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Fermented Foods for health

Pickles and sauerkraut might not be the first examples that jump to mind when you think of health foods. But a growing body of research shows that a diet that includes a regular intake of fermented foods can bring benefits.

Fermented foods are preserved using an age-old process that not only boosts the food's shelf life and nutritional value but can give your body a dose of healthful probiotics — live micro­organisms crucial to good digestion.

The digestive tract is teeming with some 100 trillion bacteria and other microorganisms, says Dr. David S. Ludwig, a professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Research today is revealing the importance of a diverse and healthy intestinal microbiome (the microbial community in the gut) because it plays a role in fine-tuning the immune system and wards off damaging inflammation inside the body, which may lead to conditions ranging from obesity and diabetes to neurodegenerative diseases. "It's a very exciting, dynamic area of research," says Dr. Ludwig.

Future research will likely yield more clues about how the microbiome contributes to overall health. This may eventually enable scientists to pinpoint microorganisms that could target specific diseases or help people lose weight. Until that day comes, fermented foods are useful because they help provide a spectrum of probiotics to foster a vigorous microbiome in your digestive tract that can keep bad actors at bay, says Dr. Ludwig.


This spicy Korean side dish made from fermented cabbage and other vegetables is touted as having anticancer properties and other health benefits. For example, a 2018 review in the Journal of Nutrition and Health found that in human trials, kimchi showed numerous health benefits including lowering blood lipid levels, supporting a healthy weight, reducing blood pressure and reducing inflammation.

Look for kimchi in the refrigerated section near pickles and sauerkraut. Eat it on its own or try it as a burger topper or atop tacos.

Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans that have been pressed into a compact cake.

This high protein meat substitute is firm but chewy and can be baked, steamed, or sauteed before being added to dishes.

In addition to its impressive probiotic content, tempeh is rich in many nutrients that may improve your health.

For example, soy protein has been shown to help reduce certain risk factors for heart disease.

One review of more than 40 studies noted that eating 25 grams (g) (0.88 oz) of soy protein every day for 6 weeks led to a 3.2% decrease in LDL (bad) cholesterol and a 2.8% decrease in total cholesterol.

Additionally, an older test-tube study found that certain plant compounds in tempeh may act as antioxidants. Antioxidants reduce the buildup of free radicals, which are harmful compounds that can contribute to chronic disease.

Tempeh is a great option for vegetarians and omnivores alike. It’s particularly suited to dishes such as sandwiches and stir-fries.

Kombucha is a fermented tea that’s fizzy, tart, and flavorful. It’s made from either green or black tea and offers these drinks’ potent health-promoting properties.

Animal studies suggest that drinking kombucha may help protect the liver from damage caused by exposure to harmful chemicals.

Plus, test-tube studies have found that kombucha may help induce cancer cell death and prevent the spread of cancer cells

Some animal studies have even found that kombucha may help decrease blood sugar, triglyceride, and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels

Kombucha’s antioxidant content is thought to be responsible for many of its possible positive effects

Although these results are promising, further human research is needed.

Thanks to its rising popularity, kombucha can be found at most major grocery stores. But be sure to read the nutrition label and ingredients so you know what’s in the bottle.

Many kombucha drinks are high in added sugar, and others may contain sugar substitutes such as sugar alcohols, which some people may prefer to avoid.

You can make kombucha at home, but it should be prepared carefully to prevent contamination or overfermentation.

Kimchi is a popular Korean side dish that’s usually made from fermented cabbage or other fermented veggies, such as radishes.

It boasts an extensive array of health benefits and may be especially effective at lowering cholesterol and reducing insulin resistance.

Insulin is responsible for transporting glucose from your blood to your tissues. When you sustain high levels of insulin for long periods, your body stops responding to it as usual, resulting in high blood sugar levels and insulin resistance.

In one study, 21 people with prediabetes ate either fresh or fermented kimchi for 16 weeks. At the end of the study, those who ate fermented kimchi had decreased insulin resistance, blood pressure, and body weight.

In another study, people consumed either 7.4 oz (210 g) of kimchi or 0.5 oz (15 g) of kimchi per day for 7 days. The researchers found that higher kimchi intake led to greater decreases in blood sugar, cholesterol, and LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Kimchi is easy to make and can be added to everything from noodle bowls to sandwiches.

Yogurt is made from milk that has been fermented, most commonly with lactic acid bacteria.

It’s high in many important nutrients, including calcium, potassium, phosphorus, riboflavin, and vitamin B12.

Yogurt has also been associated with a wide variety of health benefits.

One review of 14 studies concluded that fermented milk products, including probiotic yogurt, may help reduce blood pressure — especially in those with high blood pressure.

Another study linked a higher intake of yogurt to improvements in bone mineral density and physical function in older adults.

This creamy dairy product may also help prevent weight gain. A review funded by the Danone Institute International associated eating yogurt with a lower body weight, less body fat, and a smaller waist circumference.

Remember that not all yogurts contain probiotics, since these beneficial bacteria are often killed during processing. Look for yogurts that contain live cultures to make sure you’re getting your dose of probiotics. Additionally, opt for products with minimal sugar.

Miso is a common seasoning in Japanese cuisine. It’s made by fermenting soybeans with salt and koji, a type of fungus.

It’s most often found in miso soup, a flavorful dish made of miso paste and stock. Miso soup is traditionally served for breakfast.

Several studies have found health benefits tied to miso.

An older study in 21,852 Japanese women suggested that eating miso soup was linked to a lower risk of breast cancer.

Another older study involving more than 40,000 people associated a higher intake of miso soup with a lower risk of stroke in Japanese women.

Miso may also help lower blood pressure and protect heart health. A 2014 study in rats found that long-term miso soup intake helped normalize blood pressure levels.

Plus, a study in middle-aged and older Japanese adults found that frequent miso soup intake may lead to a lower heart rate. This study also concluded that miso soup did not elevate blood pressure, despite its saltiness.

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