The 8 Best Fermented Foods + Why Fermented Foods Are Good For You

Are you looking to promote a healthy digestive system and feel awesome? Eating fermented foods is an excellent way to do it. Add these 8 Best Fermented Foods to your diet and see the amazing benefits!

Overhead view of several types of fermented foods, including pickles, yogurt, sauerkraut and cheese as examples of healthy fermented foods.Sometimes people hear the words “fermented foods,” and they aren’t sure what they are. But then you mention yummy sour pickles and creamy, rich yogurt – you’ve got it, they are fermented. There are a lot of foods out there that are fermented.

Basically, foods are fermented through a natural process. Microorganisms convert carbs (like sugar and starch) into alcohol or acids. This process helps food to last longer, and in some cases, the nutrient value is changed. For example, with some grains, when fermentation takes place, the level of folate increases.

But not only that, fermentation enhances the taste of foods (always a good thing in my books!). I’m thinking about sauerkraut again as the ideal example. Cabbage can seem sometimes boring and hard to digest, but when fermented, it turns into tart and tasty sauerkraut. And sauerkraut is so good for you, folks! Did you know? I’ve explained it all here in the 9 Benefits of Sauerkraut.

Kefir is another terrific case in point. Add this yogurt-like cultured dairy product to a delicious protein smoothie, and you’ve got a super-nutritious meal.

Fermenting leads to the creation of probiotics, too. Probiotics are a real game-changer when it comes to gut health. The formation of probiotics is what occurs in the making of yogurt. And you know that, often, when you are on a prescription of antibiotics for an illness, it’s recommended to eat yogurt to rebuild the bacteria in your gut. 

Let’s look further into the 8 best fermented foods so you can get started with adding them to your diet right away.

Side view of 4 jars of fermented foods lined in a row, including sauerkraut and pickled onions.

WHY WE FERMENT FOOD

I’m not really giving you a history lesson, but it’s interesting to take a look at fermentation and how it all came about. The process is a pretty ancient one and basically started as a way to enhance the longevity of food and drinks. Before the days of refrigeration, food would spoil pretty quickly. In fact, it’s thought that the first cases of fermentation were yogurts produced in goat bags carried on the back of camels in the desert, around 10,000 BC. In Asia, fermentation was in place in 4,000 BC for grain-based beverages like rice wine. Skip to the 1800s, and chemist Louis Pasteur connected fermentation and yeast.

Today, we still ferment foods to extend shelf life. But the knowledge about probiotics and their link to health is ever-evolving. Foods must contain the right type of probiotics to still be active by the time they reach your gut. There have to be enough bacteria present to do the work, and importantly, the product you buy has to have been appropriately produced so the fermentation is effective.

So, it’s been a bit of a journey. And now, fermented foods are really coming into their own these days. I think it’s all because people realize a clean eating, healthy living lifestyle is the best. Although the consideration that fermented foods were good for you came to light somewhere around 1910, in the last 40 years, more research has been conducted on the benefits. 

Close up image of bottles and a measuring cup, containing apple cider vinegar, a good for you fermented food.

IS APPLE CIDER VINEGAR A FERMENTED FOOD?

Apple cider vinegar is indeed a fermented food, but it does not have probiotics, as yogurt does. Instead, beneficial gut bacteria form. Apple cider vinegar goes through the fermentation process twice – first, to change the apples to a cider with alcohol, and then into vinegar. 

Apple cider vinegar has tons of benefits! In fact, I’ve detailed 19 benefits of apple cider vinegar in a post that will really amaze you ←- not kidding! Think about it. This easily consumed fermented food reduces inflammation, reduces belly fat, improves hair health, and helps you lose weight. You’ve gotta read the post, my friends!

Apple cider vinegar also has a lot of nutrients. And it has antioxidants and only 3 calories per tablespoon. It’s a little powerhouse that goes a long way.

WHICH FERMENTED FOODS CONTAIN THE MOST PROBIOTICS?

Well, we all know that yogurt is right up there when it comes to probiotic content. When eating yogurt, though, be sure to go for full-fat, plain Greek yogurt for maximum digestive aid. Full-fat dairy has many things going for it and can even help you lose weight if that’s your goal.

Some of the other foods with probiotics are kefir, miso, and kimchi. But more about those foods in a bit!

Keep this in mind, though, when buying fermented foods. You’ve got to check that the foods were not pasteurized because this can kill the bacteria that make the fermented food so good. Check the label when purchasing your sauerkraut and kimchi, for instance.

However, with yogurt, the milk has been pasteurized, but the bacterial cultures are added after. So, that’s the difference.

Overhead image of eight bowls containing fermented foods, to include purple cabbage sauerkraut, sauerkraut, and onions.

HOW MUCH FERMENTED FOODS SHOULD I EAT DAILY?

If you are talking sauerkraut, as little as a tablespoon per day is beneficial to your health.  But, there are not a whole lot of guidelines out there for specific quantities. In fact, Daily Food Guides world-over typically do not have a specific category for fermented foods.

Tim Spector, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College London, and author of ‘The Diet Myth: The Real Science Behind What We Eat’ feels that adding fermented foods to your diet in moderation is key.

It’s important to start with a small amount, such as a tablespoon of sauerkraut per day, to allow your body time to adjust. Adding fermented foods too quickly may result in loose stools, constipation, or stomach upset. And your taste buds need to adjust, too! Not everyone likes the sour and tart taste of some fermented foods, and it takes time to get used to it. 

Start eating a little bit, but often, as opposed to a huge portion at one sitting. Eat a variety of fermented foods, and don’t stick to just one. And when you can, try fermenting foods on your own!

Close up side view of a white bowl containing miso, one of the best fermented foods.

WHY FERMENTED FOODS ARE GOOD FOR YOU

One of the best things about eating fermented foods is the benefit to gut health. It’s interesting to know that the gut is often called the “forgotten organ” because we don’t really think about how important it is to overall health. 

  • Improve digestive health: Probiotics in the form of good-for-you bacteria promote improvements in the function of the intestine. Nutrient absorption is positively affected, and the intestinal barrier function is protected.
  • Boost your immune system: The bacteria that live in your digestive system impact your immunity. Fermented foods can give you a boost and help ward off illness. The vitamins in these foods can also help you feel better faster when you do get sick.
  • Aid in digestion: Fermented foods are easier to digest. Nutrient absorption is enhanced in fermented foods. Additionally, foods like beans are broken down and digested easier when fermented.
  • Relieve symptoms of digestive disorders: People who have illnesses like irritable bowel syndrome may find symptoms like bloating and gas are somewhat relieved by fermented foods.

Close up side image of a tall glass of buttermilk, sitting beside a small, white dairy jug.

8 BEST FERMENTED FOODS

1. PROBIOTIC YOGURT

Yogurt is probably the item on the list that is most familiar to everyone. Not only does yogurt improve bone mineral density, but it also contains good for you nutrients like calcium, potassium, and vitamin B12. Remember to buy full-fat plain Greek yogurt as opposed to brands that claim to be low-fat, because full-fat dairy is healthy, but sugar is not.

2. SAUERKRAUT

So, you know from my post about the benefits of sauerkraut (UNPUBLISHED) that this is a fermented food that you should eat. It’s pretty versatile and has lots of vitamins and even antioxidants. Just remember, as with all fermented foods, start out in moderation, to give your body time to adjust to eating it.

3. KIMCHI

Kimchi is most often made with cabbage, just like sauerkraut is. It is usually made with radishes, too, and topped with seasonings like ginger (read about how good ginger is for you!), garlic, and spring onions. Studies with participants with prediabetes show it decreases insulin resistance and can lower blood pressure.

4. KOMBUCHA

Kombucha is a fermented tea. Found in the grocery store and natural food shops, this often sour drink typically contains 0.5 percent alcohol by volume. It’s pretty tasty, and there have been studies done on the benefits. One study states kombucha may be useful in prostate cancer treatment and prevention.

Close up overhead view of hands holding a white bowl containing sauerkraut, a best fermented food.

5. NATTO

Natto is made from fermented soybeans. This is an instance where the fiber factors in as a double bonus along with the fermentation benefits. Fiber is like a work out for your intestines, cleaning and brushing as it moves along. So, Vitamin K-rich natto (which has a strong flavor) is another fermented food to add to the list. It is typically served at breakfast and is a staple in Japan.

6. MISO

Japanese cuisine has got it right. Miso is also made with fermented soybeans but is a common seasoning in things like miso soup, miso paste, dressings, and meat marinades. There are lots of studies on the goodness of miso, including a lower risk of stroke and the regulation of blood pressure. 

Close up view of four pieces of tempeh in a wicker basket, an example of an excellent fermented food.

7. TEMPEH

Again, we see soybeans. In this case, the soybeans are used as a meat substitute. They’re high in protein after all, and form into a cake-like shape. It’s similar to tofu but is firmer and nuttier. Tempeh is thought to reduce the presence of free radicals, which often lead to chronic disease.

8. KEFIR

Kefir is compared to the taste and texture of drinkable yogurt. It’s easier to digest for those with lactose intolerance and is often added to smoothies. Kefir comes with a ton of benefits, including reducing inflammatory markers and aiding in bone health.

MORE POSTS ON A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE

I’m sure, now that you know all about fermented foods, you’ll want to learn about other beneficial foods and tips on leading a healthy lifestyle.

This post contains affiliate links for products I use regularly and highly recommend.

Lacey Baier

Hey y’all, I’m Lacey Baier and I’m so glad you’re here! I’m a healthy lifestyle influencer and the creator of this clean-eating blog and YouTube channel, A Sweet Pea Chef. My recipes have been published on Food Network, Good Morning America, FoxNews, Tastemade, Fitness Magazine, and much more. I live in Dallas, Texas with my husband and four kiddos. Let’s get started!

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