You may have heard the buzz that fermented foods have benefits for your health. Fermented foods include things like yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi (a pickled vegetable dish from Korea) and beverages called kefir and kombucha. These products contain “good” bacteria called probiotics.
Eating fermented products increases the good bacteria that naturally live in your intestines. This is called the gut microbiome.
Foods and drinks that have been fermented also increase the number of different kinds of bacteria in your gut. Having a microbiome made up of lots of different bacteria can improve digestion and gut health.
New research suggests that fermented foods may also improve other parts of health, including metabolic health. That could help lower your risk for conditions like diabetes, heart problems, and obesity.
A new study from Stanford University in the journal Cell supports this idea. Researchers found that fermented products may help to lower inflammation, which can lead to these and other chronic health conditions.
In the study, people who ate or drank several servings of fermented foods every day for 10 weeks significantly lowered markers for inflammation in the body. For instance, fermented foods and drinks appeared to reduce levels of an inflammatory compound called interleukin-6. Levels of this compound are often higher in people with type 2 diabetes.
People consuming fermented products also had more diverse types of bacteria. The more of these foods and drinks they took in, the more different kinds of bacteria researchers found in their gut.
This is good news because a greater diversity of bacteria has been linked to a lower risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other metabolic problems. When the gut microbiome is less diverse, however, it may help certain bacteria to outgrow others and produce enzymes that lead to inflammation and other negative effects.
Past research has found other links between good health and fermented foods. According to a review article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, these foods may help heart health by helping people lose weight, lower their blood pressure, and improve their cholesterol. More research is needed to confirm the studies’ findings.
Some may take getting used to, while others taste delicious from the start. Try putting one new fermented food or drink in your grocery cart each week until you find those you like.
Fermented products include:
- Kombucha – A tangy tea drink
- Kefir – A smoothie-like dairy beverage
- Sauerkraut and sauerkraut juice
- Fermented pickles (not pickled with vinegar)
- Kimchi – A pickled vegetable dish
- Tempeh – A fermented soybean product used as a meat substitute
Keep in mind that yogurt can be used in many different types of dishes—from fruit smoothies to a topping for tacos and baked potatoes, instead of sour cream.
One caution: Be careful to buy pickles and sauerkraut that are actually fermented and not pickled with vinegar. Look for the words “naturally fermented” on the label.
Making these foods part of your diet may be an easy way to better your heart and metabolic health without changing your diet completely. But for a double dose of good health, add fermented foods to the Mediterranean or other plant-based diet.