Top Fermented Foods for Gut Health

Fermented foods can boost your gut health.

When it comes to protecting your gut health, it’s hard to go wrong with fermented foods.

Fermented foods contain live microorganisms — also known as probiotics — that can help maintain the diversity of your gut microbiome, which is made up of trillions of microorganisms and their genetic material. These microorganisms, which live in your intestinal tract, are primarily comprised of bacteria which are crucial for digestion and absorbing nutrients. Gut microorganisms are also associated with maintaining your metabolism and body weight and regulating your immune system.

“Having more diversity of bugs in the gut is important because lower diversity is associated with a number of chronic illnesses,” says Stacy Cavagnaro, a registered dietitian with Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Human Nutrition.

Research supports the health benefits of microbiome diversity.

Lower gut microbiome diversity is associated with an array of chronic illnesses, including:

— Allergies.

Autoimmune diseases.

— Colorectal cancer.



Research published in the journal Cell in July 2021 suggests that adhering to an eating regimen rich in fermented foods boosts the diversity of gut microbes and reduces molecular signs of inflammation.

Here are five top fermented foods for gut health:

1. Kefir

Kefir is a fermented milk product that’s based on the milk of a cow, goat or sheep. When milk is combined with kefir grains that consist of yeast and good bacteria, it ferments to yield a thick and tangy yogurt-like drink that’s full of calcium and gut-friendly probiotics, says Beth Stark, a registered dietitian nutritionist based in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, area.

The drink is available in a variety of flavors. Stark recommends opting for a plain version and blending it with fresh fruit to keep the amount of added sugar low. “Kefir can be used in recipes, to make in smoothies or consumed on its own,” she says.

2. Kombucha

Kombucha is a tangy, fizzy, fermented tea that’s generally made from green or black tea and flavored with herbs or fruit. “Through the fermentation process, it gains good-for-your-gut yeast and bacteria,” Stark says. She advises reading labels and sticking with tea that keeps the added sugar content at a reasonable amount, about 4 grams per serving or less.

This beverage is widely available at:

Grocery stores.

— Farmer’s markets.

— Health food stores.

3. Miso

Miso is an intensely flavored paste made from fermented barley, rice or soybeans, Stark says.

It’s often used to enhance the flavor of such foods as:


— Salads dressings.

— Marinades.

Miso contains probiotics, which are good for your gut health. “Be mindful of how much you’re adding to recipes — a little goes a long way and also keeps your sodium intake on the sensible side.”

4. Sauerkraut

As versatile as it is tangy, sauerkraut is produced by fermenting cabbage in lactic acid bacteria, Cavagnaro says. Sauerkraut provides not only probiotics but fiber, which is beneficial for keeping your digestive system regular.

Getting enough fiber is associated with mitigating the risk of a number of diseases, including:

Colorectal cancer.

High cholesterol.

— Obesity.

Many people eat sauerkraut straight out of the jar or in combination with sausages. But you can use sauerkraut in a variety of dishes, including:

— Dips.

— In salads, soups and marinades.

— As a pizza topping.

— In sandwiches.

Keep in mind that you don’t need large amounts of sauerkraut to get its flavor or health benefits, Cavagnaro says.

5. Tempeh

Made from fermented soybeans, tempeh features a dense, cake-like texture that can be used as a protein source in cooking and is easily marinated to take on other flavors, says Lise Gloede, a registered dietitian based in Falls Church, Virginia. “It’s similar to tofu, though the texture is different, and is a good protein source,” she says.

Tempeh can be an excellent gut-healthy substitute for meat in:

— Sandwiches.

— Soups

— Stews.

— Stir-fry dishes.

How often should you eat fermented foods?

There’s no hard and fast rule as to how often you should consume fermented foods. Eating a variety of fermented foods “within an overall eating pattern has been shown to be beneficial for overall gut health,” says Kristie Leigh, a registered dietitian nutritionist and senior manager of scientific affairs at Danone North America. She’s based in Sea Cliff, New York.

“Fermented foods are safe, but everyone is different, so if you have concerns you should consult with your physician before making any major dietary changes. Incorporating fermented foods into your current eating pattern can be as simple as rethinking some of your favorite foods.” For example, you could top your Sunday brunch waffles with berries and Greek yogurt — another fermented food — instead of whipped cream. Or you could also add yogurt instead of sour cream to tacos.

To recap, here are five top fermented foods for gut health:

— Kefir.

— Kombucha.

— Miso.

— Sauerkraut.

— Tempeh.

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