Eat fermented foods for better gut health, advise researchers
07/29/2020 / By Joanne Washburn / Comments
Eat fermented foods for better gut health, advise researchers

Not a fan of fermented foods? You may be missing out.

In a recent paper published in the journal Nature Communications, a team of scientists found that food appears to be the major source of lactic acid bacteria, a group of bacteria thought to be beneficial for gut health.

In particular, senior author Danilo Ercolini notes that fermented foods are the principal source of lactic acid bacteria in nature.

Besides supporting digestion, lactic acid bacteria protect our gastrointestinal tract from pathogenic microbes that can cause infection and gastrointestinal disorders, such as constipation, hemorrhoids and colitis.

But prior to this recent research, scientists had been unsure as to how much lactic acid bacteria from these foods actually makes it to the gut to become part of our gut microbiome.

Fermented foods are a good source of lactic acid bacteria for the gut

Lactic acid bacteria are among the most studied microorganisms because of their fundamental role in digestion and other biological processes.

Lactic acid bacteria are also often studied in relation to fermented foods. For starters, the process of fermentation, an age-old practice for storing food for the long haul, has been the subject of much research because of its potential to transform substances into edible foods that possess characteristics different from their unfermented counterparts.

One such characteristic is related to bacterial content. Fermented foods are thought to contain significant amounts of probiotics, a group of helpful microorganisms considered to be beneficial for human health.

Numerous strains of lactic acid bacteria are considered probiotics. The most notable of these probiotics belong to the Lactobacillus genus of bacteria.

Lactic acid bacteria are also of much interest to nutritionists and scientists because of their potential to infuse nutrients into foods, resulting in health benefits.

In an attempt to determine if these lactic acid bacteria do, in fact, become part of our gut microbiome (instead of just passing through), Ercolini and a team of international scientists examined reconstructed genetic information of different lactic acid bacterial strains (genomes) from about 300 foods.

The team also looked at about 10,000 human fecal samples from different continents.

It appeared that Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactococcus lactis are among the most common bacterial strains found in human stool samples. These strains can be found in yogurt and cheese.

The team also compared the DNA sequences of around 3,000 lactic acid bacterial genomes and found that lactic acid bacteria from food are similar to those found in the human gut.

Based on their findings, the team concluded that eating foods rich in lactic acid bacteria, such as fermented foods, can help increase the amount of these probiotics in our intestines for better digestion and gut health.

Fermented foods to eat for better gut health

Considering loading up on lactic acid bacteria and other probiotics? Look no further than fermented foods. Despite their often strong smell and different texture, fermented foods are incredible health foods capable of boosting gut health.

Good gut health translates to better digestion, reduced risk of gastrointestinal disorders and enhanced immune health. Good gut health also results in better blood sugar control and reduced cholesterol.

Eat these 14 fermented foods as part of a balanced diet to keep that gut in tip-top shape:

Dairy yogurt

Yogurt is perhaps one of the most common foods that come to mind at the mention of probiotics. This fermented food is made by adding bacterial cultures to heated milk. The result? A thick, creamy and tangy product perfect for increasing good bacteria in the gut.

Non-dairy yogurt

Lactose-intolerant? No problem. Grab a cup of non-dairy yogurt and eat that instead. This fermented food product is made using coconut milk, almond milk, oat milk or other plant-based milk substitutes.


Kefir is a fermented milk drink that tastes a lot like yogurt. It is a great source of calcium and probiotics, so besides boosting gut health, it also helps in building strong bones.

Kefir also helps in processing lactose, making it easier to digest for lactose-intolerant people.


Miso is a Japanese fermented paste made from barley or rice. It adds a nice umami taste to dishes. It can be a bit strong, so it’s best to use a little at a time.

In Japan, miso can often be found in soups, but it is also sometimes added to salad dressings and marinades.


Tempeh is a great plant-based source of protein, and it is rich in probiotics to boot. It is also an excellent source of essential amino acids that help in maintaining strong bones and muscles.

Sourdough bread

Sourdough bread is perhaps one of the handfuls of fermented foods out there that isn’t a drink, a drink-like product or a paste.

This bread gets its name from its characteristic sour taste all thanks to the lactobacilli used to ferment the dough.

Because the starches and grains in the bread are predigested from the bacteria, sourdough bread is a lot easier to digest, making it an extremely healthy option in the realm of pastries.


Sauerkraut is great for more than just topping eggs, sausage and salads. Made from cabbage and salt, this fermented food is chock-full of probiotics and fiber that support digestion.

To get the most out of its probiotics, steer clear of store-bought sauerkraut. Those are often processed, and both the sauerkraut’s taste and nutrient content suffer as a result.

Pickled vegetables

The great thing about fermentation is that it can be used for all sorts of foods, not just cabbages and pickles. All it takes is a brine or vinegar solution and clean, chopped vegetables. Chuck both into a pickling jar and set it aside to ferment.


Kimchi is sauerkraut’s distant Korean cousin, and it packs a spicier punch. It features a blend of spices, such as ginger, red pepper and garlic, and this concoction is used to coat cabbage, radish and scallions, among other foods.

Making kimchi also requires using sugar, but don’t fret. The salt brine used to ferment the food kills off bad bacteria. The remaining good bacteria then eat the sugar, transforming it into lactic acid.


Natto is a traditional Japanese dish eaten alongside almost all kinds of Japanese dishes, from cold noodles to sashimi. Made from fermented soybeans, natto sports a strong, pungent smell reminiscent of cheese and old socks.

But make no mistake: Natto is considered a health food in Japan because of its rich probiotic content. It also contains a considerable amount of fiber that keeps these good bacteria fed and satisfied.

Beet kvass

Ever heard of kvass? This fermented drink, originally made from sourdough bread, has been consumed throughout eastern Europe and Russia for centuries.

To make kvass at home, use beets: Chop up a couple of beetroots and let them sit in a brine solution for up to seven days before straining.


This fermented alcoholic drink can be great for gut health if consumed in moderation. Just don’t drink too much to avoid liver problems, abdominal fat and other metabolic health issues that can lead to serious complications later on.


You can also create fermented condiments using the pickling juice from homemade sauerkraut and other fermented foods.

Just mix that juice into mustard, horseradish and the like to create nutritious condiments free from sugar and artificial ingredients.


Kombucha is a fermented tea drink rich in bacterial cultures that support digestion. It also often features herbs and fruits, such as ginger, cinnamon, mint and blueberries, for a richer taste and a more nutritious punch.

Fermented foods are excellent sources of lactic acid bacteria and other probiotics that boost digestion and promote optimal gut health. Eat them as part of a balanced diet to make the most of their probiotics and other nutrients.


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