9 Fermented Foods for Better Intestinal Health

Fermented foods contain microorganisms that help maintain good intestinal health. Discover the 9 best ones here.
9 Fermented Foods for Better Intestinal Health
Maricela Jiménez López

Reviewed and approved by the doctor Maricela Jiménez López.

Written by Okairy Zuñiga

Last update: 19 December, 2022

Fermented foods have been part of the human diet for centuries and have a positive influence on our health in many different ways. Among their benefits, they are able to increase the body’s microbiota and promote better intestinal health.

The beneficial bacteria that live inside the body have become famous for very good reasons. Therefore, it’s a good idea to stimulate their growth to improve and maximize their well-being.

And one of the habits to achieve this is by including fermented foods in your daily diet. Bearing this in mind, here are the 9 best ones.

What are fermented foods?

Fermented foods are foods and beverages that are produced through controlled bacterial growth.

During the process, microorganisms (yeast and bacteria) break down the main compounds in food and transform them into organic acids and alcohol. It’s for this reason that fermented foods tend to have a special taste, texture, and aroma.

There is a great variety of them (meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, etc.) and they are all part of the gastronomic culture of many countries in the world.

Their use in the human diet dates back hundreds of years. In the beginning, fermenting was only a method of food preservation to safeguard food. Today, however, they’re known thanks to their popularity as foods that are beneficial to our health.

Their most outstanding properties are related to the digestive system, but scientists have focused their attention on this type of food because of their greater capacity for action:

  • Their intake provides probiotics, microorganisms that are crucial for digestion.
  • Human studies suggest that consumers of this type of food have a more varied intestinal microbiota with a greater number of beneficial bacteria for health.
  • Fermentation can improve the nutritional value of foods by increasing the presence of nutrients and the digestibility of the product.
  • Data show that probiotics support a healthy immune system, although some strains of bacteria are more beneficial than others.
  • The microorganisms involved in the fermentation process provide vitamins, peptides, and other compounds that may have health benefits at different levels. In particular, they have been linked to a better mood and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, obesity, or inflammation.

Now, it should be taken into account that not all fermented foods contain the same microorganisms. For this reason, their functions may change from one to another.

9 fermented foods to include in your regular diet

There are a large number and variety of foods that have undergone a fermentation process. So, this increases the variety in the diet and the possibilities of finding those that result in our preference.

1. Tempeh

Tempeh a la barbacoa.
Tempeh originates from Indonesia, where it is very popular for its fiber, vitamin, and protein content.

Tempeh is made from naturally fermented soybeans. It usually has a light and pleasant nutty flavor. This food originates from Indonesia, where it is very popular for its fiber, vitamin, and protein content. It’s often used in vegetarian diets as a meat substitute.

Unlike tofu, which is also a soy-derived product, tempeh has a stronger flavor and firmer texture.

To use it, it’s best to fry it in a frying pan until it’s golden brown. It can be diced or sliced. Then, it’s very easy to add in salads, stir-fries, and soups; or you can serve it as a side dish.

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2. Miso

Miso is a traditional Japanese paste made by fermenting soybeans with salt and a fungus called koji. It’s used to flavor many different types of dishes such as the well-known miso soup.

It has been considered a healing food for many centuries in both China and Japan.

In relation to the digestive system, a positive effect of miso soup intake and gastroesophageal reflux disease and dyspepsia is observed. This conclusion is from a study published in 2018, although there’s little other data available.

3. Sauerkraut

sauerkraut: fermented foods
This traditional preservation method has proven to be a portion of healthy probiotic food.

Sauerkraut is one of the most widely consumed fermented foods in Germany and in some areas of France, Poland, and Russia. It’s prepared by fermenting cabbage leaves in water with salt.

The mixture is placed in an anaerobic container so that the salt dehydrates the vegetable and ferments properly. It’s often used as an accompaniment to dishes that are dressed with dill or pepper, pork, and certain types of sausage such as ham .

4. Yogurt

Yogurt is a widely consumed product due to its accessibility, it’s very easy to introduce into your daily diet and take advantage of the nutrients it provides. Among the most notable are the following:

  • Protein
  • Calcium
  • Phosphorus

Yogurt is obtained through the fermentation of milk with the bacteria Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. When not subjected to subsequent pasteurization, these organisms are still alive in the final product.

Some varieties include fruits, seeds, chocolate, and other ingredients. However, the best yogurt to consume on a daily basis is plain or Greek yogurt without added sugar.

In the fermentation process, the lactose in the milk is transformed into lactic acid. It is for this reason that some people with lactose intolerance can tolerate certain amounts of yogurt.

5. Kefir

fermented foods
By ingesting probiotics, we create better conditions for the intestinal flora, which mitigates the adverse effects of fiber

Kefir is a dairy product from the Caucasus. It’s traditionally made from milk and a fermentation starter culture known as kefir granules.

It has a cauliflower-like appearance and consists of different types of bacteria and yeasts. The end result is a creamy drink, with a sour taste and a bubbly appearance.

Its relationship to gut health has been studied in detail. The available data suggest that this is good food for positively modifying the composition of intestinal bacteria.

It also has a promising role as an antimicrobial and as a constipation reliever (although in these last two cases studies are lacking to corroborate it).

Milk kefir can be used in the diet in the same way as yogurt and it’s always best to choose the natural variety without added sugar. It’s also possible to make it at home, with both milk and water (another version of this popular food).

6. Kombucha

Kombucha is a drink that is elaborated fermenting tea (black and also green), to which sugar is added as a food for the microorganisms.

Although it’s colloquially known as kombucha fungus, the microorganisms that appear in the mother culture are a mixture of genera and species known as SCOBY.

This drink has been valued over many generations due to its probiotic contribution. Among other roles, these compounds play a role in the case of certain digestive problems such as celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, or functional motility disorders.

7. Kimchi

Kimchi is another fermented food and one of the most consumed in Korea. Kimchi is prepared with dehydrated Chinese cabbage with salt and mixed with many other ingredients (ginger, garlic, Korean chili flakes, other raw vegetables, etc.).

Its consumption is very popular nowadays thanks to its crunchy texture and powerful flavor. As with sauerkraut, it can be served as a side dish or used to prepare some traditional Korean dishes.

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8. Natto

Natto is the result of the fermentation of soybeans, it has been consumed for thousands of years in Japanese culture. It is very nutritious and easy to digest but has a strong taste. It provides vitamins, enzymes, essential amino acids, and nattokinase.

9. Cheese

This food is another milk derivative obtained through fermentation. The production process requires several essential steps, including inoculating the milk with lactic acid-producing bacteria.

The type of ferment used depends on the variety of cheese and the production process. For this reason, there are cheeses as diverse as blue cheese, parmesan, gruyere, or cheddar.

What else to know about fermented foods

Unlike other food groups, in general, there are few recommendations about the safe consumption of this type of product.

The only exception could be yogurts and kefir, although the main food guides recommend the consumption of dairy products in general, without detailing the specific type.

To consume these foods safely, it’s important to buy quality and reliable products and take the utmost care if they are made at home.

In addition, although these are foods with many health benefits, they should not be abused so that they don’t displace other equally healthy options.

Consuming them in small amounts gradually also helps a person to get used to their taste, which can be somewhat strong for people who are not used to having them in their diet.

Choose these fermented foods to take care of your intestinal health

A diet that includes this type of product improves the composition and state of the microbiota, which can have a positive impact on your digestive and general health.

Fermented foods can be introduced daily and in moderate amounts depending on the type of fermented food you choose. In case of any questions about them, it is best to seek advice from a doctor or nutritional specialist.

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The contents of this publication are for informational purposes only. At no time can they serve to facilitate or replace the diagnoses, treatments, or recommendations of a professional. Consult with your trusted specialist if you have any doubts and seek their approval before beginning any procedure.