Ask a Nutritionist: Should I Eat Fermented Foods for Good Gut Health?

Hey Jess! I’m really trying to improve my gut health, and I’ve come across fermented foods quite a bit. I don’t know much about them and unsure if I should be adding them to my diet. Any advice?

fermented foods

If I had a penny for every time someone mentioned ‘gut health’ or ‘microbiome’ lately I might be finding myself in a sun-soaked paradise rather than the unpredictable weather of the UK. But while some trends come and go, it looks like gut health is here to stay.

With all this interest there has been an increased presence of ‘kefir’ or ‘kombucha’ products on supermarket shelves. Before we dive into these, let's tackle the question first: What exactly are fermented foods?

Fermented foods are typically made by introducing microorganisms, such as bacteria or yeast, to a food source, such as bread, beer, or cheese. The microorganisms break down sugars and starches, creating tasty flavours and beneficial bacteria. This practice dates back thousands of years, as a means of preserving food and drink. Not just a fleeting trend then.

The benefits of fermented foods

Probiotics

Found in certain fermented foods such as yogurt and kefir, are beneficial live bacteria (or probiotics), that play a crucial role in enhancing the diversity among your gut bacteria, contributing to overall gut health.

Additional micronutrients

Fermented foods are not only a source of probiotics, but are also rich in certain vitamins, minerals, fibre, and other beneficial compounds.

Enhanced nutrient absorption

Fermentation enhances the absorption of essential nutrients from foods like sauerkraut, and can also remove compounds that might hinder absorption.

What are the types of fermented foods?

There is such a wide variety of fermented foods from different cultures around the world, I’ll list some of the most common below:

Kefir

A fermented dairy drink, made by introducing kefir grains, a mix of bacteria and yeast into milk. Similar to yogurt, yet tangy.

Kimchi

A Korean staple, made from fermenting vegetables such as cabbage or radishes with spices, creating a popular condiment.

Sauerkraut

A well-known fermented vegetable condiment made from finely shredded cabbage undergoing a fermentation process.

Kombucha

A fermented tea beverage made by fermenting sweetened tea with a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.

Sourdough

Fermented bread made using naturally occurring wild yeast and bacteria, often in the form of a sourdough starter.

So, in answer to your original question, incorporating fermented foods into your diet is a great way to promote gut health. While the taste may take some getting used to, consider experimenting with adding them to your diet. Whether it’s adding kimchi to your meal, or choosing kombucha over a sugary fizzy drink, explore options to see what works best for you.

TL;DR

As the spotlight shines brightly on gut health, fermented food products are making their mark. The process of fermentation has been around for years, offering a range of benefits including enhancing the diversity among our gut bacteria and aiding in micronutrient absorption.

Popular fermented foods include kefir, kimchi, and kombucha. Remember, if fermented foods aren't for you, there are many alternative ways to enhance your gut health. The key aim is to incorporate variety into your diet, specifically lots of fruit, vegetables, and fibre.

Jessica Stansfield, RNutr

Huel nutrition team

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