Top 5 Fermented Foods For Beginners

red cabbage sauerkraut

( Fermented foods are a key ingredient in any healthy diet and have been present in traditional food cultures for thousands of years. Learn why fermented foods should be added to your arsenal and Michelle's top 5 foods to try out now, even if you're new to the scene. 

Why Fermented Foods? 

Fermented foods have been present in traditional cultures for thousands of years, and science is catching up to their key role in helping maintain the health of our digestive microbiome (the collection of microorganisms such as bacteria that are key to regulating digestive health, immune function and inflammation in the human body). Fermented foods contain friendly bacteria (probiotics) and contribute to the health of this system in several ways:

  • Boost immune function and help prevent gastrointestinal infections
  • Improve health of the digestive tract
  • Reduce the risk of several cancers
  • May contain digestive enzymes (or certain bacteria that help to break down certain molecules, such as lactose)
  • May contain novel anti-oxidants and phytochemicals not found elsewhere
  • May increase content of certain nutrients including the B vitamins
  • May contribute to more positive mental health through multiple mechanisms

While exact mechanisms are still under study it is thought that they may modify gut pH, out-compete pathogenic bacteria for nutrients, stimulate immune modulating cells among other possible paths. 

If you have any gastrointestinal issues, then fermented foods are key to creating a happy, healthy gut. Aim for at least a serving every day and experiment to see which ones make you feel your best!

When buying fermented foods look for a clean ingredient list to ensure you're getting only the good stuff. 

Top 5 Fermented Foods For Beginners

  1. Kefir- A fermented milk drink made by adding kefir grains to milk that originated in Turkey. The combination yeast and bacterial starter seems to have benefits above and beyond that of yogurt. It is slightly sour and a little bit "fizzy" thanks to the carbonation from the fermentation process. Pickier eaters may want to try it in a smoothie first. Early studies have shown that its particular nutritonal and probiotic makeup may heal treat colitis by regulating inflammatory response of digestive tract cells. Its also a source of the hard to find bone building nutrient Vitamin K2. 
  2. Yogurt- Easy to find and eat, yogurt is a great way to include friendly bacteria in your diet. For the non yogurt lovers out there it can easily be hidden in smoothies or homemade dip without affecting nutritional quality.
  3. Sauerkraut- another traditional dish, the finely cut cabbage is fermented by various lactic acid bateria creating a serious health boosting treat. The use of cruciferous super-veggie cabbage likely increases the potency of this fermented food. 
  4. Kimchi- A Korean invention, Kimchi consists of pickled cabbage and other vegetables fermented with lactic acid bacteria. Typically spicy and full of flavour, it is often used as a condiment at each meal. Studies are showing links to anti-cancer and anti-obesity effects among others. 
  5. Miso- look for a natural (few ingredient) miso paste and make a miso soup starter for lunch and dinner a habit. The healthier versions are often found in the refrigerated section of the store.

A special note on fermented veggies such as sauerkraut and kimchi- many of the commercial varieties are pasteurized which kills off the probiotcs (but some of their initial benefits may remain including anti-mutagenic properties, increased digestive enzymes and phytonutrient etc). Your best bet is to look for locally made unpasteurized versions for the full boost. Many delis and smaller grocers will carry them.

Others to try: Cultured butter, hard aged cheeses, vegetables pickled without heat (caution when doing this at home, its important to ensure proper fermentation has taken place to ensure the pathogenic bacteria don't remain), kombucha tea, natto.....

What fermented foods please your palate? Share with us in the comments below!


Probiotics and their fermented food products are beneficial for health J Appl Microbiol. 2006

Health Benefits of Kimchi as a Probiotic Food Journal of Medicinal Food. 2014

Fermented Foods, microbiota, and mental health: ancient practice meets nutritional psychiatry. Journal of Physiological Anthropology. 2014

Fermented milks and milk products as functional foods- a review. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 2013

A healthful dose of bacteria... Todays Dietitian. 2013

Lactobacillus kefiranofaciens M1 isolated from milk kefir grains ammeliorates experimental colitsi in vitro and in vivo . Journal Of Dairy Science. 2011

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