been associated with a variety of health benefits, most significantly for digestive health, immune support, and healthy weight management. 
  • Some common sources of fermented foods and drinks include yogurt, miso soup, sauerkraut, and kefir.

 

How do I get the maximum health benefits from fermented foods?

You'll likely get the most benefits if you combine probiotic-rich foods and beverages with a healthy lifestyle. This includes exercising regularly, staying hydrated, and making sure you get plenty of sleep and rest.

If you have any particular health concerns or prior conditions, it's always best to ask for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare professional before changing your lifestyle habits and diet.

 

HAVE YOU STARTED A GUT-BOOSTING SUPPLEMENT ROUTINE OR TRIED ANY OF THESE FERMENTED FOODS? LEAVE US A COMMENT BELOW AND LET US KNOW!

 

BECAUSE REMEMBER...

 

IT'S ABOUT YOU. IT'S ABOUT YOUR HEALTH. IT'S ABOUT RECONNECTING.
Jennifer Sluzewski
Written by
Jennifer Sluzewski

Writer and Content Creator for Team Primal Harvest
As a former JMU Duke and graduate of the School of Media Arts and Design, Jennifer has been a writer and editor for multiple brands and publications over the past eight years. Currently residing in NYC, she can often be found in a coffee shop, yoga studio, or planning her next travel adventure!