What Are Fermented Foods and Why Eat Them?


When it comes to healthy food choices, fermented foods might not be what comes to mind first. However, there are plenty of reasons you should incorporate them into your diet every once in awhile. Let’s look at what fermentation is, examples of common fermented foods, and why you should eat them from a nutritional perspective.

What is Fermentation?

Fermentation may be a process that you are not extremely familiar with. It is a scientific process that converts carbohydrates into alcohol or acids with the aid of microorganisms such as yeast or bacteria. The final product of the alcohol or acid acts as a preservative so the probiotics (or good bacteria) in fermented foods remain alive and provide several benefits to the digestive tract and immune system.

What Are Fermented Foods?

Examples of fermented foods include: yogurt, raw sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, miso, tempeh, kefir, cottage cheese, and some pickles. Other foods like sourdough bread, some cheeses, beer, and wine start out with the fermentation process, but the probiotics they contain are killed or inactivated through baking, pasteurization, or filtering. Stick with items such as yogurt, kefir, and kombucha to reap the most benefits.

Why Eat Fermented Foods?

Did you know that about 70% of your immune system is based in your gut? The best way to ensure a healthy immune system is to feed it with good bacteria that will help improve immunity, digestion, and heart health. Probiotics may even improve your mood since serotonin, a mood-regulating hormone, is produced in the gut. Large amounts of this good bacteria are found in fermented foods. Certain fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut have a probiotic content comparable to supplements!

Where Can You Find Them?

Most naturally fermented foods will be found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. Look for words such as raw, fermented, or probiotic on the label to ensure the highest quality. If you look at the label and see the word pasteurized or if the product is sitting on a shelf not in the refrigerated section, it does not contain live microbes and will not provide the appropriate digestive and health benefits.

How Can You Eat Fermented Foods?

Be aware that these foods have a very strong flavor profile that can be tangy, sour, bitter, and/or savory. You may be able to curb sugar and sweet cravings by adding more fermented foods with bitter and sour tastes. Here are some ideas on how to add fermented foods into your diet.

  • Kimchi:
    • Chop kimchi and scramble it with eggs for a great start to the day.
    • Add kimchi to brown rice with chicken or tofu and sauteed vegetables.
  • Kefir:
    • Use kefir as the liquid in smoothies instead of milk or water to increase probiotic
    • Whip kefir into dressings and condiments for extra creaminess.
  • Plain Greek Yogurt:
    • Use plain Greek yogurt anywhere you would normally use sour cream.
  • Sauerkraut:
    • Pile sauerkraut onto sandwiches or fold into egg salad for an added boost of probiotics.
  • Miso:
    • Mix miso with tahini, and rice vinegar for a flavorful sauce for roasted veggies.

If you have more questions regarding probiotics, or just want to know more about nutrition in general, you can sit down for a free consultation with one of our on-staff nutrition coaches!

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Written by Sarah Brunner, RDN, CD

Sarah is certified in food allergies/intolerances and nutritional counseling, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; has a certificate in Dietetics from Mount Mary University; and a BA in Education and Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse.


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