Recently, I wrote about the benefits of probiotics and how to choose a probiotic supplement that’s right for you. But, did you know that eating fermented foods can be another way to get the “good” bacteria your body needs?
Now, you may have already heard about eating fermented foods for gut health. But some of the other benefits of fermented foods may surprise you. For example, did you know that eating fermented foods can actually help fight depression and anxiety? Keep reading to learn more about fermented foods and all the incredible benefits they offer. Plus, I’ve included four fermented foods you should try adding to your diet. It can take a bit of patience and practice, but once you see all they have to offer, I know you’ll be eager to give fermented foods a try!
Fermented foods are probiotic-rich foods, meaning they contain lots of beneficial bacteria. These “good bacteria” are microorganisms that support digestive health and your gut microbiome. And as you likely know by now, a healthy gut is key for good overall health. 
So, how does food become fermented? Well, the fermentation process occurs when yeast or live bacteria break down an organic substance. There are three kinds of fermentation processes: lactic acid, ethyl alcohol, and acetic acid. Lactic acidfermentation results in fermented foods that contain live microorganisms, while ethyl alcohol fermentation produces wine and beer by using yeasts to break down starches and sugars. Finally, acetic acid fermentation uses vinegar to produce fermented foods.
Over the centuries, fermentation processes were often used to preserve foods. But we now know that there are also many health benefits of fermented foods. Let’s review four of these important benefits and how they work.
As I’ve mentioned, eating fermented foods can provide many health benefits. While you may not be so surprised to learn that eating fermented foods improves digestive health, you may be surprised that they can help many other areas of your health. Here are four key benefits of fermented foods.
Research has shown that eating fermented foods can help to support and improve gut health. The microbes found in fermented foods also help make it easier to digest other foods. They’re similar to those in probiotic strains. As a result, one of the many benefits of fermented foods can include adding “good” microorganisms to the gut microbiome. [2, 3]
Believe it or not, your gut health affects your brain health. This important relationship is called the gut-brain axis (GBA). In fact, researchers have found that an imbalance in the gut microbiota (the bacteria in your digestive system) can impact health conditions ranging from digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to conditions affecting the central nervous system. Research has even revealed connections between our microbiome and mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. [4, 5, 6]
So, while you’re eating fermented foods for gut health, you can also boost your mental health! How incredible is that?
The probiotic-rich nutrient content in fermented foods, also known as functional foods, has shown promise in helping to alleviate and control high blood pressure, and, by extension, to help improve cardiovascular health. More research is advised, and it’s still a good idea to maintain a healthy diet including fermented foods and get regular exercise to help combat one of our biggest health ailments today: heart disease. [7, 8, 9, 10]
The benefits of fermented foods also include supporting your immune system. Researchers have shown in both animal and human studies that due to their probiotic content, eating fermented foods for gut health can also have the added benefit of providing protection against certain infections. They also suggest that probiotic-rich bacteria may even help to alleviate symptoms of some autoimmune diseases. [11, 12]
One caveat to the benefits of fermented foods: If you have certain digestive conditions, such as SIBO or IBS, fermented foods may cause digestive distress.
Also, note that sometimes fermented foods can cause gas or bloating, especially if you’re not used to eating them. So, if you suffer from the above-mentioned digestive conditions or find that eating fermented foods is causing abdominal discomfort, it’s best to consult your physisican.
Did you know that there are a variety of types of fermented foods that can be made from fish, fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and meat? While these are all options, I recommend focusing on fermented vegetables and fruits rich in probiotics as part of a healthy plant-based diet.
In this section, I want to share four fermented plant-based foods that come with many health benefits.
A staple of Korean cuisine, kimchi is a spicy blend of salted fermented vegetables, often including Korean radish and Napa cabbage, plus seasonings and spices.
Most likely you have heard of sauerkraut. This fermented cabbage comes from Germany. In fact, sauerkraut literally means “sour cabbage” in German.
Tempeh is a traditional Indonesian food that is made by fermenting soybeans and forming them into cakes. It’s high in vitamin B12, which has led to its popularity among those eating a vegan diet. However, its nutty flavor makes tempeh an ingredient that many can enjoy despite their dietary preferences.
Originating in Japan, miso has a unique flavor. This tangy seasoning is a paste made from fermented soybeans. Often miso paste is used to make miso soup, but it can also be used in other dishes.